Co-author of The New York Times best-seller, The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity, and TIME Magazine Washington Bureau Chief, Michael Duffy, headlined an event as part of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) “On Leadership” speaker series.
Duffy explored what defines presidential leadership and how the partnership between various sitting and former presidents has shaped the trajectory of the United States. Throughout the course of the discussion with BPC’s Democracy Project Director, John Fortier, Duffy noted his favorite and greatest moments of collaborative leadership seen by former presidents.
Most Reinvented President: Jimmy Carter
On September 7, 2012, President Jimmy Carter will become the longest living former president in American history.
“That’s a big responsibility to be out of office for 31 years. He’s had to reinvent what it means to be a former president. He’s done it better than anyone else. He will tell you he is a better former president than he was president,” Duffy said.
He noted that across party lines, these men are able to provide each other with a degree of understanding that only the people who have previously been in that chair can understand.
Most Unlikely Relationship: Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman
“It’s perhaps the most unlikely and productive relationship in the book,” Duffy said.
When Truman entered office, he faced a massive feeding problem in Europe, whose citizens suffered through years of war. President Hoover faced a similar situation after World War I. Truman secretly wrote a letter to Hoover (despite objections from his advisors), inviting him to the White House to discuss ways Truman could get food from countries that had it to those that needed it, and also, how to politically achieve the feat.
“Truman knew that it would take a Republican to convince a largely Republican congress to give the presidency more power,” Duffy said.
“Again, a bipartisan moment that everyone thought would never work, and it worked brilliantly,” he said.
Bipartisan Duo to Watch: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush
Duffy spoke of Bush 43’s relationship with Clinton and how they have combined forces after leaving the White House. As business partners, they have traveled the country for joint speaking engagements (he noted, jokingly, that Bush 41 calls these gatherings “white collar-crime”). Duffy labeled the duo as “two men to watch.”
Read more about the “men to watch,” in The Washington Examiner’s Washington Secrets column by Paul Bedard.
Putting Country Before Party: George H.W. Bush
“He was smart, practical and knew himself,” Duffy said of Bush 41’s retreat from the public life after his term. “He took the loss in 92’ really hard,” he added. Bush 41 later wrote about how it feels when the public rejects you and the reconciliation process he went through when the electorate decided to go a different way. Duffy noted that his powerful prose evolved and you could “literally hear him putting the country ahead of him.”
Honorable Mention: John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon contemplated contesting President Kennedy’s narrowly-won 1960 election. Days after the election, Nixon received a call from President Herbert Hoover. In hopes of maintaining the morale of the nation, Hoover advised Nixon not to challenge the results or call for a recount. Nixon then called President Eisenhower. Eisenhower agreed with Hoover and noted that contesting the election could send a signal of political tension overseas. Nixon took the former presidents’ advice and called President Kennedy to concede. The two were famously pictured together soon after the incident.
The “On Leadership” speaker series will resume October 19 when BPC hosts former Republican presidential candidate, Jon Huntsman.