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Behind Closed Doors: When Presidents Gather

02/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"They had a wide-ranging discussion on many different issues facing the United States, and they all look forward to remaining in contact in the future," said White House press secretary Dana Perino, on Wednesday's historic luncheon of incoming, outgoing and past presidents.

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President Bush welcomed former presidents Carter, Bush (41) and Clinton, as well as president-elect Obama, to the private dining room. He repeated his earlier public comments about the office of the presidency "transcending" any individual who holds the office, and again expressed his hopes for a successful Obama administration.

Mr. Obama thanked Mr. Bush for his warm wishes, and for hosting such an "extraordinary" gathering. Mr. Obama said he particularly appreciated the opportunity to draw on the wisdom of such a "distinguished" group as he prepared to assume office.

Mr. Clinton noted that pizza was no longer on the private-dining-room menu. Mr. Bush assured Mr. Clinton that if he wanted pizza, he could have pizza. Mr. Clinton thanked Mr. Bush for his generosity, and ordered a large pepperoni and sausage.

Mr. Bush (41) lamented the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip, and he and Mr. Carter offered the president-elect several suggestions for responding to this crisis. Mr. Obama expressed his gratitude for the suggestions, while restating his position that, particularly with regard to foreign policy, the United States can have "only one president at a time."

Speaking privately to Mr. Carter, Mr. Clinton offered his view that at the moment, "We don't even have that many." Upon being overheard by Mr. Bush (41), Mr. Clinton explained that he had simply been "joking." Mr. Bush (41) suggested that, considering the "sensitivities" of all concerned, Mr. Clinton would be better off keeping his jokes to himself. Mr. Clinton thanked Mr. Bush (41) for his suggestion.

Mr. Obama solicited ideas about how to keep the "bubble" of the modern presidency from cutting a president off from the day-to-day concerns of average Americans. Likewise, Mr. Obama wondered about the difficulty of raising his two young daughters to be "normal" children in the unique environment of the White House.

Mr. Carter and Mr. Clinton each offered several suggestions in this regard, while Mr. Bush (41) commented that, from what he could see, Mr. and Mrs. Obama had already done a "really top-drawer" job of raising their daughters.

Mr. Bush (43) wondered whether the comments of Mr. Bush (41) were "some kind of slap" at his own parenting abilities. Mr. Bush (41) assured Mr. Bush (43) that that had not been his intention, while Mr. Clinton said that he had been "quite impressed" with Mr. Bush (43)'s daughters. In particular, Mr. Clinton commented, "That Jenna really looks like she knows her way around."

Mr. Bush (43) suggested that he and Mr. Clinton step outside to address the subject further, prompting Mr. Carter to offer to mediate any dispute between Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton before "somebody does something foolish."

Mr. Bush (43) wondered exactly who it was that Mr. Carter was calling "foolish," prompting Mr. Bush (41) to suggest that Mr. Bush (43) "pipe down." Mr. Bush (43) then wondered why it was that Mr. Bush (41) "always takes their side," and cited as an example of former presidents "ganging up" on him the joint fundraising efforts that Mr. Bush (41) had undertaken with Mr. Clinton on behalf of hurricane victims.

Mr. Bush (41) pointed out that if Mr. Bush (43) hadn't been "asleep at the switch," fundraising efforts for hurricane victims might not have been necessary. Mr. Bush (43) pointed out that if Mr. Bush (41) hadn't "left Saddam right where he was," Mr. Bush (43) would have had "more time to concentrate" on hurricanes.

Mr. Obama thanked everyone for their help, and said that they'd "have to do this again sometime."

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.