The photograph might as well have been called “Portrait of a Vanished America.”
There were four presidents – George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – smiling with warmth at the camera. Standing with them, also smiling, were First Ladies Hillary Rodham Clinton, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama and Melania Trump.
They had gathered for an occasion both somber and celebratory, the memorial service and funeral of Barbara Bush, wife of one president, mother of another.
Should the Bushes, the Clintons and the Obamas wish to nurture grievances, they all could find ample rationalization for doing so.
They all spent their time in the arena, giving and taking blows, inflicting and suffering wounds. They jousted with each other and with others over things that matter – war and peace, jobs and taxes, definitions of faith and freedom.
Much divided them.
But even more unites them.
They all belong to the same club.
They all know what it is like to live and work within the crucible that is the White House – what it is like to be the objects of the hopes and fury of this nation’s people.
They all know what it’s like to surrender themselves and their families to this country, to perform the service that is leadership of a vast and fractious country.
Most important, they are all Americans.
As I looked at that photo of the former presidents and the first ladies, I thought of a couple of remarkable political friendships.
The late Bill Hudnut, a Republican, and the late Andy Jacobs Jr., a Democrat, ran against each other twice for the U.S. House of Representatives. Hudnut won the first campaign in 1972. Jacobs claimed the rematch in 1974.
They vied for office during contentious times. The Vietnam War and Watergate had split the country. Then, as now, Americans often snarled at each other. Trust was hard to come by.
Andy and Bill, though, emerged from their contests not as enemies, but as friends.
They and their wives Bev Hudnut and Kim Jacobs dined and traveled together. When Bill was mayor of Indianapolis and traveled to Washington D.C. on business, he stayed in Andy’s apartment. When the Hudnuts’ son Christopher was born, Kim made his baby blanket.
I refer to them as Andy and Bill because I was fortunate enough to call each man a friend. I talked with them about their friendship.
Each man acknowledged that they had differences. They didn’t shy away from expressing those differences.
But I never heard either Andy or Bill talk about the other with anything less than respect, consideration and, yes, love.
The things they shared mattered more than the things that divided them.
I, along with a superb team, am in the final stages of working on documentary about the life and career of former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana.
One of the most important chapters in Lugar’s story involves his partnership with former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Georgia.
Together, Lugar and Nunn worked to reduce the number of weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union. They made the world a safer place.
Along the way, they became more than allies. They became partners, even close friends.
Each told me that, should he have been elected president, he would have asked the other to serve in the Cabinet. And each said he would have been honored to serve the other.
Nunn even told me he joked with Lugar’s wife, Charlene, that they had something in common. They each had to give up half their name to partner with Dick Lugar.
Most of the world, Nunn said with a wry smile, thinks his name is “Nunn Lugar.”
Like Bill and Andy, Lugar and Nunn had their differences. They disagreed on taxation and other domestic policy issues.
But what united them mattered far more than any difference of opinion.
We’re now in the middle of another ugly election year.
Loud and well-funded voices screech many “reasons” we Americans should distrust and hate each other.
Bill Hudnut and Andy Jacobs showed us there is another way.
So did Richard Lugar and Sam Nunn.
And so does that photo of the smiling presidents and the first ladies at a celebration of a life well-lived.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.