Jimmy Carter is seen as the black sheep in the exclusive club of former presidents but he is also turned into the go-to guy for “secret missions.”
Those who followed him to the White House know he can open doors and get things done and so they use him, Time magazine editor and author Michael Duffy tells Newsmax.TV.
Duffy and fellow Time editor Nancy Gibbs have written “The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity,” a book detailing the interactions, alliances, and friendships between former presidents and their relationships with those that replaced them in the Oval Office. The club currently has four members, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Carter, who is often photographed standing apart from the other former presidents.
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“Every club needs a black sheep, and this one is Jimmy Carter,” Duffy said. “He’s always been something of a loner, partly by nature, and so he’s always been difficult for the other presidents who followed him to handle. But they all have asked him to run secret missions.
“President Bush the First, President Clinton, President Bush and President Obama have all sent him overseas because he can open doors and get things done because he’s a former president in a way that current presidents can’t quite get along with.
"Is he a difficult partner? Yeah. Is he one they all turn to for help? Yes.”
Duffy explained that when he and Gibbs began to work on the book of former president, calling them members of a club was a construct, a “way of kind of just talking about our project.”
“But as we did more and more research and read and started talking to people, we realized that they actually call it a club,” he said.
“Herbert Hoover called it our mutual little trade union. And it has its own rules and it has its own taboos, it has its own sort of feast days and Thanksgiving days and its secret alliances and its rivalries. We were surprised because, at first, it was just a nickname for us. And then it turns out no, this is really a club and even with its own clubhouse.”
That clubhouse is a brownstone across the street from the White House purchased by Richard Nixon and the bond between the former leaders is so strong that President George H.W. Bush offered each former president a secure phone line into the Oval Office.
The co-authors also discovered unlikely pairings between former presidents and those in the White House.
“Probably the one that struck us most and kind of got us started was the first, which is Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover, which may be the most unlikely partnership of all the ones that we looked at but also the most productive and faithful,” Gibbs said.
“You could argue that when Truman secretly mailed a letter to Hoover asking him to come to the White House and see him, within weeks of Truman’s taking office, to talk about what they were going to do about a real humanitarian crisis that was unfolding in Europe.
“The war was just ending. Literally, millions of people were at risk of starvation in the aftermath. And Truman knew that there was no one who knew more about moving food around, just the difficult logistics of humanitarian relief than Herbert Hoover.
"It didn’t bother him that Hoover was still a pariah that he had left Washington under such a cloud. Those two men worked together more productively than anyone could have imagined. And they set the precedent for all the partnerships that followed.”
Barack Obama has also developed a somewhat unlikely and unusual relationship with George H. W. Bush that is not on a policy level.
“One of the interesting relationships with President Obama is with the first President Bush whom he reached out to very early on,” Gibbs said. “Not so much for political or policy advice, almost more personally. This was a man who he admired.
"And when President Bush would come to Washington, he would go by the White House to see Obama — not to tell him what you should be doing in Afghanistan, but often just to tell him jokes, chat him up.
"It’s a very warm relationship. It’s quite different than someone like Bill Clinton who plays a very different role.”
Carter is often acclaimed for his activities since leaving the White House and pointed to as someone who redefined what it means to be a former president. However, he is in many ways following in the footsteps of Hoover.
“You could argue Hoover set a precedent because Hoover was the longest serving former president.” Gibbs said. “He was thrown out after one term; still a young man, lived for 31 more years, and did an enormous amount of humanitarian work.
"Jimmy Carter, thrown out after one term, still a young man, has the same problems. How do I reinvent myself now? And he starts the Carter Center, does enormous amounts of work overseas. He then set the template for Clinton who watched that very closely, studied it, modeled the Clinton Global Initiative off of that and what we’re seeing, one of the reasons the club is sort of in a Golden Age is because the former presidents are younger.”
Sadly, one former president’s membership in the club was cut short by illness. However, Duffy noted that while Ronald Reagan fell ill to Alzheimer’s he still managed to help out a member of the club.
“In 1992, Bill Clinton comes to visit Ronald at Century City in L.A. and Clinton asks Reagan, do you have any advice for me? And Reagan says, go to Camp David but one other thing,” Duffy said. “I’ve been watching you on that campaign trail and you just don’t know how to salute. You’ve got this wimpy salute. You’ve got to learn how to bring it up sharp and bring it down fast.
"And Clinton, who’d never been in the service, they practiced the salute. Reagan teaches him, essentially, how to salute. And, later, Clinton would practice in the White House. So even between two men, different ideologies, different generations, vastly different ways of thinking there was help.”
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