Inside The U.S. Presidents’ Club


Written by Time Magazine’s Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs, from their bookThe Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity

There is no fraternity like it, and not just because of the barriers to entry or the privileges of membership. It has rules—stay in touch, don’t discuss club ­business with the press—along with rituals, feast days and a private clubhouse across from the White House reserved solely for the use of former Presidents. It even has souvenirs. Lyndon Johnson gave Ike a pair of gold cuff links bearing the Presidential Seal: “You are the only one, along with Harry ­Truman, who can legitimately wear these,” Johnson observed, “but if you look closely, it doesn’t say ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’ on them.”

At a time when a Democratic President and a Republican House Speaker can barely carry on a civil conversation, Presidents talk to, and about, one another in a dialect foreign to the current partisan vernacular. “You will be our President when you read this note,” George H.W. Bush wrote to Clinton, the man who had just defeated him, echoing the message of transitions past, even between bitter political foes: “I am rooting hard for you.” When it was George W. Bush’s turn, his commitment to the club’s code of conduct was unreserved. “We want you to succeed,” he told Obama before the Inauguration, speaking for the entire club membership. “Whether we’re Democrat or Republican, we care deeply about this country … All of us who have served in this office understand that the office transcends the individual.”

Collaboration both “onstage” and “out of sight”

Today’s club is remarkable for how much its members do together, both onstage and out of sight. The former Presidents spend a lot of time saying no: to requests to appear, causes to sponsor, business schemes to endorse. But they all keep close track of what their fellow members are up to, even monitoring one another’s health. Recently, they privately circulated prints of a rare photograph in which they all appear, each one signing a copy for the others. Their top aides communicate by phone or e-mail, sometimes every day. As it has throughout history, the club has its share of feuds and tensions, and while none of the members exactly love the President, each has helped Obama in his own way.

More cool facts from the book – offered by TIME:

- The first two calls Barack Obama placed on the night that the SEALs killed Osama bin Laden was to George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

- Obama aides had Jimmy Carter sign a 12-point agreement — including a promise not to speak to the press — ahead of a recent mission to North Korea, much as they asked Bill Clinton to curtail his activities when his wife became Secretary of State.

- Former presidents try to pass on little tricks of the trade to those who follow: Clinton offered George W. Bush speech tips; Lyndon Johnson showed Richard Nixon where he hid the tape recorders; Ronald Reagan taught Clinton how to salute properly during his transition; Nixon gave Clinton advice about Russia, and how to organize his day.

- Clinton became so close to the Bush family that the Texas clan bestowed him a nickname: “Brother from Another Mother.”


Related stories:

G.W. Bush: I Wish Those Tax Cuts Weren’t Named After Me

“The Road We’ve Traveled” Throws Down Campaign Gauntlet

Carter Likes Romney, Appreciates Bachmann

Morning Mix: Obama And Bush Join Together on 9/11


Photo: TIME cover


Myriam G.
Myriam G5 years ago

A better title for the Times article could be: "The United States' most exclusive club".

Philip Amos
.5 years ago

Jamie C. makes a point re the election of presidents, and others, that resonates philosophically and throughout society. It can be argued that free will has been increasingly constrained by the emergence of the professional politician (term limits!), lobbyists, the astonishing power of interest groups (the rightist fundamentalists and evangelicals), the re-emergence full-force (this is not new) of the corporation as 'person', and so on. It might well be compared to television shows (what a surprise) such as American Idol. The audience think they pick the best, but of course they don't -- they pick the best of whoever the panel of judges think are the best. People often buy what corporate supermarkets manipulate them into buying via flyers that are assumed to contain sale prices, but in many cases don't, the effect of muzak playing, and the standing displays we trip over in the aisles. And so it is most egregiously with presidential nominees, who come not from the general population, but from a very, very small band of possibilities chosen by party elites listening closely to their special constituencies -- the special interest groups with the most money and the most potential votes. Free will is often an illusion.

Michael C.
Michael C5 years ago

A Monarchy, the time has com de-throne these bustards, these members of the 1%.

Let their heads roll.

Any one out there know what that term means...What am I asking, you are all members of Care2.

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P5 years ago

All politicians are the same including Obama

Joy Dantine
Joy Dantine5 years ago

Disclosure to the press should be minimal - NOT NONE-EXISTANT.

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons5 years ago

Are our presidents pre-selected by the political power machine before we even get any say? When is the last time the public really had any choice in who was selected as president.

Troy G.
Troy Grant5 years ago

Oligarchy cronies

Cathryn C.
Cathryn C5 years ago

It stands to reason, if the President cannot discuss and lean on those who have gone before, the difficulties and policies of their Presidency then he would be crippled in the performance of his own duties. It is a heavy burden they must carry, the weight and well-being of an entire country on their shoulders. But playing catch up the first 2 years WITHOUT being able to discuss freely with the former Presidents would make it impossible to do the job.

Will Rogers
Will Rogers5 years ago

At the end of it, it's all just a game to them.

Wim Zunnebeld
Wim Zunnebeld5 years ago

noted thx for the info