Oh to be a fly on the wall of the president’s dining room at lunchtime today. It would take an intrepid insect to elude the White House cleaning staff and sneak from the Oval Office, through the president’s study and set up camp on a gilded mirror that dominates the room.
The creature would enjoy a grandstand view of one of the most intriguing social gatherings certainly of this year, arguably of the century. It is in this surprisingly pokey little room that George W. Bush will host a unique lunch of all the living presidents — past, present and future. They number five: Bush himself, the incoming Barack Obama, and descending back into history, Bill Clinton, Daddy Bush and Jimmy Carter.
Such intimacy has never been achieved among presidents outside the inevitably dampening environment of the funeral setting. The last time five living presidents came together in one location was in 2004 to mourn the passing of Ronald Reagan. Gerald Ford was present that day, though it was his own funeral that most recently brought together the presidents in January 2007.
The convening of the ultimate power lunch has been much trumpeted by the American media. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s description of the event as a ‘dejeuner for destiny’ is perhaps a degree over the top, but it points in the right direction. The US presidency is the world’s most exclusive club, and the luncheon — apparently the brainchild of Bush himself as a means of helping Obama ease himself into the job — takes it to a new, literal level.
We have only been told that the five men are likely to share anecdotes about life in the White House before discussing domestic and world affairs. There is plenty of opportunity for friction. Obama will surely know that it was in this very room, at a lunch between Bush and Dick Cheney in 2001, that they secretly agreed some of the most controversial measures of the ‘war on terror’.
Can the men steer around the subject of confronting Iran? Or raising taxes — George “read my lips” Bush Sr likewise? Or interns - let’s not go there. And what about the seating plan? Is Obama, as guest of honour, to be put at the head of the table, or Bush, the man he so thoroughly condemned over two years of campaigning? And how can the younger Bush and Carter, who has been a constant irritant over West Asia, be separated?
So many questions, in such a small space. Oh to be that fly.