Written for the average person, not the scholar, The Presidents Club refers to the group of men, former Presidents, who are still alive, who live in a rarefied atmosphere that only they, who have lived in the White House, can fully comprehend. They have been privy to the world’s most dangerous information and secrets, made decisions on which the fate of the world depended, and only they can really understand and relate to each other. The premise of the Club is that these men can still contribute and perform an invaluable service to newly elected Presidents or previous Presidents in need of a helping hand or some advice on how to deal with certain issues.
The Club created strange bedfellows; enemies became friends, and sometimes, friends became enemies.
The beauty of the relationship is that it crosses party lines. Even when old grudges rear their ugly heads because of campaigns, which made one or another suffer the slings and arrows of their opponent, they rose above their own personal needs and did what they thought was best for the country, and they supported the President in power and took a backseat, when asked to help…almost always that is, there were those with egos that simply rose above the sitting President’s requests and they pranced off as loose cannons to do their worst.
Written in an even-handed way, not showing bias toward a particular party or President, the book is easy to read but requires some patience. It covers the men who achieved the highest office, from Hoover to Obama. Often, there is so much information that the reader will have to put it down and return to it later, to reread it and try and remember what they either lived through or learned in school, to verify what they have read, to more fully appreciate the aid and succor offered by these men of great power, to each other, some leaving office in shame and disgrace and some entering or leaving office immortalized, larger than life, for either their contributions or their personalities. The ability to relate to the people and to foreign powers is a gift not all had, and some often reached out for help to those that were still alive, that they could consider their brethren, while others resisted or had none to call upon.
The ability for each to sabotage another remained alive and well and often the case. The desire of some to remain powerful and involved was so all consuming that they forgot to put their country first and became more enamored of themselves and their “one right way”, in defiance of the man currently in power in the White House. Some reached out to unite and others to divide, but generally, they did put the security of the country first, above themselves. It is nothing if it isn’t “a good old boys club”.
Many of the men were polar opposites, coming from different walks of life, different educational backgrounds, different philosophies. They were portrayed as human beings, as were their spouses, with their warts and foibles exposed so that some negative ideas I had were quashed and replaced by a more accepting view of the person. Above all, each suffered with the weight of their decisions and each entered the office with the desire to make the world a better place. This desire was often thwarted by politics and outside forces, coupled with the fact that their desires were not always universal.
Soon, it also becomes obvious that each will use the power of the office to bend the rules, often ignore or rewrite the law, in order to perform acts and enact laws, sometimes unethical and/or illegal, in order to protect the country or themselves and their legacy. Most times, they have noble aims, but their personal philosophies may alter the effort and the outcome.
One has to ask themselves the question, as they read, is it really necessary for the average citizen to know what goes on in secret meetings, in back rooms, in foreign countries, or is it more important that the perception remain one of calm and peace throughout the times of trouble and turmoil.
What distressed me most about the book was something I have always been a bit naïve about. I always resisted the knowledge that people will often sink to the lowest common denominator, but the book reveals that they sure do. Rather than rise to the occasion, many let petty differences rule their reign, for a period of time. They blame each other unjustly, pervert the truth to get ahead, regardless of whose head rolls, unfairly and unjustly, in the dust. Some, indeed, rose above the fray, but it seems those occasions are few and far between, and that, perhaps, is what is wrong with campaigns and politics in general, and each man, in particular. As I learned in the book, they are, after all, only human, human beings that are invested with the power and pomp of the White House, often for the most foolish of reasons, often without thinking, often by an illiterate electorate. Fortunately, we have gotten it right, most of the time, throughout our history.
Regardless of who is seeking power, each blames their predecessor for mistakes made, that they, making promises they cannot possibly keep, do promise to correct. During campaigns, rather than putting the national interest first, politics reigns supreme as does the politics of personal destruction which has become more and more a part of the game in recent years. Sometimes, the real person running is never known or understood until the race is over, so defined are they by others and not themselves. The game of politics is ugly and unfair, and many who play it are even uglier, uglier still because they justify what they do, believing that the ends justified the means.
“We the people” create the narcissists we place in power. If they lose their sense of humility and their arrogance rules as they become narcissists, we have no one but ourselves to blame. It is our blind eyes and deaf ears that allow the travesties to continue and our responsibility to change it by taking an educated interest in the vote, rather than voting only according to habit or party lines.
If a candidate can please an ignorant public, he may fail, but they will still love him. The people in power, Congress included, have been doing this for a long time, fooling the public, creating grandiose messages to spin and mislead, so that then, they can accomplish what they originally intended, regardless of whether or not it serves our needs. They create the need, then the play and the scenes. Then they people it with players who carry it out and act as required. They succeed, not based on their qualifications, but on their personalities and their rhetoric, and often on their ability to deceive the masses. We revere the myth, rather than the man, and after a while, who he is fades into the background and we forget who he really is, this man occupying the White House, and we only see the fantasy we, or they, have created.
Yes, mistakes have been made by our men of great power, but most, in the end, prove themselves willing and able to become the great men we hoped they would be, learning how to negotiate, compromise and respect their fellow countrymen and the office they occupy. Sometimes, however, the history is written by a media that is not always intent on spreading truth, but rather fiction, to promote their own goals and not the country’s.
However, long live the Club, for it really does keep the country on a steadier course.
The authors did a masterful job of humanizing the former Presidents, while at the same time, elevating them to a status quite above the ordinary citizen by showing the magnitude of the responsibility and the burden of decision weighting every moment of their every day and night.