The Second Convention

Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents by Bob Greene

In honor of the Republican National Convention this week – a book about five recent former Presidents, four of whom are Republicans. Journalist Bob Greene decided to visit and interview each of the then-living former Presidents: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush 41. He describes the surreal experience of meeting a former President – how the face and voice are very familiar, but the person himself is larger than life. The moments and observations that have stuck with me:

Nixon, decrying the lower-casing of the word “President” by the media; and explaining that he always wore a suit jacket in the office, even when he was alone. A man who never let anyone, even his best friend, get close to him, but who – ironically – was exposed to the entire world.

Carter, whose innate wariness causes there always to be a staffer in the room along with him and an interviewer – but who also comes across as a man who humbles himself in his service to others. He spoke of the friendship between himself and Ford, who interestingly is the other member of this exclusive club with whom Carter feels the greatest affinity.

Bush 41, who comes across as a decent man who is relieved to be able to attend a baseball game once again without being subjected to picketing and boo-ing – but who also expressed nostalgia for his years living in the White House.

Ford, who, of all of them, seems the most comfortable in his own skin. His lack of pretension is refreshing. He spoke of the nightly prayer he has said since his high school days; of his lifelong friendships with his high school football teammates, who still call him “Jerry;” of his friendship with JFK when they had Congressional offices across the corridor from one another; and of his service on the Warren Commission, investigating his old friend’s murder. And it’s downright endearing to find that the movie he mentions as a favorite is Mrs. Doubtfire.

Reagan announced his Alzheimer’s diagnosis before Greene had the opportunity to interview him. Greene’s description of Nancy Reagan’s standing in for her husband at a ceremony, for the first time of many, is poignant.

A good behind-the-scenes view of life after the White House.