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Presidential aides talk personal service

Presidential aides talk personal service

November 12th, 2017 by Bob Watson in Local News

How do former presidents get along?

Very well, based on their appearance last month at Texas A&M University for the "One America Appeal Fund" hurricane relief fundraiser; and on the fact all five living former U.S. presidents — Jimmy Carter (39th president), George H.W. Bush (41), Bill Clinton (42), George W. Bush (43) and Barack Obama (44) — recorded messages for a public service announcement about the hurricane relief fundraising efforts within days of being asked to do so.

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Jean Becker, chief of staff for George H.W. Bush, told a forum of Missouri high school teachers last Tuesday that after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in late-August: "We were on a conference call on Labor Day with all five presidents' chiefs of staff and all their press people.

"That PSA aired the following Thursday night, during the first NFL game of the football season."

After Hurricanes Irma and Maria also struck the Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico and Florida, the event in College Station was planned and all five former presidents agreed to appear.

"We raised $2.5 million in one night," Becker said (noting $1 million of that was donated by musician Lady Gaga). "There were 10,000 people in the (basketball) arena and these five guys came together — no politics.

"No disagreement of who said what. Camaraderie."

All five shared dinner in the elder Bush's small apartment, Becker reported, before going to the fundraiser.

And when they appeared on stage, she said, "All the presidents got a huge applause — everybody was thrilled to see them there."

And that, Becker said, "is what America is all about. Not what you see on CNN, on Fox, on MSNBC and what you read on Facebook, on the blogs (and) on Instagram.

"That room was filled with so much love and camaraderie, and those five presidents coming together — that is who we are. Not what you see going on in Washington right now" — although, Becker added, not everything that happens in Washington is bad.

Becker and Stephanie Streett, who was Clinton's scheduling director and now is the Clinton Foundation's executive director, agreed friendships have been formed even after brutal campaigns.

Streett noted Clinton was Arkansas' governor while the elder Bush was president, and they had worked together on some issues.

Clinton had spoken favorably about Bush before and after the campaign.

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However, campaigns are brutal and negative, Becker said, adding Bush didn't like Clinton very much for awhile.

Streett said, "I believe the fundamental core value of having respect and appreciation for people and their core beliefs and truths was one of the things that led to this incredible friendship" between Clinton and George H.W. Bush that has developed publicly over the last decade.

Becker said the two men "had a very respectful friendship the whole time President Clinton was president. But they became truly great friends — and their match-maker was President Bush 43."

After a 9.1 magnitude earthquake under the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26, 2004, spawned a devastating tsunami that killed more than 150,000 people, the younger Bush asked his father and Clinton "to come together to raise money in the private sector" for aid to the affected countries, Becker said.

The two men became close friends during the flights to the region, she said, and worked together on other disaster relief efforts.

St. Louis attorney Greg Willard served as a personal aide to President Gerald R. Ford, was the Fords' personal attorney and also was responsible for planning and supervising the funerals for Ford in 2006 and first lady Betty Ford in 2011.

He said Carter, who beat Ford's election bid in 1976, and Ford developed a similar friendship after both men had left office.

He also told the teachers attending last week's forum at Calvary Lutheran High School that he saw former presidents work together and get along well as he oversaw Ford's funeral.

Becker noted: "The office is more powerful than any one man. Whether you like or dislike the man or woman who sits in the Oval Office, this isn't a monarchy.

"Under our Constitution the office of the presidency is stronger than any given human being no matter what your politics are."

However, Streett added, future office holders "have to earn that respect; it's not just bestowed upon you" by predecessors.

Willard expects — even with all the controversies surrounding President Donald Trump's administration and its relationships with Congress — that doesn't automatically happen when one is elected.

Tuesday's forum was organized by Millie Aulbur, the Missouri Bar's "Citizenship Education" director (and Becker's older sister).

Aulbur arranged the forum as part of the final year of a grant from the James Madison Legacy Project.