The April 23, 2012 issue of TIME magazine shows a collegial image of President Obama in the White House gardens with President George W. Bush on one side of him and President Bill Clinton on the other. The three look genuinely friendly and Obama has his hands placed warmly on the backs of each of his predecessors as they walk forward.
I doubt I’m the only American old enough to remember past presidents going back to Eisenhower who wonders how accurate the sentiment of the TIME photograph really is. Though we’d like to imagine that all our living presidents support the man currently in the White House, the political realities we witness in Washington every day cast some pretty hefty doubts on that being the case.
Can a man like George W. Bush, the titular head of the Republican Party as its last elected president, really wish Obama well? After all, Bush’s top advisor and friend, Karl Rove, heads up the PAC whose only expressed raison d’être is to get Obama out of the White House. Beyond that, the daily congressional drill since Obama took the oath of office has been the most extreme partisan divide of our political lifetime. Republicans in both the House and the Senate seem determined not to support the president, whatever the cost to the nation, its troops, its children, elders, poor, sick and disenfranchised.
Democrat Bill Clinton, meanwhile, has risen from not having “had sex with that woman” to statesman. In fact his numerous tag-team charitable and diplomatic efforts with former president George H.W. Bush have given Clinton the ultimate bi-partisan icon portfolio. Rumors of Clinton-Obama friction linger, despite Hillary’s fine performance as secretary of state, and the former president’s occasional willingness to question the current Commander-in-Chief’s motives or policies defies the usual partisan rule never to publicly criticize a member of one’s own gaggle.
All of these thoughts, generated from this one photograph, speak to the dilemma of today’s voters who—perhaps for the first time—doubt that politicians of any party really give a damn about them. Washington seems to care little about our sense of abandonment and every day we in the 99% witness more and more evidence that we hardly matter at all.
What would the TIME cover look like, I wonder, that translates those sad sentiments into a photographic essay?