Living presidents in the news

Barack Obama’s recent photo opportunity with the current (for 12 more hours) and three former presidents is part of a journalistic tradition that delights in getting like things in the same place, like squishing puppies together.

Throughout U.S. history there have never been more than four former presidents in the same room with the current one, and that was during the term of the first George Bush, when Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon all picked up their dry cleaning on the same historic day.

That said, in 2000 and 1994 there were five living former presidents along with the sitting one, just not in the same room.

Mostly, though, presidents haven’t lived long enough to collect more than a few at a time. Here is a picture of Theodore Roosevelt (left) with William Howard Taft, his successor. Note that Taft, our heaviest president, looks more like Teddy than Teddy does. The guy in the window also showed up in “Three Men And A Baby,” as part of the just-as-revered presidential tradition of homage to the undead.

Presidential wives tend to outlast their husbands, but even though Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford were alive when this photo was taken, widows don’t get to come to the photo opps.

Funerals are also good for getting presidents together, as in the case of Richard Nixon’s in 1994.

Inaugurations, not so much, as many immediately-former presidents tend to high-tail it out of town. Still, at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1963, both Kennedy’s Republican predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Ike’s Democratic precursor, Harry Truman, were on hand.

Truman, who lived to be 92, returned to the White House during the administrations of Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Here’s Franklin Roosevelt and the tremendously unpopular (at the time) man he replaced, Herbert Hoover. The Roosevelt/Hoover connection is most often compared to Obama/Bush, as Obama, like Roosevelt, is inheriting a financial catastrophe from his predecessor. Whoever thought to put these two in the same car was an idiot, but it was the Depression, and maybe they needed to carpool?

William Henry Harrison, who took office in 1841, gave a rousing two-hour speech in the cold without his overcoat, and died of pneumonia 30 days later (although he did not fall ill for three weeks after the inauguration). His was the shortest term of any U.S. president. He wasn’t around long enough to get his picture taken with anybody.

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