Accessibility links

Former Presidents Form an Unlikely Alliance


Once political rivals, former Presidents George H. Bush and Bill Clinton have become unlikely partners. The former leaders started working together after the devastating Tsunami in Asia. Since then, the pair has become a symbol of what politics, often, is not: convivial, respectful and surprisingly effective.

George Herbert Walker Bush and William Jefferson Clinton have come a long way since they ran against each other in 1992.

"Every time I think of Mr. Bush, I get spooked and think about Halloween,” said Mr. Clinton while campaigning in 1992.

"My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos," countered then-President Bush, referring to Mr. Clinton and his running mate.

That was then. Now they're both former presidents.

But when the tsunami tragedy struck half a world away, an unlikely partnership was born. At the request of the current president, the former rivals traveled to Asia, to help raise money and rebuild lives ravaged by the powerful tsunami, which had left more than 200,000 people dead or missing.

"Here was a young child, life shattered, mother drowned in front of her, sitting on a mud floor. It's terribly moving,” said Mr. Bush. “The children is what gets me the most."

Mr. Clinton added, "It was very painful. It's breathtaking. You think, ‘how do they go on?’ "

Since then, the 41st and 42nd presidents of the United States, or “41” and “42” as they sometimes refer to each other, have become a team. This year, they raised more than $100 million to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, becoming, along the way, the symbols of tolerance and bipartisanship in politically divisive times.

"This so-called politics of personal destruction is a part of a larger trend to force everybody into little boxes, former President Clinton said. “You've got to be liberal or conservative. We're all supposed to be two-dimensional cartoon characters, not flesh and blood people with strengths and weaknesses; we're right and we're wrong."

Added former President Bush, "Because you run against each other, that doesn't mean you're enemies. Politics doesn't have to be mean, politics doesn't have to be uncivil and nasty."

On the long flight to Asia to visit the tsunami victims, Mr. Clinton gave the one bed on the plane to Mr. Bush, while he slept on an air mattress. It was a simple gesture but one that forged a friendship. Now, they play golf together.

"If he beats me, I'm back to partisanship, it's over," joked Mr. Clinton.

And they appear to genuinely like each other.

"The guy is indefatigable, said Mr. Bush of Mr. Clinton. Then, referring to a popular battery advertisement, he added, “Energizer bunny -- he just keeps going and going here, there and around the world. When you see it up close, it's undeniable."

"He's funny, he's straightforward. He's all business when we're working,” said Mr. Clinton. “Doesn't beat around the bush a lot, doesn't take a long time to make decisions. He's interested in results just like I am."

But what is it that motivates former presidents to do what they do, long after their terms have expired?

Mr. Clinton answered, "If someone gives you the White House and gives you the most wonderful job in the world, you ought to spend the rest of your life trying to give back to the American people whatever you can."

"I still think politics is a noble calling,” said Mr. Bush. “I believe most people in politics are honorable people that are serving for the right reasons."

Both say there's a lot more work to be done and have agreed to continue their partnership in the coming year, because as Mr. Clinton says, tomorrow can be better, and according to Mr. Bush, it's worth it.

XS
SM
MD
LG