Wednesday. It was funny, and fun, to see President Obama and President Clinton onstage together. They’re both pretty tall, did you know that? We’ll never know till the biographies get written how much they really like each other, but they sure do get a kick out of each other’s company. And being good politicians, which means being good showmen who understand the value of stagecraft, they know the effect the sight of the two of them together have, both as a commanding image and as a flag for the troops to rally round.
But something interesting occurred to me as they were verbally patting each other on the back and kidding each other about President Obama’s Secretary of State, while of course being very complimentary of her: This is only the second time in American history that I can think of when a sitting President could count on the support and political friendship of a former President.
Just go back over the last century. Taft and Theodore Roosevelt started out allies at the beginning of Taft’s term, but by the end TR was ready to run against him. Hoover never got over his bitterness towards FDR, although that didn’t stop him from pitching in from time to time. I think he never had much to say to Truman or Eisenhower. Ike wouldn’t have called on Truman. Truman had prickly relationships with JFK and LBJ, although as a good Democrat he wanted both to succeed. Johnson was the only living former President during Nixon’s six years in office and he didn’t live long, not that he’d have been eager to help Nixon. Ford and Carter would just as soon have pretended Nixon didn’t exist. Reagan distrusted and disliked the man. Reagan of course was in no shape after he left office to advise or aid any of his successors. Carter and the first George Bush got along, warily, but Carter and Clinton didn’t. Clinton seems to really like the man he defeated but their humanitarian collaborations really got going after Clinton left office. George W. Bush didn’t want help from anybody and under Dick Cheney’s influence kept even his own father at a distance.
Few of the 19th Century Presidents lived long enough after they left the White House to be of any help to their successors. Few of them lasted in office long enough to take advantage of any help that might have been offered. A lot of those guys were one-termers and less than one-termers. Martin Van Buren had an…interesting…relationship with the man he served as Vice-President and I suspect that when he was President Andrew Jackson felt less than kindly towards John Quincy Adams. I’m not sure how close Monroe was with Madison.
So, the nearest analogues in time to Obama and Clinton are James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, only one of whom was tall.
This afternoon President Obama called President Clinton “our Do-Gooder-in-Chief.” He meant it as high praise and it sounded to me like it was full of admiration and affection.
Photo courtesy of the Clinton Global Initiative.
The wireless connection completely shut down during the President’s speech. I posted some of my notes on Twitter afterwards but I’ll be posting them here later today.