George H.W. Bush on bonding with Bill Clinton
March 5th, 2013
11:38 AM ET
2 years ago

George H.W. Bush on bonding with Bill Clinton

Washington (CNN) – They faced off as bitter foes in the 1992 election. Today George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton are good friends - some even describe it almost as a father-son type relationship.

In this updated collection of letters, e-mails and other writings, "All The Best, George Bush; My Life in Letters and other Writings," Mr. Bush recounts the unlikely journey the two travelled to become so close today.

Programming note: For more about President George HW Bush's letters tune in to "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" starting at 4 p.m. ET.

In a February 1999 letter to his five children, Bush recounted a trip he, President Clinton and former Presidents Carter and Ford had just taken to attend the funeral of Jordan's King Hussein. Aboard Air Force One he saw in Clinton "a great grasp of facts, apparently an in-depth knowledge on the issues. I disagree with many of the administration's positions that he outlined for us."

He called the actual funeral a "name dropper's paradise. With two Governors in our family, my name dropping credentials in the USA have, of late, gone down a little; but at this gathering I was a soaring eagle."

He found happiness, a new mission and a new partner when he was asked to lead relief efforts with Bill Clinton following the 2005 Asian tsunami. In a letter to friend and journalist Hugh Sidey, Bush talked about travelling in February of 2005 with Clinton, who he said was very considerate of him. He said Clinton would always wait so they could exit the plane together. "I thought I knew him; but until this trip I did not really know him."

In the same letter, he described how the two men had their different styles. Bush prided himself on always being prompt. Clinton not so much.

"Bill did have an opinion on everything and asked questions on a lot of things. When the questions were answered he would then opine based on some experience of his own, somewhere, sometime ago," Bush wrote. "In grade school they had a place on our report cards 'Claims more than his fair share of time and attention in the class room.' Bill would have gotten a bad mark there." But he also said it didn't upset him. "I did not mind this a bit....if we got in a bind for things to say or answers to be given to questions it was reassuring to know that 'he was de man!"

But mostly he grew to admire him. "You cannot get mad at the guy. I admit to wondering why he can't stay on time, but when I see him interacting with folks my wonder turns to understanding, with a dollop of angst thrown in," Bush wrote. "Clinton is a fascinating character. He has opinions on everything -no matter what. He seems to have a great grasp of history's events and people," he wrote.

Later that year the two men would join forces again – to raise money at home to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

In October, 2006 he sent a note to Clinton after they received a joint award. "This note is to simply let you know that I so appreciated your words about our relationship, about our friendship. It was from your heart – and I hope you know I feel the same away."

In the letter he also predicted Hillary Clinton's expected run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination - and criticism of Bush's son's White House that would inevitably follow – could put a strain on their relationship. "The politics between now and two years from now might put pressure on our friendship, but it is my view that it will survive. In any event, I have genuinely enjoyed working with you. Don't kill yourself by travel or endless rope lines. All the best, George."

"They have become really great friends; in fact almost like family and that's like a jealousy for the rest of the Bush kids. They think they got this other brother named Bill Clinton. It is a wonderful warm relationship and that is reflected in these letters," Bush family friend Andy Card, a former Transportation Secretary in his cabinet and White House Chief of Staff to George W. Bush, told CNN.

Bush also reached out to Clinton in January of 2008 with some words of empathy and a touch of humor. "My heart went out to you when I saw you trying to keep your eyes open during an MLK day sermon. I could indeed 'feel your pain,'" he wrote in the note adding "I have been there myself, more than once I might add, and it physically hurt as I tried to keep my eyes open."

He then shared with Clinton a funny anecdote about the "prestigious" Scowcroft award given to those serving in the Bush White House who "fell most soundly asleep during a meeting." It was named after his national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, who he said was "hopeless...he could sleep in any meeting at any time of day."

He recounted how then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney won the award once. "He proclaimed himself unworthy, though his solid sleep in the Cabinet meeting had been witnessed by all assembled," Mr. Bush wrote. "Having been a Scowcroft Award recipient myself I send you now my total understanding and my warmest personal regards. As I heard that minister droning on I made a challenge for the trophy myself. Your friend, George."

In this update of his 1999 book, on sale beginning Tuesday, Mr. Bush also shared some poignant moments for the first time publicly.

He included a May, 2000 letter to his pastor after he helped the family move the body of his infant daughter, Robin, from Connecticut where she was first buried to Texas. Robin was three years old when she died of leukemia in 1953, and the family has not spoken much about her death in public. "It seems funny after almost 50 years since her death how dear Robin is to our hearts. My tears flowed when you said those lovely prayers. But they were not the same tears of devastation, loss and pain that I felt when Robin died. Instead they were tears of gratitude that we had her at all and maybe even tears of joy she was still with us."

George H.W. Bush is pictured with his children Robin and George W. Bush in 1953.

He also was very reflective in some of these writings. In an Aug. 2001 letter he told journalist Carl Cannon: "Now at 77, I find that I am perfectly content to let history be the judge of those things I got right, and of my mistakes as well. Mine has been a happy life. In competitive business, I was very happy – though restless and somewhat driven. In politics, I had victories and defeats, but for the most part I was very happy." He continued: "I have found happiness. I no longer pursue it, for it is mine. Pride in my family guarantees that happiness."


Filed under: Bill Clinton • George H.W. Bush
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Arbour

    Not only the senior Bush, George W Bush is very close to Clinton too. Both are humble men. George W consulted Clinton while he was the president many times. Obama never consulted either Bush nor Clinton for anything after he became the president. I guess Obama and his staff knew all the answers.

    March 5, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  2. a little sad

    Arbour

    "Not only the senior Bush, George W Bush is very close to Clinton too. Both are humble men. George W consulted Clinton while he was the president many times. Obama never consulted either Bush nor Clinton for anything after he became the president. I guess Obama and his staff knew all the answers."

    Never miss a chance to take a swipe at Obama. Enjoy the next four years!

    March 5, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  3. Bob

    The Bush family has done enough damage to this country. A pox upon them all.

    March 5, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  4. Get Real

    To me it is amazing how we have 2 friends that at one point were 2 rivals in 1992, work together so good to make America a better place. Argue and criticize all you want NO PRESIDENT IS PERFECT or a COMPLETE FAILURE. They all have outside influences that are used in their judgement.

    March 5, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  5. The REAL Truth...

    @Arbour – Obama never consulted either Bush nor Clinton for anything after he became the president.
    -------------------------------
    I wouldn't consult Bush younger on Sun church time, let alone anything of consequence. Look what was done to our country during his "reign". It's great to see that former rivals are now friends, but playing the Obama blame game without doing research as to why we are where we are is getting old.

    March 5, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  6. bombastus

    Bush 1 was OK. He got kicked out of office because he wanted to raise taxes so Newt Gingrich and the neocons wouldn't back him up. This after he handled the first Iraq war pretty well. One of the saddest events televised was how Bush 1 reacted at an event honoring his son Jeb. I could not help wondering if this is because Bush 1 felt that the wrong son had been elected President and he, Bush 1, was at least partly responsible for the disaster of Bush 2. It was very sad and moving at the same time.

    March 5, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    It's so cute when old people really start trying to get into heaven, isn't it?

    March 5, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  8. papanez

    Bill is the son Sr never had but wishes he did.

    March 5, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  9. Romney is Still NOT My Hero

    If only Democrats and Repubs could work together now... Our President has tried numerous times to work along with the GOPers. All they do is take breaks and whine. What ever happened to the U.S. = US not Me, Myself and I?

    March 5, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  10. Christie2016XXL

    @Our President has tried numerous times to work along with the GOPers. All they do is take breaks and whine

    Does that include pushing health care through without GOP support?

    Agree that I wish both parties would work together. Perhaps term limits would eliminate some of this mess. I don't know.

    March 5, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  11. Bubba

    The elder Bush is a great man, and a real American hero. He is also the last Republican I have voted for. The GOP just does not invite great people into their ranks any more. Today, they just invite Palin, Bachmann, and Rubio. Anyone with an IQ over 90 is excluded from today's GOP, with exceptions made for anyone willing to promote the insane party line.
    Bill on the other hand, is Bill. Impossilbe to dislike the man, since he made for an OK President, and scored big with the ladies, although not any good looking ones. Just wish he could have hooked up with a swimsuit model or two, like the French President, who has very high standards for his mistresses.

    March 5, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  12. Expat American

    Arbour –
    President Obama most likely has consulted President Clinton on matters of policy and otherwise. President Clinton is a great Leader and was a great President.
    However, I doubt President Obama or anyone else for that matter would ever consult President W. Bush. Most members of his own party run away from any association with him. The W, Cheney and Co. Regime will be remembered as one of the darkest chapters in American history.

    March 5, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  13. Getoverit

    @Bob
    The Bush family has done enough damage to this country. A pox upon them all.
    ====================
    Never miss a chance to take a swipe at Bush. Enjoy the next four years!

    March 5, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  14. gijames1225

    It's funny, I have actually come to like Clinton pretty well as an ex-president. I wonder if president's are just inherently more likable after they are out of office because at that point they are just regular people, maybe advocating a charity or two, and no longer have the police state to make you go along with them. Still, I find it impossibly to conceive of ever liking Obama after he get's out of office, but maybe I'll be surprised.

    March 5, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  15. pkrbkr

    Nice to see this friendship...political rivals CAN get along....are you taking note, Congress? Wake up! Work together for the people of this country and not your own political ambitions! We're getting tired of your childish behavior!

    March 5, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  16. Getoverit

    @ Expat American
    President Obama most likely has consulted President Clinton on matters of policy and otherwise.
    ========================
    But you really don't know, do you? That's OK. "Probably" is good enough for most liberals.

    March 5, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  17. pksm

    I find it funny, interesting and sad how people (Arbour) find it compelling to post their opinion when they have no true knowledge of what really takes place in the White House. All President consults with other President ...You, the public, are just not made aware of everything. So save your opinion and your lack of knowledge.

    March 5, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  18. Rudy NYC

    Getoverit wrote:

    Never miss a chance to take a swipe at Bush. Enjoy the next four years!
    ---------------–
    Cheers. This Bush is for you. In fact, you can have the whole six pack of them.

    March 5, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  19. foius

    At $70 Bil Pres. Clintons foundation is doing a wonderful job of presenting employable options to people of cokor throughout the world. This Rhodes Scholar has exceeded all expectations of political and social service in his distinguished and ongoing career. Will any of the Bush`s ever see the light?

    March 5, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |