It’s impossible to review The President’s Club without look towards the last few weeks. In the same way that one can no more look at the first century of the Roman Empire without looking at Nero and Caligula. And that’s what makes it such a difficult book to review in the sense that I ever review anything. Its message is of a world before, a world at rest before unrest, repose but manic awakening, that ho-hum dream that lullabied western civilization so sweetly from 1945 until now. It’s tricky because all I want to do is to hold the book into the sky and scream like Moses into the masses worshipping their bronze or cheeto-flavored idols and scream, “Globalization is not a game! Peace is not passive! Vanity holds only the vain to fire!”.
But I cannot do that. I am a liberal and by the very nature of partisan hackery and governmental misunderstanding I will be ignored, be called a fellator of this, that, or other establishment. And so I dawdle. Screaming and gnashing my teeth as I review this book I read months ago. Its words and message echoing like remembrances of some age ready to be cast into some forgotten and archaic history.
What the hell am I supposed to accomplish under that weight? Read this book to see how things worked, how adults handled the odds of responsibility and picked their battles like generals instead of spoiled toddlers? I can’t separate myself from this enough to do any of that. This book holds only longing and tears in the face of contemporary reality.
So woe is me. Woe is us. Even if some can’t appreciate it.
Oooooh, okay. Here it goes…
So, there was a time when partisanship wasn’t quite the dogmatic beast it is today. There was, and I’m still reeling from this, a time when things got done and people bickered with the understanding that things still needed to get done. The congressional circus was safely hidden from the television and radio stations and people actually had conversations instead and turning the navigating of a world power into a poorly written soap opera starring almost exclusively saggy, shapeless old men.
The President’s Club offers a glimpse into this oft rumored, but rarely seen world. It is a fascinating chronicle of those powerful and unfortunate individuals who hold the presidential office. It starts with Truman tapping Hoover just after WWII and proceeds all the way to Obama’s first term with an effectiveness that is nothing short of impressive. Never getting distracted or overly bogged down in details, Gibbs and Duffy paint a stunning political landscape that rarely gets sketched above the broad strokes of contemporary events and the face of the office.
I had never thought much about the idea of presidents corresponding and aiding one another after their tenure. I suppose if I asked I would have assumed that yes they probably did talk, but the level and degree, the openness with which so much of this happened is almost surreal. But it’s mostly disheartening, or perhaps aptly: Sad! There are so many moments of magnanimity between political rivals in the name of preserving the presidential office and to see what it is quickly becoming does little but fill me with a needle-nosed dread that haunts my day-to-day worries like a revenant butcher.
This book is unique, not just in its perspective on history, but in what that view ends up uncovering. While it is focused on the trials and tribulations that ultimately unite all who have donned the moniker Commander-in-Chief, it does this with such a focused way that one is actually capable of feeling out the beginning of the shift from “I serve at the pleasure of the president” to “Kiss my ass, you walleyed liverspot”. It’s not the point of the book, but it’s there, offered, but not demanded.
I had never correlated ideas of magnanimity and dignity with the presidential office before I read this book. Fortunately, I’ve read this late enough I won’t have to do that for a very long time.
“If the Presidents Club had a seal, around the ring would be three words: cooperation, competition, and consolation. On the one hand, the presidents have powerful motives—personal and patriotic—to help one another succeed and comfort one another when they fail. But at the same time they all compete for history’s blessing.” ― Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, The Presidents Club