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Unlike his predecessors, our current president is not one to be clubby with former presidents.
Shortly after winning reelection in 2004, George W. Bush was asked whether he thought more or less highly of his predecessors, now that he’d been in office awhile.
“Of my predecessors? Very interesting,” he said, before immediately adding, “More highly of them all” because “I’ve got a much better appreciation of what they’ve been through.”
That anecdote, told by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy in their new book The Presidents Club, captures how most American presidents feel about one another. Nobody quite knows what it’s like to be president except other presidents.
American presidents “are the jurors who will not pronounce a verdict, because they know they have not heard all the evidence,” the authors write in their closing sentence, “and they are predisposed to be merciful.”
If the Presidents Club had a charter, it would be guided by the three S’s: support and silence and solidarity. While most U.S. presidents have followed those protocols, even across party lines and with former rivals, President Obama has consistently and conspicuously broken them.
Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman became extraordinarily close. “I feel that I am one of his closest friends,” Truman said, “and he is one of my closest friends.”
After Kennedy beat Nixon by a slim margin in 1960, the president-elect invited his former adversary to meet. “I would like to fly down from Palm Beach to have a chat with you — if it won’t interfere with your vacation,” Kennedy said to Nixon. Nixon was happy to go, and they had what Kennedy described as “a very cordial meeting.”
After the Bay of Pigs debacle, Kennedy reached out to Nixon, who visited the president in the Oval Office to offer his advice. The young president also met with Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower. “I asked President Eisenhower here to bring him up to date on recent events and get the benefit of his thoughts and experience,” JFK said. He called on all three for guidance again during the Cuban missile crisis.
Lyndon Johnson was, the authors found, “fully conscious of the power of his predecessors and protective of their privileges. He studied them, fed and tended them, sent flowers, cuff links, statues, put Air Force jets and helicopters at their disposal, had his aides research every single contact he had ever had with any one of them, going back to his earliest Senate days.”
“I cannot tell you adequately my gratitude for your wisdom and counsel, and, for the fact that no one has found it possible to divide you and me,” LBJ told Eisenhower, whom he called “the best chief of staff I’ve got.”
Johnson solicited advice from both Ike and Truman, especially as the situation in Vietnam deteriorated. In asking Truman to visit him in the White House, Johnson wrote, “I don’t want to tax you, but I always want you to know I need your counsel, and I love you.” LBJ called Truman “One of the few comforts I had during the war.”
Nixon and his staff kept in touch with Johnson down on his Texas ranch. “Cabinet members called him regularly with updates, and Henry Kissinger came in person to discuss the progress of the peace talks,” Gibbs and Duffy write.
In August 1969, to mark Johnson’s 61st birthday, Nixon flew the Johnson family to his Western White House at San Clemente for a party, where Nixon led the group as the guests sang to Johnson, who “stood smiling, holding his felt hat and looking a little dazed in the brilliant California sun.”
During the Watergate scandal, Nixon refused to release a story about how LBJ had wire-tapped the Republicans in 1968. He didn’t want to expose LBJ — that was against the code. “The difficulty with using it, of course, is that it reflects on Johnson,” Nixon said. “He ordered [the bugging]. If it weren’t for that, I’d [exploit the crime].”
President Gerald Ford performed perhaps the greatest act of graciousness toward a predecessor in pardoning Nixon even though Nixon refused to admit he had done anything wrong. Ford’s decision helped cost him the 1976 election.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?