Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen

Speaking of suits, that last question, about whether I would wear a suit as President, reminds me of my favorite Presidential book, Bob Greene’s wonderful Fraternity: A Journey In Search of Five Presidents (BOOKKINDLE).  In the book, Greene sets out to visit with five former Presidents who are in different stages of retirement.  Although he is unable to see the ailing Ronald Reagan, Greene spends time with Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush and gives the reader interesting insights on how they live and what their lives are like after being the most powerful and recognizable person in the world.

Nixon is the first former President that Greene visits and the author is surprised to find out that Nixon never took off his suit jacket while in the Oval Office and, nearly 20 years after his resignation, the former President still worked in a suit jacket and tie — even if he was sitting in his home office all day and working alone on a book that he was writing.  ”It isn’t a case of trying to be formal,” Nixon told Greene, “But I’m more comfortable that way.  I’ve done it all my life.  I don’t mind people around here in the office, particularly younger people — they usually take their coats off.  But I just never have.  It’s just the way I am.  I work in a coat and tie — and believe me, believe it or not, it’s hard for people to realize, but when I’m writing a speech or working on a book or dictating or so forth, I’m always wearing a coat and tie.  Even when I’m alone.  If I were to take it off, probably I would catch cold.  That’s the way it is.”

In a way, however, Nixon’s formality isn’t all that surprising.  After all, there are many photos of a relaxing Nixon walking the beach along the Pacific Ocean near his home in San Clemente, California, La Casa Pacifica sans suit coat and tie, but in suit pants and wingtips.

Later in Fraternity, when Bob Greene visited with former President George H.W. Bush, he was struck by how down-to-earth and relaxed the supposedly-patrician, WASPish 41st President was.  Greene decided to tell Bush about Nixon’s personal suit-and-tie rule and get another President’s opinion, so I’ll share that excerpt from Fraternity, a book that I’ve recommended countless times and will undoubtedly recommend again:

"Mr. Nixon said that he permitted the men in his office to take their suit coats off, but that he never did, because he wouldn’t like the way it made him feel," I (Greene) said.

"I never did, in the Oval Office," Bush said.

"You didn’t take your suit coat off?" I said.  Bush was still jacketless as we sat and talked.

"No," Bush said.

"When you were alone?" I asked.

THAT’S what you’re talking about — Nixon wouldn’t even take his jacket off when he was alone?” Bush said.

"Yes," I said.

"Oh," Bush said, looking toward the ceiling as if trying to picture this.  "I see," he said, sounding as if he found the notion quite peculiar.

He thought for a second.  ”I might have taken it off when I was alone in the Oval Office,” he said.  ”But when people were there, I put a jacket on.”

"But Mr. Nixon said that wherever he was, not just in the Oval Office, when he was alone working on a speech by himself or something, he would keep his suit jacket on," I said.  "He had to have it on."

"No," Bush said, remembering his own routine in the White House.  "I think I would go in there to the Oval Office on a Saturday morning when nobody was there, and I wouldn’t wear a jacket.  At he house, the living quarters part of the White House, that’s different, too.  I mean, I’d walk around there in a bathrobe.  I mean, you know, the bedroom?  You’re not going to wear a suit."

So, there you go, more than you’ll ever need to know about Presidents and suits.  Again, you’re missing out if you’ve never read Bob Greene’s Fraternity: A Journey In Search of Five Presidents (BOOKKINDLE).  It is my favorite Presidential book because I love how Greene presents the Presidents he visits as people.  Instead of simply looking at what they did or did not do, Greene asks the Presidents he talks to — Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Bush 41 — exactly what I would want to ask a President:  ”What did it feel like?”  I am confident that it is a book that many of my readers would really love.

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