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A Look Back At George H.W. Bush And Bill Clinton's Unlikely Friendship

Jason DeCrow / Associated Press
Former President George H.W. Bush, right, shakes hands with former President Bill Clinton during the opening plenary of the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting Wednesday, Sept 24, 2008 in New York.

When then-President George W. Bush asked his father and President Clinton to team up on relief work, the friendship between the elder Bush and Clinton really took off, biographer Jon Meacham said.

Meacham wrote the definitive book on the life of President George H. W. Bush, who died Friday at the age of 94.

For the book "Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush," the former president gave Meacham access to personal diaries and sat for several interviews from 2006 to 2015.

On Wednesday, Meacham will join friends and family in eulogizing Bush at the Washington National Cathedral in D.C. A separate service will be held for Bush on Thursday in Houston. 

In 2015, the Pulitzer-prize winning author spoke to KERA Think's Krys Boyd about Bush's friendship with his successor, Bill Clinton:

Interview highlights

On how the Bush and Clinton friendship was formed

"Whether you love him or hate him, voted for him or didn't, the human drama of a president losing his office is like Achilles in his tent. Then, during the presidency of George W. Bush, he asked his father and President Clinton to do some significant relief work and that's where the friendship really took off. 

I think both liked the idea of sending the signal to the United States and the rest of the world that partisan differences did not have to foreclose humanitarian efforts."

On why Bush lost his campaign to Clinton 

"It was a perfect storm. You had 12 years of Republican rule, so he was a little bit on history's borrowed time. The recession of 1991 was not as deep as people thought it was, but it still mattered. He himself was in a let down after the Gulf War, and there was Bill Clinton, who is a remarkable political talent. 

The other thing that's interesting is that his approval numbers started going up almost immediately after he lost. It was almost as though the country had a fit and began to feel more warmly toward the old fellow." 

On the legacy of the Bush presidency

"Many of the things that defeated him or were unpopular at the time seem to have been wise in retrospect. You have the 1990 budget deal, where he broke the 'read my lips, no new taxes' pledge because he believed that getting the deficit under control and getting some budgetary reforms was important. Bill Clinton will tell you at length that that was a key part of setting up the prosperity of the 1990s."

This interview was lightly edited for clarity. 

Miguel Perez is an assistant producer at KERA. He produces local content for Morning Edition and KERA News. He also produces The Friday Conversation, a weekly interview series with North Texas newsmakers.