Only five people are currently eligible to check in to this club. And one more will be added after the next Presidential election. That’s right, I’m talking about the President’s Club. Started during Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration, it was just an idea then as both Herbert Hoover and Harriet Truman were still alive. In those days, when presidents consulted former presidents, they maybe shared stories, but not more than that. There were limits to what former presidents could do. But now, with presidents living longer, they continue to have influence even after they retire.
The idea of a former president mentoring and advising the current president was barely a concept from the beginning of the institution. More often than not, a layer of distrust or even bitterness in some cases existed between the man leaving the most powerful position on earth, and the one gaining it. However, this changed with the Truman administration. Just weeks after inauguration, Truman contacted Hoover and gave him the job of convincing America and the world to send food and aid to the ravaged parts of Europe after WW2. Just to be clear, the seasoned Republican didn’t think much of the fledgling Democrat, but over the course of many interactions, they formed a lasting relationship that continued long after Truman’s term in office.
Lets be honest: only people who have sat at the big desk know what it’s like to be president. That’s probably the reason why current presidents are now consulting current presidents more often. The morning John Kennedy was going to call quarantine on Cuba that could start a nuclear war, he called Eisenhower. Clinton called Nixon multiple times late at night to talk about Russia, China, and how to run the Oval office. The night Bin-Laden was killed, Obama placed his first two calls to George W. Bush and Clinton.
The President’s Club has its rules: stay in touch. Don’t talk about club business to the press. It also has its own feasts and rituals. It even has a clubhouse across the street from the White House. To make reservations for the clubhouse, you have to call the White House. This clubhouse/hotel may not be the best staying place in terms of service, but it does have dedicated accommodations for a full secret service detail.
In 2009, when Obama was going to become president, Bush tried to make the transition as smooth as possible for him. None of the four living former presidents were necessarily “excited” about Obama, but as Obama said, “They were all incredibly gracious.” Obama decided to invite all four former presidents to a luncheon in early January of 2009, and asked Bush the son to host it. The White House was nervous to invite Carter because he had criticized everything they had done for the past eight years. But everybody came: Bush, Carter, Clinton and Bush the elder. “We spent an hour talking about how we dealt with the White House staff and what living accommodations were and what to do about putting our kids in school in Washington…and how much of an intrusion it was on our private affairs to have security,” Carter said when interviewed.
In 2008, Obama came to Texas A&M collage station to meet with H.W. Bush. Bush went out of his way to welcome Obama, and Obama did the same. “He’s a citizen whose life has embodied that ethic… He could easily have chosen a life of comfort and privilege, and instead, time and again, when offered a chance to serve, he seized it,” said Obama.
This club will only become more important as the years go by, and it is likely that its members will continue to see a growth in their influence over the current president even as the executive branch grows stronger. And no doubt the president will increasingly rely on the former presidents for support and advice even as the United States is at a critical juncture in its history. Who knows what the 2016 presidential election will bring to the Presidents Club? Oh, and another duty that comes with being a member of the club is that when the president summons you, you go.