Opinion | Friends in High Places

WASHINGTON — When you’re the president’s greatest buddy, chances are you’ll be known as on for a lot of companies — some dicey, some soothing, some world-shaking, and a few profoundly private.

In his new e-book, “First Friends,” Gary Ginsberg chronicles the unelected but undeniably highly effective individuals who form presidencies.

We know too nicely how the advisers of presidents with all-access passes to the Oval could make or break legacies.

Look at how George W. Bush’s presidency was ruined when Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld bought him to invade Iraq.

And think about how Rudy Giuliani ginned up Donald Trump’s craziest impulses, main to 2 impeachments, one rebel and limitless authorized payments.

But there was much less deal with the usually “unseen hands,” as Ginsberg calls them, the BFFs busy on the sidelines.

He took an interest in the subject as a lawyer vetting vice-presidential candidates for Bill Clinton. He was joined in the final spherical by Harry McPherson, an outdated Washington hand who has been the White House lawyer for Lyndon Johnson.

McPherson believed that if L.B.J., a solitary man at coronary heart, had had an intimate, he might need navigated Vietnam extra adroitly. So McPherson wished to know, “Does Al Gore have any friends?”

When Gore stumbled over the reply, McPherson questioned, “If he can’t develop or even claim one real friendship, how’s he going to lead a nation?”

But Clinton didn’t appear to care; he had sufficient buddies for each of them.

Ginsberg examines First Friends in 9 presidencies and the influence of the back-room counsel. His tales embrace:

Bill Clinton dispatching Vernon Jordan to speak Hillary Clinton out of leaving him after he publicly confessed to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

John F. Kennedy and David Ormsby-Gore on the White House in 1961.Credit…Bob Schutz/Associated Press

David Ormsby-Gore, the British ambassador and an outdated buddy of Jack Kennedy, serving to to information Kennedy by way of the Cuban Missile Crisis and signing a nuclear take a look at ban treaty.

Bebe Rebozo enjoyable the coiled and paranoid Richard Nixon by mixing martinis, making steak and Cuban black-bean dinners and paying to place a bowling alley in the White House basement.

Eddie Jacobson, an Army buddy and companion of Harry Truman in a Kansas City haberdashery, serving to persuade Truman to acknowledge the state of Israel.

Edward House serving as a de facto chief diplomat for Woodrow Wilson, negotiating the World War I armistice and the doomed Treaty of Versailles, till Edith Wilson got here alongside and dismissed him as “a perfect jellyfish.”

Presidents can put their buddies in awkward circumstances. Nixon requested Rebozo to assist him with a shadowy fund-raising scheme, and Clinton bought Jordan — the 2 beloved to speak about girls — concerned in attempting to get Lewinsky a comfortable job at Revlon in New York, earlier than that scandal exploded.

Richard Nixon with Bebe Rebozo in Key Biscayne, Fla., in 1971.Credit…Corbis, through Getty Images

And typically the chums put the presidents in a foul gentle. “By the late 1960s,” Ginsberg writes, “F.B.I. agents investigating criminal syndicates had identified Rebozo as a ‘nonmember associate of organized crime figures’ … The F.B.I. now had reason to believe the Key Biscayne lots Nixon had purchased were owned by a business associate of Rebozo’s connected to organized crime.”

First Friends commerce fascinating items. When Thomas Jefferson was in Paris, he stored in contact with James Madison with presents marking present obsessions.

“Jefferson mostly sent books about political philosophy, European governments, and failed democracies, as well as contraptions like a telescope that retracted into a cane, phosphoretic matches, a pedometer, and a box of chemicals to further indulge Madison’s growing interest in chemistry,” Ginsberg writes. Madison despatched sugar maples, Pippin apples, and pecans, however was unable to acquire a dwell opossum.

Abraham Lincoln and his buddy Joshua Speed, a Springfield, Ill., shopkeeper, had a uncommon intimacy. The two shared Speed’s mattress for years in Springfield after Lincoln advised Speed he couldn’t afford a mattress. Historians nonetheless debate the character of this relationship.

But when Speed moved again to the household farm in Kentucky and mentioned he didn’t need to give up his proper to personal human property, Lincoln wrote him bluntly about his disappointment.

“You know I dislike slavery; and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it,” Lincoln chided, urging Speed to consider these “poor creatures hunted down” and “carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils.”

Other buddies specialised in sycophancy. As Pat Nixon mentioned of Rebozo, “Bebe is like a sponge; he soaks up whatever Dick says and never makes any comments. Dick loves that.”

Citing the instance of Donald Trump, “the friendless president,” Ginsberg advised me that leaders want that emotional engagement of figuring out that there’s one other soul who has their curiosity at coronary heart.

I requested Ted Kaufman, the longtime loyal pal of Joe Biden, who nursed him by way of Beau’s passing, what it means to be a First Friend.

“I’d walk across cut glass for him,” he replied, “and I think he’d do the same for me.”

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