On a wintery night, the pairing up of Presidents Bush (43) and Clinton (42) warmed up the magnificent sanctuary in an instant. A dazzling roster of speakers has become the norm this past year, at Temple Emanu El’s Streicker Center, but the event planners truly outdid themselves on this particular occasion. They created an SRO condition for the highest priced tickets within days of their going on sale. The bleacher seats in the distance went like hotcakes, too.
A Bubbly Evening
The blockbuster event began in the early evening. It was a post-Mid -Term elections soiree with a fancy reception to get it started. Champagne, cocktails and high-end appetizers were offered to the well-heeled who could afford the tab. The uber-connected and clever crashers also got a personal glimpse of the starring performers. More importantly, however, the program left most everyone in the crowd, from all around town, wanting more from the speakers when the quick-witted debate came to an end. The two presidents came with a plan they fully relished. And, they put on the style for an unforgettable evening; ribbing each other good-naturedly while educating a jam-packed audience.
Two men of opposing parties, that had battled ferociously for the presidency have found much to share between themselves. And, they brought their sincere camaraderie into view for the diverse crowd. The pair of presidents gave their listeners a taste of the awesome responsibility each felt upon election to the most powerful position in the world. They also shared with their audience, a few nuggets of the wisdom they acquired during the period each occupied the Oval Office and added insights from the further education of hindsight.
Wendeen stood with them for a moment that evening, hardly shoulder-to-shoulder–but with a deep respect for their public service and use of continued celebrity to do good around the world. She rose to the occasion, accepting their congratulations on her own public service during their respective administrations and for her ongoing recovery following an accident, in which she was hit by a taxi, earlier in the year.
The two good men reminded all, sensibly, that what makes America great is the resilience and endurance of its people –especially in volatile times. The presidents agreed about the laundry list of big and disruptive challenges, but they also shone a light way beyond them–from different perspectives.
Doris Kearns Adds Heft
The Clinton-Dubya duo started the proceedings by needling each other, playfully, as they stepped across the stage to their side by side seats. Doris Goodwin, the highly regarded presidential historian trailed, politely, behind them. She was at the ready to moderate the proceedings. Kearns, who is known to all manner of history buffs, TV cable news watchers, political pundits, and poker players of all stripes, is a well-modulated force of nature and a keen observer across a multitude of industries and cultures.
Politics and Poker
Speaking of poker — everyone who saw All In-The Poker Movie would recognize Ms. Kearns, a petite blonde with a frequently cheeky smile, from her narration of presidential forays into poker rooms. Wendeen waited with bated breath for stories of Tricky Dick’s poker prowess and tales from the felt as told by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, but Ms. Kearns took no special notice of Texas Hold ‘Em poker this particular evening–not even with the Texan president in residence; there were no questions as to why on his watch, Mr. Bush signed legislation designed to curb online poker–as part of the Safe Port Act! But–Kearns showed no fear in asking direct questions.
Both former presidents took on all her serves in their own distinctive communication styles. 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, “I am 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.”
Different Optimism; Similar Conclusion
Bush talked up optimism, making a reasoned case one might expect of the Yale graduate with a Harvard Business School degree to go with it. He couldn’t help but jab, affectionately, at the liberal New York cognoscenti that dismissed him as a dunce and a putz while in office. On this night they were clapping in response to his penetrating and good-natured words. Clinton, for his part, opined on the unending need to worry and scrutinize. He made a high charging case with a low key delivery, worthy of the Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law School graduate. He also reminded the visiting intellectuals in the crowd that overthinking produces its own unique headaches! Speaking their piece with different vocal cords, at the end of the day, both of them left their guests with ample hope for the future.
The Strength of Diversity
The open and well-publicized access to this event was a testament to inclusion. The Temple welcomed straight and gay, teens and adults, tough veterans and frail seniors, men and women of all faiths and more –all thirsting for explanations as to how/why our country is so seemingly divided, at the moment; a public that was looking for answers as to where we are going.
“An Unprecedented Evening”– was how the event was billed, and the publicist got that right! What a full house –more than 1700 strong! Sitting side by side were high powered politicos including former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, entertainers and business luminaries from across the City. They paid their respects to the double headliners along with a large complement of Temple members. But most notable was the highly visible broad sample of New York’s immigrant-connected population.
By the time this extraordinary evening came to an end, a shared warmth among attendees filled the air. Likewise, there was plenty of food for thought as to how we ensure the ongoing success of our democracy. For Wendeen, there was also a giant grace note. She enjoyed, immensely, rising for her arm in arm walk with these two strong gentlemen, proving where there is a will there is a way –and so she is reminded in the newest picture displayed at eolis.com/photos–“Wall of Fame and Fortune.”