There aren’t too many things that will get my husband out of bed at 4:15 a.m. As the default “morning parent,” I can attest to this. So when he told me he had set his alarm for an incredibly early hour, I knew it had to be something incredible.
Dan happened to be in Washington D.C. for a meeting this past week, and he wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to pay respect to George H.W. Bush. And so, after hitting snooze just once (allegedly), he made the trek to Capitol Hill, where the 41st president of the United States lay in state.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he told me. “How often do you get to see history being made?”
I couldn’t agree more.
In fact, I would’ve done the same in his shoes. The death of a president is a big deal, especially for those of us who were in our formative years during his term (I was in 7th grade when he was elected).
This, paired with the fact that I come from a family of history buffs, has led me to do a lot of reading about the late President. But of all stories — from his time as one of the youngest Navy pilots to serve in WWII, to his leadership during the Gulf War — the one that piqued my curiosity most was the unlikely friendship he forged with former President Bill Clinton.
According to an excerpt from The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity, the two connected while working together on a team to provide aid to victims of the 2004 tsunami. During several days of travel — much of which was spent in an Air Force Boeing — the two politicians found that they had more in common than expected, and were able to put aside their differences.
During the 1992 campaign, Clinton “made repeated reference to Bush’s age, and called the incumbent president ‘old.’ Bush had called Clinton a ‘bozo,’ and at one point suggested that his, “dog knew more about foreign policy than Clinton did” (Time). I imagine the first few moments were somewhat awkward.
But being leaders and statesmen, they were able to leave the past where it belongs and use their combined experience and ingenuity to focus on raising much-needed funds. According to Clinton, it was Bush who made the alliance work through his willingness to put ego aside and embrace a former opponent.
“He deserves far more credit than I do,” said Clinton.
And, as it turned out, it wasn’t a one-time truce, or a show for the cameras. In subsequent years, the two made appearances together (including greeting fans at the Super Bowl and participating in charity golf tournaments), and when Clinton was hospitalized in 2010, Bush called to check up on him.
Imagine that. Two people with differing values and viewpoints establishing a friendship. Two people who campaigned against each other and represented different parties becoming allies.
John Lennon may have said, “It’s easy if you try.” But these days, it’s getting more and more difficult to imagine.
In today’s divisive political climate, it seems there are two ways to approach political disputes: by having knock-down, drag-out, dirty fights, or by ignoring differences completely.
There has to be a better way, right?
There is. By having respectful discussions. By listening to other viewpoints, rather than just shouting out our own views. By acting like civil human beings.
It doesn’t mean avoiding debates; it means holding them in an appropriate forum. And that, by the way, doesn’t include bringing up controversial issues at the holiday dinner table, or taking the gloves off on Facebook or Twitter.
It means taking a cue from Clinton and Bush, who successfully modeled “an alternative method in an age of political cage fights,” the excerpt noted. “I think people see George and me and they say, ‘That is the way our country ought to work,’” Clinton said.
Now that, I can imagine.