(This is the fourth in our series—we don’t know how many there will be eventually—leading to the inauguration of the state officials.)
January 20, 1953 was the day the nation’s most prestigious club was founded. One claim says it’s the WORLD’s most exclusive group. It has no clubhouse. No golf course. No tennis courts. No swimming pool. Today it numbers only four members. A potential fifth member is weeks away from becoming qualified.
The club’s founding began on the day Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated President. Harry Truman met former President Herbert Hoover on the inaugural platform and Hoover said, “I think we ought to organize a former presidents club.” Truman responded, “Fine. You be the President of the club and I will be the Secretary.”
Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy have written in The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity, “Truman was a mortal enemy of Hoover’s, but he also knew that only Hoover had the experience and stature to overhaul the executive branch to meet the challenges of the nuclear age. As a result of their partnership, the Hoover Commission, which Congress created, Truman sanctioned, and Hoover chaired, produced the greatest transformation of the presidency in history…Every president who followed would have reason to thank them.”
When President Trump takes office in less than two months, there will be only five people alive who bore the burdens of leading the world’s greatest nation. They are bound together by history.
Today the club includes two Bushes, a Carter, and a Clinton. The most members it has ever had is six, when it had two Bushes, a Carter, a Clinton, a Ford, and a Reagan. Congress has passed legislation giving the Presidents Club formal recognition, with certain privileges.
Presidents, regardless of their differences with their predecessors, often have called on members of the club for advice and sometimes for specific missions. Some have grown close—Clinton and George H. W. Busch, for example. Truman and Hoover for another.
When Eric Greitens becomes Governor of Missouri, there will be six living former governors: Nixon, Blunt, Holden, Wilson, Ashcroft, and Bond.
A Missouri Governors Club exists only as a list of men who have held the office. We know of no suggestion that the six living former governors would be interested in some kind of formal recognition of their shared executive experience. But they share a great deal in common. Leading Missouri government, whether it has been for a few weeks, or for eight years has given them a perspective on power, opportunity, and obligation that no one else has. Would Governor Greitens profit from recognizing them, even calling them together from time to time, or simply calling them individually? Only he will know if such a thing would be useful. Only he will decide if there is value in a Missouri Governors Club, unofficial though it might be.
Our recollection is that it’s a tradition for the incoming governor to invite all former governors to take part in the inauguration but we do not recall a time when all of them did. One special inauguration does come readily to mind—when Christopher Bond was sworn in for his first term in 1973, he invited the last previous Republican governor to be part of the event. And Forrest C. Donnell, who was sworn in later than usual in 1941 because of a dispute about the certification of the election, was there and stayed up real late for the celebration. He was 88 by then, 95 when he died in 1980.
History awaits the governor Missouri will inaugurate on January 9. But history remains in six men who have sat behind the desk Eric Greitens will sit behind. And history is a useful thing to call upon in making decisions that will shape the future.