Obama Seeks Counsel From Ex-Presidents

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The president has said he wants to reach out to all of his predecessors.

Americans are fascinated by their ex-presidents. The public has been through so many experiences with them that even when they leave office, the "exes" remain celebrities and, more important, compelling reminders of the recent high and low points in our history.

There are four of them alive now—Carter, Bush, Clinton, and George H. W. Bush. There are two Democrats and two Republicans, each very different in personality and outlook, and all of them experienced in the toughest job on Earth.

The potential relationship between the old and the new started out in a promising way, when Bush the younger, at Obama's request, hosted all the living ex-presidents at the White House before he left the scene. This generated memorable photographs in the Oval Office but, apparently, little else so far.

Incumbent presidents sometimes avoid contact with their predecessors because they don't want to be tarnished by past errors and seem insecure in their own judgments. But experts say misplaced pride should not keep Obama from using his predecessors to help him govern.

Former presidents usually want to be useful in some way, in part to burnish their legacies and also out of a patriotic desire to help the country. And Obama wants to reach out to all of his living predecessors. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says Obama is speaking to them privately, but he doesn't want to violate confidentiality by talking about the frequency and content of the president-to-president contacts. Other White House advisers say Obama realizes that only a president can fully understand what his job entails. And experts say it would be a shame if he failed to make maximum use of the other four living members of the world's most exclusive club.

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