Last month The Streiker Center at Temple Emanuel presented a program that paired Presidents Bush (43) and Bill Clinton. During a year of a dazzling roster of speakers, this time the event planners outdid themselves. The blockbuster event began in the early evening with a fancy reception for those who could afford it. And, it left most everyone wanting more when the quick-witted tuned-in debate came to an end. These two friends were ready with a plan they fully relished and put into play, for an unforgettable evening; ribbing each other while educating a jam-packed audience.
Two men of opposing parties, that had battled ferociously for the presidency, found much to share with each other about the awesome responsibility of electi0n to the highest office. And, they generously shared with attendees, a few nuggets of their wisdom. Wendeen was proud to stand with them together on this evening, hardly shoulder-to-shoulder, but with a deep respect for their public service and the use of their collective celebrity to continue to do good around the world. She rose to the occasion grateful for their recognition and for their help, to stand, thankful for a continuing recovery from the May taxi hit. It could not keep her down!
The two good men proved to be worth their salt, reminding us sensibly that we must summon within ourselves resilience, and endurance–especially in the most volatile times. They agreed about the laundry list of big and disruptive challenges, but they also see our way beyond them–from different perspectives.
The two Presidents stepped across the stage, needling each other playfully as they approached their side by side seats. Doris Goodwin, the moderator trailed politely, behind them Highly regarded as a presidential historian and all manner of history buffs, watchers of Morning Joe and other newscasts, Doris Kearns is known far and wide as a quiet force of nature and a keen observer. Poker players, who saw All In-The Poker Movie, will recognize the petite blonde, kitten- heel shod Kearns from her narration of little-known activities involving presidents in poker rooms. She shows no fear in asking direct questions and both of the presidents took on all of them in their own distinctive communication styles. Ms. Kearns took no special notice of Texas Hold ‘Em poker this particular evening!
Instead, right off the bat, Kearns asked if the current state of affairs in American politics worried either of the two presidents. After a few wry asides, Mr. Bush said he is not worried; explaining why he remains confident that the country will survive and grow stronger, no matter the challenges presented by the current occupant of the Oval Office. Mr. Clinton waited patiently to weigh in. There was no curveball before he deadpanned, “I worry.
Bush talked up optimism, making a reasoned case one might expect of a Yale graduate with a Harvard Business School degree to go with it. He couldn’t help but jab, lovingly at the liberal New York cognoscenti that dismissed him as a dunce and a putz while in office. On this night they were clapping at his penetrating and good-natured words. Clinton opined on the unending reasons for worry, in a high charging case and low key delivery, worthy of a Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law School graduate.
“An Unprecedented Evening”–which was how the event was billed, got that right! It brought out an SRO crowd –more than 1700 strong. Sitting side by side were high powered politicos like former Attorney General and current news commentator Michael Mukasey and business luminaries from across the City, as well as a large complement of Temple members. Access to the public also drew an additional representative sample of the racial and ethnically diverse immigrant-connected population of New York and reflected a testament to inclusion; welcoming straight and gay, teens and seniors, tough veterans and frail seniors and more –all thirsting for explanations as to how/why our country is so seemingly divided, at the moment, and looking for answers as to where we are going.
By the time this uniquely planned evening came to an end, there was a palpable shared warmth among attendees and plenty of food for thought as to how we ensure confidence in our democracy. For Wendeen, there was a giant grace note. She enjoyed, immensely, rising for a walk to the stage, six months after a leg-threatening taxi hit accident–for this new picture to adorn her wall!