Uncut: Inside 'The Presidents Club'
Authors Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs give insight on world's 'most exclusive fraternity' in new book
- Duration 24:54
- Date Apr 12, 2012
Authors Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs give insight on world's 'most exclusive fraternity' in new book
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Okay you're new book is is coming out on Tuesday the presence club and I've read it and let me tell you it is.
Fabulous book I love adequate it was red Greta wire knows that I have so -- that it's a great book so.
I want the viewers to at least learn a little bit about it.
Get special what is the presence club.
Well -- if you had been sort of explain it's that it's a fraternity of men who had this job.
There's only five of them in the world.
They have their own rules around protocols of the things they will do things they won't do and they look after the presidency they look after each other and sometimes fight.
-- they usually come together through -- the good of the country.
What's exciting and even -- cover of time magazine.
And that tell -- distorted picture of the cover.
The pictures extraordinary it's President Obama with President Bush and President Clinton.
When they met to talk about -- Relief but what I love about it is that it.
You're eavesdropping on the conversation essentially they have things to say to each other.
They're really only people have been in that job can understand and so even though it looks like a very unlikely trio what we saw all through history.
Is that men who had very little in common politically or personally.
Would find that they were bound together by the experience they ensured that could do get things together.
Yeah I love about the book is that you know we cover these stories I read about -- watch other people cover them and read Neil watched TV shows cable is -- it.
And pat I learned so I mean there's so much more to this -- -- that I never even know -- to these relationships.
I think it's because.
They all come out of the office with scars whether they're Democrat or Republican they've made tough decisions.
No one knows how hard this decisions are -- them and it President Bush to the older coalition of we look each other and we can we know what that's hard decisions are we don't have to explain them to each other only those of us -- done it understand just how difficult it is to survive it.
On the wounded warriors anyway and even when you're very successful they still they were changed by the experience and a way that only the others understand.
I can't seem to seemingly some unlikely.
Friendships in in this this very exclusive club let me ask you first about the relations between President Reagan.
And President Clinton.
Well you know one of the youngest president sit with one of the old it's a very interesting handoff and there was this extraordinary.
Moment during the transition.
When Clinton visited with President Reagan in his office in Los Angeles and President Reagan told you know you need to learn how to salute.
And they practiced saluting in his office -- central part of literally performing the role of commander in chief there's I think Reagan understood that Clinton had never learned how to do.
Integrated -- Reagan did not think Clinton knew how to do it and so we sat there teaching him here's how it's done because of course Reagan well with sort of in the in the military and and when he was an in the forties during the war also went in the movies.
Pretending to via a soldier was doing both at the same time so he was able to teach -- the former actor turned president teaching the new president.
How to -- What a short membership so that President Reagan had in this club you know he was in because of his have been because of his age when he's president not because the -- is he didn't get to be a member too long.
He didn't that he met Richard Nixon in 1947.
He met -- a few years later he and of course he.
He knew me -- man who would become president -- -- fifteen or twenty years before they had been president or he would be president so.
Even though his post presidency with some of these guys wasn't very long.
This pre presidency was.
Happens again and again a lot of these relationships don't only occur they have a lot of history that happened before they were in office and had.
Mean Eisenhower and Johnson who had -- have a long relationship before.
Johnson was the president himself so that happens again and again as well in the.
Greatness -- Reagan Nixon are are in full correspondence -- 1960 writing each other all the time and by 1966.
They're contending for the Republican Convention -- Republican nomination so they had a real relationship before either of them was president.
I suspect named the stuff about.
President Clinton and President Nixon now those -- the outside -- -- so bat an unlikely dual.
And they weren't communication often end -- -- and the -- friendship went up and down.
Did Nixon really wanted to get to know Clinton he was interested in in -- kind of -- -- And as he he also knew that.
Clinton -- know very much about foreign policy and Nixon thought that he could help them.
And he said he I can help you on Russia can help you on -- and Clinton said -- you can and they started talking late at night on the telephone.
But not just about foreign policy they talked about how to -- president how to organize the time -- -- how did you do -- how did you organize your day and Nixon was fascinated by the fact that.
Thirty years after he'd been president -- something he was another one another president trying to understand how to do the job.
And I love that part about about First Lady had -- First Lady Hillary Clinton out with Nixon found.
Is it it says he write your book that Nixon found Hillary Hillary a little intimidated.
He did although you don't want to thinks we found very poignant was the President Clinton told us that there's a letter -- the Nixon wrote him.
Just before he died that Clinton pulls out and re reads every year to this day.
That's how important relationship and you read about that letter but -- tease the viewers to have a little bit about that letter.
Well it may have been to support Nixon died Nixon had gone to Russia and yet he looked over the landscape of a fast changing former Soviet Union.
And and said here's what you knew he and he replaces ambassador.
You need to change -- policy is to you this he'd emphasize that and it was that -- -- Clinton said it was some of the best advice he'd gotten his entire presidency not just about Russia.
But about foreign policy he only showed it to a few -- he's yet to release that letter.
The offensive thing and I actually into things like -- as you know I love the buck is down.
-- -- -- Hillary Clinton who worked on the impeachment of then President Nixon.
Said to President Nixon that are present Nixon said -- hurt it in the book it said that I tried to get health -- twenty years earlier mean early seventies and she said something to the effect that day would have been you know that she would she image he had that it would have been a good thing.
These -- 21 rate Chalmers I mean you know Nixon knew how to make friends quickly and so -- Clinton so this Hillary Clinton and what I'm sure that was one of the great meetings of all times and has ever taken place upstairs.
In the White House I think it's it was a little intimidated by Hillary and Hillary certainly.
Made paid him quite a welcome.
You know I'm President Carter comes across in the book as perhaps.
A fifth we -- a -- he's it is a little grouchy or not -- -- didn't you know not someone who is that always plays well with others in terms of the club.
He's a complicated ally for them on the one hand he's been a very vigorous.
Retired president he has a lot of relationships with leaders overseas that allows him to.
Performed the kinds of private diplomatic missions that really only a former president can perform and that is one of the the main roles of members of the president's club.
The problem with -- if he doesn't always stay on script.
He occasionally will talk to the press when he wasn't supposed to or before he talks to the White House about what happened.
So he's someone that they have to manage very carefully but he can be very useful to them and so one after another the president who came after him.
Found times -- -- -- he was the only person that they could send to salt some problem but -- What screen in the book I mean this is not just disagreements that there are instances at when he was governor of Arkansas screaming at that I had been President Carter -- then there's some -- this rather aggressive debate that screen means.
Carter admits that he was complicated he can be really difficult as well he he opposed -- first President Bush on the an initial war with Iraq I guess in the liberation of Kuwait.
Bill Clinton sent him to North Korea and to Haiti in both times the finish of those missions was very difficult for President Clinton he got very upset with how -- -- that.
Carter is -- -- and I think we finally sends carted Haiti he said -- -- he said along.
Sam Nunn called how babysit him.
Because he didn't think he really trust card to do the right thing.
In the -- -- I think President Carter showed President Clinton how to be an ex president.
You should be used the model to become the sort of globe trotting you know problem solving he's he's he's -- F will affect all the presidents who follow I think.
He is any president more gracious than President Bush 41 who lost to Bill Clinton President Clinton.
Yet he says it seems like you know the amount of warmth and willingness to be in the club and -- -- shepherd and help boost as extraordinary -- -- -- almost I think the spiritual leader of -- and that the note that he wrote to President Clinton you know part wanted to club rituals is you write a note to your successor and he wrote a note that essentially says by the time you read this this is.
You know in 1992 after this painful loss for President Bush.
By the time you read this you will be our president and -- I'll be rooting hard week.
And and consistently after that he really was a model of of courtesy of support and gentlemen -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- the Meet -- -- -- -- The president of the president's club because I don't think the others really decide what they're going to do until they check with him even now.
At the -- -- 87 he's the oldest member by a few months -- Jimmy Carter I think he really dysfunction is that.
Certainly the president for -- time.
I don't read about to present Ford two who.
Who -- and the -- who found dead President Nixon rather annoying to put it does lightly.
But yet he was -- he was he is always love -- Nixon.
To us no matter what you know they met when they were both in congress and a forty -- car -- together grading in 1949.
And Nixon dangled the vice president Federer twice sixty and 68 before you actually gave it to them and 73.
And and even then after basically -- -- talk to Dick Nixon.
After he left office Jerry Ford made the trips out to Long Beach to see him in the hospital at huge personal political cost -- in the middle of -- mid term election.
-- tried to save fed President Clinton with his problems of the Lewinsky problem although he was annoyed that he didn't always -- scoffs.
Scores I guess -- that you she's a close really.
I have to cut back I know I did I don't have loved the book but there was tension how we -- -- -- afford to always seem to be ambivalent trying to help everybody.
I think Ford wanted to.
Avoided impeachment trial in the senate and reached out both in public and behind the scenes to try to convince Clinton not to go all the way to that senate trial.
Four try to cut a deal with Clinton saying if you just admit that he lied.
About the Monica Lewinsky scandal I think we can get away with.
Some kind of censure and Bill Clinton wouldn't make that -- and Gerri for as well which case we're done here our businesses and that he tried behind the scenes to make that -- He in my opinion changed conclude a man may it may let my opinion an item were educated -- the book about Hoover president Hoover.
I served been dismissive of him and not -- thought much of him and I was actually surprised it.
At him he was one -- But most surprised us as we got deeper and deeper into the papers in the diaries and that.
Correspondence back and forth because -- that the hero is a man who left office of all present probably the most hated man in America.
And the entire time that Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House there's not so much as a birthday card sent to Herbert Hoover he is completely exiled.
Until Harry Truman finds himself suddenly elevated to the presidency facing a catastrophe in Europe a humanitarian catastrophe at the end of the war.
And who did he think knew more about getting food to starving people.
That was Herbert Hoover and so against all of the Roosevelt loyalists in the White House Truman reaches out to resist I need your help can you -- and can you help me figure out.
How to get food distributed because hundreds of millions of people will start otherwise.
And that was the start if they -- beautiful friendship.
They they didn't agree about anything political but Truman said.
Yeah -- to -- -- Louis the fourteenth but that doesn't matter we don't talk politics.
They talked about great spirit about -- making things work better.
They not really admired Truman -- in reading that this in the book because he -- he'd he did reach across the aisle.
And it and in some ways if you let your political opponent do something well that might someway you might as -- -- a lesser ego might get a diminished.
But yet he he instead wanted to solve things.
Yet you can't get all these guys at some level -- problem solvers who found themselves wrapped up particularly during a presidencies in politics they couldn't always control and so what's their presidencies and they kind of revert to who they really are in some ways which is problems -- that we didn't really care that much about who has what who stood for what are his party was if they saw problem.
Over the sixty years that club would come together to try to fix it sometimes it worked sometimes it didn't sometimes it was public sometimes it was really in secret.
But usually is that it was about fixing some problem that the political system couldn't address.
Did your opinion change in our area and that I should ask you paid for your thoughts about Richard Nixon me so demonized when he left left office.
And I know that there was sort of a going back and forth -- -- with the different presence on -- it yet but -- when you survey examined him he looks different.
And one thing that things really came through for me was that this was a man who had survived the worst possible you know things politics can throw -- here.
And he gets out of office relatively young the age of 61 -- 62 and he spends the next when he failures of justice involved.
Sometimes it's just in his mind sometimes it's just for this books maybe with the -- -- people but.
This he slowly begins to reintroduce himself into the conversation and by the time he's eighty.
He is it just -- involved in the political conversation of the session as he was at forty.
And you really get the sense that you know he would send letters he would send secret memos and about what he thought they should be doing and you can tell in the correspondent.
They paid attention to accept that there it in there is a new book closer to the fun little vignettes like it wasn't like all sort of generous and it's not treatment -- less please because he -- he was mad according to you but he was mad because -- President Clinton didn't go to the funeral of his wife pat.
When pat was sick with -- lung cancer.
And he was at the White House he -- that could use your words is that the President Clinton is not gracious because didn't ask about pat.
Anyway and you refused to be in the Rose Garden with the other presidents went dead air at the.
He thought it was -- he thought it was dog and pony show you said.
He also didn't he he rebelled against President Bush on his support for Russia and he gave Ronald Reagan a hard time about arms control.
He wasn't an easy partner either in Carter kind of difficult members of the club.
But they stayed in the game and the and one of the thing that I think Nixon gets credit for is that.
-- other presidents came up against adversity whether it was bush when he lost.
Clinton when she was impeached.
Nixon was usually there saying.
-- -- -- and and I think that's another service the club provides which is they all know how differently this actually exists in that job and they help each other.
-- -- -- -- Respect -- is actually like each other we weren't weren't a genuine friendships.
Well certainly that friendship between President Clinton and President Bush 41 is a deep genuine and true I mean that the bush clan has a nickname for Clinton that's brother from another mother.
Because it got to the point he's.
Vacationing with them he's he's raising money with -- president George W.
Bush he escorted Barbara Bush it.
At Betty Ford's funeral he very much became.
A member of the extended bush -- which is quite that's a very genuine relationship in week but again we kept seeing -- even going back to Truman and Hoover who.
After they had done their work together became true deep personal friends -- about President Obama as he is it too soon for him to be in the club is a little bit about him in here but that.
The -- still president.
I think they all have tried to help them in their own ways within limits George W.
Bush has maintain -- and deeply respectful silence in in just this week when he talked briefly about.
Energy policy -- -- cuts he said I'm not gonna criticize the president.
Obama and elder bush have had some close encounters that have been positive.
I'm Clinton's relationship with a bomb is touching go it -- is up and down it's had -- bad times it's seems to be a little better now.
I think respect is the would that they all -- because they all know how as I said how difficult is to do the job.
The friendships are -- sort of the icing on the cake and they aren't always there.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Yeah the lots maybe the only other people who are not actually officially in the club who get.
To get the get that that the company that's.
In is it -- as a tough group and give it competed so hard against each.
Yeah I think I think the thing that that that.
They don't have after they have done the job as anyone some cents -- -- -- you've done his job no one else can possibly understand what it's like except these other guys -- you're sort of thrown in with a group of people you don't have much in common with.
Who suddenly understand you which is not how you normally pick your friends right thing that I get what you've been through but it generally we agree on nothing.
-- that's a complicated relationship but they all try to make it work Lyndon Johnson.
And me and so concerned about his relationships with the other presidents that when the first things he does when he gets -- -- he has an assistant.
Find out how many times when he was in the congress which was for fifteen or twenty years.
How many times he met with Truman how many times you know what types he wanted to tell those two former presidents how close he wasn't even though he had been necklace he wanted to.
Bring the -- wrap his arms around -- he wanted their support he wanted to do when because he knew he was gonna need it.
You know -- instead as as reading the book I thought bound.
-- if they have bad.
President Kennedy lived you know what he is in this very sort of been interesting group of very limited exclusive -- Had to be just what would president Kennedy have been in this -- he was fascinating guest happy when he was like he was the youngest president in -- century.
Taking over for the oldest presence in the century.
And he knew that the kind of substance and legitimacy that was conferred on him.
By being seen and photographed with Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower and Herbert Hoover his club members was very valuable so he was always one for excuses.
To invite them all back to the White House first you know -- -- for some treaty signing or some occasion.
Where they would all be together because it gave a certain kind of aura of continuity and -- -- To his administration I don't think there was a particular.
You know great warmth -- closeness with any of them but they were very useful and especially Eisenhower who left office still revered figure.
When Kennedy got in trouble especially after the Bay of Pigs.
He knew how important lives that Eisenhower -- be brought it then there's this famous photograph that was on the front page of the newspapers.
Of those two men.
Walking side by side on the -- of Camp David it's almost like the -- present to -- -- -- to the woodshed for this completely botched invasion and how -- this all have gone wrong.
And Eisenhower it was very supportive he's I don't believe in criticizing -- president on foreign policy I don't think it's good for the country we all need to support the president and that was what he consistently did.
Even with Kennedy with and he agreed about very little.
Which isn't that different from what bush said this week about Obama when he criticized him on the -- they keystone pipeline and on the tax policy said I don't want anyone to think and criticizing the president because I think they really do think.
It's tough enough they don't need me carping from the sideline.
But say it but they do sort of -- to everything and that it is stay in the conversation as they did actually stating.
Right -- I think it's and it you know -- women who drank from the fire -- for four or eight years of policy and politics.
And you can imagine shutting that off -- it's like being deprived of oxygen they keep they stay very close and -- they watch everything.
They step out as their choice.
I want they also day.
Is that and -- one reason they would pull their criticism afterwards if they know they're no longer read it.
They knew what it was like to get all the top secret intelligence briefings they know that when you are actually the president you know stuff that no one else snaps.
Including a former president and so they all say -- of what other reasons they withhold criticism is they say.
I don't know everything is come across the president's desk I don't know all the information the decision was based on their very respectful about it away their own ignorance.
Once they're no longer in the inner circle our President Bush for -- impressive 43 -- club members -- they father and son.
I think they'll always be a first for us first second and third -- father and son just as any father and son would be and their religion -- more is closer than any club.
And President Bush the other -- and I think the most outspoken a lot of people thought that he might disagree with his son about.
The war in Iraq they said look I don't have the information -- ways to anymore.
He may have had his own views about it that he results he said exactly what you just mentioned which is that times changed strategic challenges change.
And and I.
Think quite on top of that the last thing a -- gonna do.
You know it's questions -- public.
The first is.
President Bush senior understood his son had a great many -- is a great many counselors he only -- one father.
And that that was what he needed he didn't do enough to play that role.
If we go back 5060 years and never vote them among those -- -- -- get mr.
Well I think had to right now you'd have to veteran George Herbert Walker Bush he -- -- he he sets the standard.
He's the most respected but is he also than the one that the jolly one the most fun and.
Well in his day he was pretty jolly and I had to his credit Joker.
But you -- to get a question you're asking and I.
This isn't -- either.
I had their back -- it's funny -- as you look at these guys that they I love to see them all together and I committed UGC in its heroes it's our -- placement.
I actually like to see the minute and and in reading your book I appreciate and the more I understand -- understood their job more.
And and I like to see them working together at a you know I really sit on -- policies but.
Would rather anchor and this city to see that behind the scenes when you dig deep inside like the book does he see that they work together.
It's much natural tension and rivalry and occasional blackmail and treachery is came up and we read about.
About two there're there are any number of times where they acted against personal interest against party interest.
Because -- something they thought the presidency matters more the country matters more and it happened.
It wasn't for any great fame -- glory was all in private the way they talk to each other in the way they helped each other and right I do think that right now that is something that that.
People respond to to see it and to see that it's still possible.
At the very very highest level of.
Leadership in this country and how -- can.
-- -- that's that's Gerald Ford president Ford when he pardoned Richard Nixon knowing that it would cost him the election was number he's it was a reelected he was never elected in the first place but.
The pardoning Nixon I think he knew what he did and just like Harry Truman said -- when he first met -- I'll step down if you want to be president yeah that was I read that I thought now that's wild you know he admired -- so much he actually though he told them all to step down.
You can this is a 48 -- If you -- now of course to be fair he assumed -- be running as a Democrat no one knew at that time what party Eisenhower block.
Certainly he was not all the brands but you say if you wanna run I'll step down I'll leave and service your vice president.
I would do what isn't that you were we doing your research shot it but I never knew that -- this -- it has surprised you most.
Well I didn't know a lot of it I'm as did the fact that there didn't hit my favorite.
Richard Nixon got so tired of dealing with -- today after -- left office.
And trying to keep -- happy.
Who when dad he never one to stop drinking from the fire as they create a special overnight guest house on Lafayette square for the use of former president soundly.
-- 716 Jackson square not far from warehouse.
I'm and to me that's the most -- signed it.
That presidents themselves value -- ex presidents can do and that though -- meaty stories greater human about you know rivalries and resentments and petty grievances.
These men are different from the rest of us and the country believe -- would definitely doesn't take care of them.
Who enjoyed the -- amongst.
For the present -- covered.
I think they all enjoy it I don't think anybody I mean.
Instead Carter was paid during the -- watch you know watching him be president other.
He was like his as anguish for primary -- Clinton except for with the and other the bad days so to speak he seemed to enjoy it sounds I didn't want to see Greg -- sue them Bob -- -- eleven I think bush loved it.
-- says he was deep admits I'm a better ex president I wasn't president.
And in it for president you don't win a second term which is sort of the one ultimate test of of your success -- and they keep score and.
That's that's a big differentiator among some of the ones who were reluctantly Howard Carter and Reagan.
Well there wasn't much a relationship -- of course Reagan beat Carter.
Tom Carter went back to planes did a lot of soul searching for a couple years before feet out when he was gonna do with what is going to be the longest ex presidency in American history.
And they had some letters back and forth in the early eighties.
Carter volunteers to help Reagan in the Middle East and -- -- against in the back of the hand and that was really the end of it.
-- they never really found common ground after that what Reagan did for Jimmy Carter was provide a common ground of his friendship.
With Gerald Ford because that -- didn't much care for Reagan.
Still it's a great but the president's club and in -- -- every page it could.
And I can see I didn't know that I didn't know that I didn't actually -- to reexamine Greta you know.
Look I love it dad and daddy.
I wish you best of luck thank you these things yeah.