By Amy Desselle
If there’s one constant in Washington, it is that nothing is ever constant.
Politicians bicker. Offices are redecorated. Bills are written and rejected and written again. And at least every eight years, the president changes.
“The Presidents Club,” a new book by Time Magazine journalists and editors Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, goes behind the scenes in Washington, D.C. to expose the personal relationships between our presidents, past and present. The book highlights the many moments in history when partisan politics and personal agendas were put on hold in service of the nation.
It all began just after the Great Depression when newly inaugurated Harry Truman reached out to the shunned Herbert Hoover and asked for his help with the food crises in Europe after World War II. After many successful ventures together, the “two men who by all rights should have hated each other” joked about creating a former presidents club, and so it came to be.
The Presidents Club has never had more than six members, at times falling as low as one, disappearing entirely after Richard Nixon’s reelection in 1972.
Having just convinced an entire country that they know better than the current president, every president-elect believes they know best, until the Oval Office is actually theirs.
The purpose of the club is simple: only ex-presidents can understand the pressures and challenges of the presidency, only they can provide the shoulder to lean on. It is the ultimate in exclusive clubs.
The president can call upon any of the members at any time and for any reason. These men look beyond their personal political beliefs and somehow manage to form deep, lasting friendships that benefit the government and the country.
Of course, these relationships aren’t without their darker periods. There have been moments of backstabbing and political treachery throughout the history of the club, but for the most part, they put the Oval Office first.
Gibbs and Duffy launch into presidential history and the history of the nation without a moment of hesitation. From the relationship between Truman and Hoover to the moment when Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush welcomed Obama into the fold, the narrative is packed with intimate details and face-to-face interactions.
The writing and the stories are engaging and flow from one presidency into another. The plot unfolds in a chronological manner that is simple and straightforward. However, since the presidential relationships spanned many decades, it can become confusing and seem out-of-order. Regardless, it is a fascinating glimpse into the political world.
Drawing heavily on personal and presidential correspondences, public and private meetings and a little bit of gossip, this research-based book paints the picture of these presidents as the men they were and are, not just as politicians at the podium.
They may not have a clubhouse or be considered an official unit, but that does not make them any less of a club. From personal feuds and reconciliation decades later, to moments of solidarity at the funerals of their fellow president club members, and through wars and challenges that have faced the country since WWII, these men have ties that are much stronger than the average American citizen.
They are bonded by the club protocols of “support and silence and solidarity.”
With another upcoming presidential election, it is reassuring to know that our politicians can put aside their disparate beliefs for the greater good of the country.Contact Amy Desselle.