This week all the ex-Presidents got together to dedicate the George W. Bush Library in Dallas. Being a political junkie, these moments are always a treat. It's kind of like my version of the All Star game.
This time was especially interesting, because I had just finished reading The Presidents Club, by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. The book was an insider's look at the relationships between the caretakers of the "grand experiment," from Herbert Hoover on.
I think the dedication helped bring the stories in the book to life. What good timing on their part! So, when Clinton jokingly referred to Barbara Bush as his mother, I knew the history behind the relationship behind these two families; how Bush Sr. and Clinton had gone from rivals during their election battle to close friends after working together on their many charitable partnerships--so much so that Clinton has jokingly been adopted as the "black sheep" of the Bush family. Or, when the younger Bush made a face when Jimmy Carter was extolling his virtues, I knew what an unpredictable pain Carter has been for all presidents who came after him, despite the fact that Carter can claim with some justification that he's been a better ex-President than he was a president.
I have to admit, at heart I'm an optimist, which is why I get so tickled when I read or see instances of the "two sides" coming together. I well remember the Clinton/Bush presidential campaign, and how desperately I wanted Clinton to win over Bush. In retrospect, I now see the elder Bush as the second best president of the five (Clinton will always be number one, Obama is a close third, and Bush Junior and Carter are both at the bottom, although Carter ranks a bit higher only because he was there for four years and couldn't do as much damage.)
Nowadays, it pleases me to see how well Bush and Clinton bonded after they both left office. I like seeing them as the "odd couple," and it amuses me to see Bush Sr. growing tired of Clinton talking on and on, endlessly. I like the thought of Clinton traveling to Maine to vacation with the Bushes, or Clinton being asked to appear in a Bush family photo.
In an age where I have so many friends who are so vociferously hateful about our elected leaders, past and present, I find I get awfully tired of the endless negative propaganda after a while. To hear these people speak, everything government does is wrong, and even the most innocent-sounding of actions have sinister motives hiding underneath. Maybe that's why my favorite parts of The Presidents Club were the good moments--Truman rehabilitating Hoover's reputation, for example--and far less stories such as how Eisenhower and Truman hated each other while Ike was president.
As I said, I'm an optimist by nature. I want to believe that at heart, mankind can be a benevolent force. That's why I like the more positive perspectives. As naive as it may sound, I wish we could regain some of the innocence we lost during the bitter Johnson/Nixon years, and cast aside some of the overwhelming negativity our current age seems to excel in.
Maybe sometimes, the only way that politicians can be seen in a positive light is when they finally step outside the political arena, and start living life as citizens again. Books like The Presidents Club make me wish there was a way for it to be otherwise.