IF, LIKE me, you happen to be fascinated by American presidents, this is a rare treat. Well written and cleverly constructed, it reveals a lot of new details about how former presidents got on not just with each other but with the sitting tenant in the White House.
Members of the Presidents’ Club can win two terms and retire in ignominy like Hoover and George W Bush or in the glow of success like Eisenhower. They can lose after one term like Carter and Bush senior or resign in disgrace like Nixon but remain members. They might disagree when seeking office as did Truman and Eisenhower, Ford and Carter but be friends in retirement.
So far there have never been more than six members at one time but it could be seven by next year. Unfortunately, it is still a male-only club but no longer only for white men thanks to Barack Obama. Membership gives “a chance to rewind the tape and replay it”. That worked for Nixon and LBJ. Will it work for George W whose popularity on retirement was so low?
Club membership comes with the use of a house and office near the White House, presidential transport, and usually paid consultancy work for the incumbent.
These men are “the custodians of American credibility” and they rarely criticise their successors’ foreign policy, even though they all want to protect their own legacies. In times of national crisis, they come out in force. They are “never so close as in death” which was evident at the recent funerals of Nixon, Ford and Reagan. As Eisenhower put it, “The country is far more important than any of us”.
The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy
Simon & Schuster, 641pp, £18.99
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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