Columnist and prolific author Greene (Once Upon a Town, 2002, etc.) sets out to chat with some ex-presidents of the US, not including Bill Clinton. He reaches four out of five.
The journey started two decades ago with the late Richard Nixon in his California lair. The self-absorbed former chief executive asserted to our reporter that he had never seen himself on TV—thus retaining his famous spontaneity, he claimed. Next, Greene spent time with competent, confident Jimmy Carter, often named “the best ex-president.” Mr. and Mrs. Carter were busy with good works and happy to be at home in Georgia. Affable George Bush the Elder, in Chicago on a speaking gig with son Jeb, revealed that in four years as president he never passed through a hotel lobby; he always entered through the kitchens. Erstwhile Grand Rapids football hero Gerald Ford settled in the California desert and even more affable, was fine company too. Indeed, the author found all his interviewees to be quite agreeable. (Greene missed contact with Ronald Reagan before the late great communicator withdrew into the shadows of Alzheimer’s, and the text was obviously completed before his recent death.) What did these members of a very special fraternity have in common other than affability? Secret Service protection and a certain wistfulness, apparently. In his effort to reveal the inner men, Greene asked such posers as: “Did you always wear your suit jacket in the Oval Office?” “Do your closest friends call you ‘Mr. President’?” “How do you buy your shirts?” and “What’s your favorite song?” The answers range from startled inconsequentiality to surprised irrelevance. And yet, the idea of these apparently ordinary men achieving such an extraordinary height seizes the author’s imagination, and ours too. Only in America, truly, can such a fraternity be interviewed in Greene’s content-free way.
Patriotic musings based on creampuff interviews with some men who were once the most powerful on earth.