23 February 2019
Former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush share jokes at the Washington event on Monday. Photo: AFP
Former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush share jokes at the Washington event on Monday. Photo: AFP

When former presidents meet

They used to be the most brutal of adversaries. But after leaving office, they feel a certain kinship, a kind of affinity with each other for having the common experience of occupying the Oval Office.

In a 2012 book, Time magazine editors and presidential historians Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy call it the Presidents Club, the world’s most exclusive fraternity, whose members consist of those who have become the world’s most powerful person during their term of office.

Which is why there is nothing to be surprised about when former United States presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush sounded like the best of buddies when they appeared together in Washington on Monday.

Clinton, 68, the 42nd US president, and Bush, also 68 and his immediate successor, were there to announce the Presidential Leadership Scholars program, a partnership between their respective presidential centers, as well as those of George H.W. Bush and Lyndon B. Johnson, CNN reports.

Past is past. So for the moment at least all seemed forgotten about the historical rivalry between their political parties — Bush’s Republican versus Clinton’s Democratic — which have been blaming each other for most of the nation’s problems through all these years.

Never mind if it was Clinton who defeated Bush’s father, H.W., in the 1992 election and cut his stint at the White House to a single term.  

Never mind, too, if Bush, when he ran for the office in 2000, promised to restore “honor and dignity to the White House”, an obvious reference to the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal for which Clinton was impeached.

At the event, the two former commanders in chief joked with each other and revealed details about their relationship.

“He used to call me twice a year, in his second term, just to talk,” Clinton said about Bush. “We’d talk — depending on how much time he had, ’cause he was busier than me — somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes, for several years. It meant a lot to me.”

Clinton said he and Bush “talked about everything in the right world. He asked my opinion, half the time he disagreed with it. But I felt good about that, I thought that was a really healthy thing.”

After leaving the White House, Clinton worked on special projects with both Bush Senior and Bush Junior. Clinton and George H.W. Bush collaborated on rehabilitation work in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005; Clinton and George W. Bush worked together to provide assistance to the victims of the deadly earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010.

At Monday’s event, the two appeared quite comfortable with each other, even revealing what they found admirable about each other’s leadership style.

Clinton said he watched Bush’s “clarity and decisiveness with great admiration”, according to Washington Post opinion writer Dana Milbank. Bush, on the other hand, said of Clinton: “He’s an awesome communicator.”

Bush also gave Clinton advice on becoming a grandparent: “Get ready also to be, like, the lowest person in the pecking order in your family.” They both laughed and shared a hearty handshake.

Bill and Hillary Clinton are expecting their first grandchild this fall from their only child Chelsea.

Hillary Clinton was also at the event and sat near the back.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe