Once in a while our local librarian (and a former student) notifies me of the arrival of a new book she thinks I might enjoy. Thus I received a copy of The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It's one of the most exclusive clubs in the world, usually boasting only six or fewer members. This club has only one requirement for membership: having served as President of the of the United States. I must admit I was a little skeptical at first. Another Washington political potboiler filled with rumor, speculation about motives and unsubstantiated so-call "facts". Not at all. The Presidents Club is a clear and well-written glimpse into the modern presidency. It's worth reading and rereading for its behind-the-scenes insights.
It all began with Harry Truman bringing Herbert Hoover back from the limbo of being assigned the entire blame for the Great Depression. Hoover was given the job of unscrambling the bureaucratic logjam block food aid to a hungry and war torn Europe after World War II. This was exactly the same service he had successfully performed for President Wilson after World War II. A working relationship and even friendship ensued between the two men that in spite of future up and downs among future presidents set up pattern for the "club." The authors proceeded to explore how the relationships between former chief executives of often very different ideologies and politics have shaped history. I found these relationships sometimes petty and even distasteful but quite often inspiring. That was particularly so in these ideologically rigid and highly polarized times.
The sourest note in the whole book for me was to learn what a truely amoral, even immoral man, Richard Nixon proved to be. This relates to the story of Nixon's actions during the '68 presidential campaign, his successful effort to kill President Johnson's desperate hope for talks in Paris to end the Vietnam war in 1968. And Humphrey's well intentioned but mistaken decision not to publicly incriminate Nixon as a traitor to his country. The vicious block thrown by Nixon and his henchmen, including the go-between, Madame Chenault, prolonged the war for seven years. LBJ, knowing from secret wiretaps, that Nixon, through Chenault, was double dealing, phoned Nixon and appealed to him not to endanger the peace effort. "Oh no, Mr. President, said Nixon to LBJ, I would never do anything like that." Thousands more Americans died in Vietnam in the succeeding years.
A mystery solved:
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