February 4th, 2008
01:30 PM ET
6 years ago

Across America with Bob Greene: 'The Singular Storm'

Former Presidents Bush, Carter, and Clinton.
Former Presidents Bush, Carter, and Clinton.

ABOARD THE CNN ELECTION EXPRESS IN DOWNEY, California (CNN) – At some point between right now and the time the polls around the country close tomorrow night, take a look at the faces of the candidates still in the race.

And try to imagine the four-years-later versions of those faces. Or to imagine - in case one of these candidates becomes a two-term president - the eight-years-later versions of the faces.

You know what I’m talking about: the inevitable news photographs, taken in the final months of a president’s administration, to be published side-by-side with photographs of that president on Inauguration Day. The point – always - is to show, in the starkest of visual terms, the ravages of the White House years. The paired-up photos don’t even need captions. They literally bellow out their wordless message: this is what the presidency does to a human being.

So when you look at the candidates’ faces today and tomorrow, and envision what those faces will look like in 2012 or 2016, keep in mind something that the candidates of 2008 probably haven’t stopped to consider yet:

This is as good as it gets. Today - before there is a winner in either set of primaries - is the happiest time. It may not feel like that to them, with the clouds of exhaustion that envelop them right now, with the acrimony and bitterness that, as always, have become part of the campaigns, with the nervous stomachs considering every second the cojoined questions: What will happen if I win. What will happen if I don’t.

I’m hardly a political expert, but there have been four presidents whom I’ve been lucky enough to get to know a little bit as people in the years after they left the White House. You’d think they would have almost nothing in common, except for the job. Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, the first George Bush. . . .four distinct and wildly varying personality types.

But there was one thing they shared - something I doubt they were even aware of, because they could not look into their own eyes when they were in the middle of conversations. I could, though - I could look at those eyes when the men were talking about matters of somber and historic importance, I could look at those eyes when they were talking about flighty and trivial things, I could look at those eyes when they were merely making small talk.

And here’s the one thing that linked them:

When they spoke of the time before they became president - when it was still a crazy hope, a seemingly unreachable dream off in the distance– that was when their eyes softened, and became full of wistful yearning. It was when they remembered what it was like to want something so badly, something so grand that it was almost embarrassing for them to admit the dream to others…. that was when they seemed most human and most real. There was a time before every president we have ever had knew that the job really was going to become his. When the seeking of it felt like something they might wake up from in the middle of the night, disoriented and dizzy.

When it was still a hope - when this impossible thing, the attaining of the presidency, had not yet become fully imaginable to them - they were someone else. They were, in one fundamental way, like the rest of us - they were people who weren’t the president.

As are the candidates who will await the vote totals tomorrow night, knowing that soon enough they will find out how many of them will remain to go on from this week and toward the nominating conventions.

So take a look at those faces, between now and tomorrow night. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to do it - they’ll be all over your television screens. One of those faces, in all likelihood, will be in the newspapers and magazines four years from now, or eight years from now. What the presidency has done to that one face will make it look as if the face, and its owner, have been through terrible battle and conflict, and have paid the price.

It’s a price that the men, and the woman, on the ballots tomorrow say they are fully ready to pay. And it’s a pretty safe bet that one of them will someday look back on today - on right now - and his or her eyes will soften, trying to recall what it was like before the singular storm.

Bob Greene is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author.


Filed under: Bob Greene
soundoff (166 Responses)
  1. apollo

    If McCain had won Maine, the media would have called it a devastating blow. Romney's win puts him within 6 delegates.

    Tomorrow will be exciting. Best wishes to all the candidates.

    February 4, 2008 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  2. 30%er

    Google the term WORST EVER and if you read the articule you will find it bias to libral supreme court oppinion. Now click on worst ever congress and the same bias libral oppinion wil tell you how bad there own dem congress has done. Now thats shocking !

    February 4, 2008 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  3. Gavin

    WOW, amazing photo of the Presidents....
    Let's welcome President Hillary Rodham Clinton in January 2009 !!

    February 4, 2008 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  4. CHERYL

    I THINK HILLARY LOOKS BETTER EVERY DAY! I THINK SHE THRIVES UNDER PRESSURE, WHICH IS WHY I AM VOTING FOR HER! THAT AND HER VAST EXPERIENCE! MAKES ME CONFIDENT THAT SHE WILL DO EXACTLY WHAT SHE SAYS SHE WILL DO AND NOT NEED MUCH HELP DOING IT! SHE IS BRILLIANT AND AN ADVOCATE FOR PEOPLE! THIS IS PROVEN IN HER PAST WORK. I AM VERY PROUD OF HER FOR STANDING IN A MANS WORLD(OR SO THEY THINK IT IS) AND HAVING A COMMANDING LEAD IN THE POLLS!!!!!! FLORIDA IS WITH YOU HILLARY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 4, 2008 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  5. pam Eugene OR

    McCain looks far worse than he did 8 MONTHS ago. This is really taking a toll on him!

    February 4, 2008 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  6. Robert C.

    Maybe the reason Dubya (war criminal) doesn't look too bad is because he has (by far!) spent more time on vacation then any president in the history of the United States Of America (yet another one of his dubious distinctions!) By April 13th, 2004 Bush had spent all or part of 500 days at his ranch in Crawford TX or at one of the presidential retreats. That is 40% of his presidency.

    By now those numbers are off the charts! He was on vacation when he got the DBP that "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Buildings With Planes." He was on vacation during Katrina. Isn't anyone outraged about how this incompetent man has screwed up our country in EVERY WAY IMAGINABLE?!!

    OBAMA 2008!!

    February 4, 2008 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  7. Dare to Say?

    Can you please learn how to write grammatically correct sentences before chastising the rest of us for having an opinion?

    To E.C. in Houston – Please. Bush brought all those woes upon himself and EVERYONE has a right to voice their opinions about WHOMEVER, even if it is the President of the United States or as I like to call him, " The Idiot That Could."

    Yup – still looks like a chimpanzee.

    February 4, 2008 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  8. Jim

    Cheryl..................put the kool aid down and back away from the screen.

    February 4, 2008 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  9. Jose Card - Independent

    Bush looks younger than 8 years ago.
    It must be the genes in the family.
    Senior Bush's hair is still darker than Bill's.
    Being at peace with oneself also helps with aging.

    February 4, 2008 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  10. John Smith

    Hillary (and Bill) supporters are "either incredibly loyal or incredibly stupid as well" because you can't really vote for someone who CLAIMS to have any experience who LIES, CRIES like a sissy on the job, and brings along a spouse who is likely to ABUSE young interns in the White House again. No VP will have NO ROOM!!!

    When you apply for a job, the employer always looks for someone with experience and GOOD REFERENCES: Unfortunately, with all her years of failed EXPERIENCES at healthcare reform, the inabaility to control her man, and lots of scandals plus dangerous enemies, you DO NOT want to hire such an experienced person.

    The present Senators and House members have NOT been effective references for Hillary BECAUSE of her poor performance and limited INTERPERSONAL QUALITIES. You need someone, regardless of experience, to have Effective interpersonal qualities; Hillary lacks this quality among others. That is, I do not care about the experiece of MY BOSS as much as I care about his/her quality of interpersonal interaction with me on the job!!!!!

    Talking about EXPERIENCE, I hope Hillary can challenge McCain with this type of "false hope;" McCain has better years of EXPERIENCE than Hillary and both Hillary and McCain lack the basic interpersnal skills NEEDED to bring great people TOGETHER to solve our problems!!!

    Even for those who cannot do bsic research about these candidates, watching the recent debates make it clear: As constitutional professr, Hillary is NO match for Obama. This is reflected in the fact that Hillary NO longer lead in double digits in any of the States. Given the level of education from the folks in Iowa, their decision to initially support Obama speaks volumes!!!!

    No President can suceed, if she/he lacks the skill to bring together the best and brightest in this Nation!!!!!! So, do not waste your vote on Hillary..

    February 5, 2008 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  11. obama 08

    OK LEMME SEE JOHN MCCAIN IS 72 AND IF I DO CHUCK NORRIS MATH HE'S REALLY 86 AND AFTER 8 YRS OF THE PRESIDENCY OMG MCCAIN WILL BE 127 YRS OLD LOOK OUT MOTHUSOULA

    MR. GREENE THIS IS A DUMB ARTICLE BUSH SR ALWAYSED LOOK OLD AS HELL PROB BECAUSE HE'S MARRIED TO HIM MOTHER AND JIMMY CARTER, WELL HE'S JIMMY CARTER WHAT DO YOU EXPECT

    ALTHOUGH I MUST SAY BILL CLINTON HAS AGED QUITE CONSIDERABLY DURING HIS ADMIN

    BUT I DISAGREE ENTIRELY BECASE IF YOU LOOK AT EARLIER PRESIDENT, WHO BY ALL ACCOUNT HAD IT MUCH TOUGH THAN WE DO TODAY EG. CIVIL WAR, GREAT DEPRESSION WW1 WW2 AND HOW CAN WE FORGET THE NOW INFAMOUS CINCINNATI RIVER RAFT EXPLOSION LOL OK BUT POINT BEING YOU HAVE NO POINT SORRY

    February 5, 2008 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  12. Lisa

    Fascinating article. I've been enjoying this'Across America' series, and am looking forward to more.

    February 5, 2008 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  13. NCLaw441

    I have not been overly pleased by President Bush, but he did do a good job following 9/11, and I suspect that he has been heavily occupied by national defense ever since then. Note that we have not been attacked since 9/11. Under President Clinton we were attacked multiple times (not that I blame the president, I am just noting the facts.). Our economy has gone as long as ever in history without recession. Unemployment is under 5%, which is normally considered full employment. We went to war in Iraq, not by Bush's actions alone, but following an overwhelmingly supportive vote by Congress, including, by the way, Senators Clinton and Edwards.

    Bush may not be the very best, but I absolutely shudder to think how the country would have been under Al Gore or John Kerry.

    February 5, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  14. LONGPHUNGUYEN

    without HOPE you can do nothing , BARACK OBAMA the next president

    February 5, 2008 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  15. S.Devarajan

    For more than a decade,one piece of Senator Hillary Clintons informal biography has been that she was named for Sir Edmund Hillary,the conqueror of Mount Everest.The story was even recounted in Bill Clinton's autobiography.
    The New York Times,October 17,2006.
    So what do you think,win at any cost?Say anything to win?Do anything to win?Does it mean playing the race card too is O.K?

    February 5, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  16. Bob

    Yeah, I was actually shocked by how young Bush looked at the last State of the Union address. He definitely looked far less beaten than he had for a few years now.

    Maybe he realizes he's almost done now, so he may as well stop stressing and relax.

    February 5, 2008 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
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