To be blunt, Thursday's crowd at the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center was not exactly a portait in diversity. The gathering was overwhelmingly white and middle-aged. Tevi Troy stood out, partly because he was wearing a yarmulke.
Troy, who lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., worked for President George W. Bush for eight years, assisting with domestic policy in the White House. He then became deputy secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services. He's now the author of a new book, What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House.
This is the description of the book that appears on amazon.com:
From Cicero to Snooki, the cultural influences on our American presidents are powerful and plentiful. Thomas Jefferson famously said, 'I cannot live without books,' and his library backed up the claim, later becoming the backbone of the new Library of Congress. Jimmy Carter watched hundreds of movies in his White House, while Ronald Reagan starred in a few in his own time. Lincoln was a theater-goer, while Obama kicked back at home to a few episodes of HBO's The Wire.
America is a country built by thinkers on a foundation of ideas. Alongside classic works of philosophy and ethics, however, our presidents have been influenced by the books, movies, TV shows, viral videos, and social media sensations of their day. In What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culturen in the White House presidential scholar and former White House aide Tevi Troy combines research with witty observation to tell the story of how our presidents have been shaped by popular culture.
After Thursday's ceremony on the campus of Southern Methodist University, Troy said he found it "tremendous to see five living presidents all together. It's historic. But I was actually more struck by seeing the five first ladies together. I don't think I've ever seen that shot before."
Troy applauded the respectful nature of the crowd, which he conceded had to be overwhelmingly Republican, but on this day, those who attended were, in his view, remarkably non-partisan.
"There are obvious differences in this country," Troy said. "But these types of things can bring us together as a nation. I find that inspiring. The crowd was obviously a Republican-heavy crowd, but very respectful to President Obama. They all stood up for him. They were respectful on both sides of the aisle.
"The presidents themselves, the Democrats and Republicans, were appreciative of George W. Bush and all the good that he did. I know this can be a raucous crowd, because I've seen them in other contexts."
When it comes to controversy rearing its head, Troy said, "You're always worried. I think the planners did a pretty good job of organizing things and making sure that all the various countervailing tensions were dealt with."
Heading into the event, Troy admitted he had concerns. "We actually had the concerns," he said. "Because we have seen a lack of respect for President Bush, a lack of respect for the presidency and I find it quite distasteful. So I'm hopeful that the example set today by presidents of the Democratic and Republican parties will follow and come to fruition. I personally was disgusted by what happened in England, when people were chanting weekly about Maggie Thatcher's death. I hope we never see something like that in this country."