Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush sat side by side at the Newseum to begin their newest joint venture: the Presidential Leadership Scholars program. Their presidential centers,along with those of George H.W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson,are partnering to run the program,which will take place at each of their centers or libraries.
“This is the most interdependent age in human history,” Clinton said before sharing a story of people asking to take selfies with him instead of shaking his hand. “We can’t get away from each other. The question is: How can we define the terms of our relationship? And that’s going take enormous amounts of leadership in every sector.”
The two presidents,as well as former presidential staff members,will be involved with the program and discuss how they dealt with trying times during their administrations.
Clinton has worked with the Bush family in the past,helping disaster relief efforts with the elder Bush after the 2004 Indonesia tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. George W. Bush and Clinton established a nonprofit to provide relief after the disastrous 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Bush described the pair as “friends” – Clinton at one point called himself the “black sheep” of the Bush family – and the former presidents took several chances to score some audience laughter during the morning’s chat.
After being told George H.W. Bush would be watching the event on a livestream (and that he wanted his son to keep it short),George W. Bush raised his hand toward the news cameras and said,“Hi,Mom!” Asked minutes later why the presidential centers decided to work together on a leadership initiative,he answered: “Because. He said keep it short,right?”
“We have made so much progress. We are less racist,sexist and homophobic than we used to be,” he said. “But we don’t want to be around anybody who disagrees with us. And it’s hard to make good decisions in complex environments,” Clinton said as his cell phone ringtone cut him off. He told the audience only two relatives know the number.
“I hope I’m not being told I’m about to become a premature grandfather,” he said.
“That’d make national news,” Bush pointed out.
Chelsea Clinton is expecting a baby in the fall.
The leadership program is aimed at midlevel professionals from different parts of American society,from members of the military to small business owners to public servants and politicians. Some likely participants were in the audience.
Both Clinton and Bush said they don’t want the leadership program to turn into an endeavor aimed strictly at recruiting and developing political talent – but they’re not opposed to inspiring budding public servants,either.
“People look at the political process and public service as,‘I don’t want to serve,’” Bush said. “Who wants to get involved with that? Who wants their reputation besmirched? And I think,hopefully,the program will inspire good people to serve,to say it’s worth the cost.”
Donations from foundations,corporations and individuals will pay for tuition and accommodations for the program’s participants.
Reach reporter Sean McMinn at [email protected] or 202-408-1488. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.