(2 of 5)
The world's most exclusive club has only 43 members, and all of them are dead except Gerald Ford, 92; Jimmy Carter, 81; George H.W. Bush, 81; and Bill Clinton, 59. For years, the club rarely met at all, and then only at openings of presidential libraries or VIP funerals. But as Presidents have lived longer after leaving office, most have tried to stay busy, and some have felt underused by their successors. Harvard business and government professor Roger Porter, who has worked as an aide to three Commanders in Chief, explains, "Being President is like drinking from a fire hydrant. And then suddenly this entire apparatus that has been feeding you, and caring for you and making you feel important and helping you make decisions that really do matter, is gone. It's a huge adjustment. It's easy to forget that these veterans still have a lot of good ideas."
Relations between Bush and Clinton began warming more than a year ago, when 41 gave a gracious speech at the opening of the Clinton library in Little Rock, Ark., in November 2004. During a long tour of the facility that followed, the two men got lost in conversation and fell behind the main party, delaying lunch for the rest of the dignitaries. A bemused President Bush dispatched Clinton Foundation chairman Skip Rutherford with a message for the slow-moving club members: "Tell 41 and 42 that 43 is hungry."
When they arrived in Washington last January to take on the tsunami job, the Bush-Clinton task was fairly limited: tour the region, collect information about how to help foreign governments, direct Americans to the right charities and send a signal at home and abroad that the U.S. takes the relief effort seriously. It didn't take long for the ice to break: both men discovered that they hated repeated rehearsals of television spots and tried to entertain each other between takes. During a round of joint interviews, Clinton put his former rival at ease by changing the subject when reporters lobbed questions at the father about the son's handling of the tsunami response. Call it a club courtesy. "Each of them knows" said a Bush aide, "what the other has had to face in that job."
A fact-finding trip to Asia in February went better than either side expected. Clinton let Bush have the lone bedroom on the Air Force plane--a gesture Bush appreciated. Although Clinton is a well-known raconteur on overseas flights, it turned out that Bush was the charmer on that trip, introducing everyone all around, taking a shine to a couple of Clinton's aides and generally making folks feel at ease. Clinton was more subdued, still recovering from his quadruple-bypass operation five months before, but not so much that he could resist staying up at night playing Oh Hell! with Jean Becker, Bush's chief of staff.
The duo turned up a couple of weeks later in Florida for a Greg Norman--sponsored golf tournament that raised almost $2 million for the tsunami effort. The next day Clinton had surgery to remove some scar tissue and fluid from around his left lung, and Bush immediately checked on his spirits and kept after him for weeks about the importance of working out. A family friend recalls sitting with Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine, while 41 dialed up his new best friend: How do you feel? What do the doctors say? Are you sore? How much are you exercising yet? Are you using the treadmill?