With ‘Presidents Club,’ Week Nine delves into nation’s highest office

The position of United States president is one that only those who have occupied the Oval Office can understand, meaning current and former presidents share a bond that transcends political boundaries.

With both major political parties on the cusp of nominating their candidates for the most important job in the U.S., Chautauqua Institution offers a week of 10:45 a.m. Amphitheater lectures exploring the complexities and burdens of the presidency, and the relationships between those who have held it.

The week theme takes its title from the book The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity, and attendees will hear from authors Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, a pair of presidential historians and a pair of presidential daughters.

Gibbs, a lifelong Chautauquan and frequent lecture platform guest, leads off on Monday with a solo lecture introducing the week. She is deputy managing editor of Time, author of more than 150 Time cover stories and many back-page essays and has been named by the Chicago Tribune as one of the 10 best magazine writers in the country.

Timothy Naftali will speak on Tuesday. Currently a senior research fellow in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation, Naftali was the first director of the federal Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, Calif. The Nixon Library’s Watergate exhibit, for which Naftali was historian and curator, opened in March 2011. He left the library in November 2011 to write a study of the Kennedy presidency for publication in 2013.

Wednesday features a conversation between Susan Ford Bales, Lynda Johnson Robb and John Avlon. Bales is the daughter of President Gerald R. Ford and Betty Ford. In 1992, she was elected to the board of directors of the Betty Ford Center and succeeded her mother as chairman from 2005 to 2010. Robb is the first child of President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson. She is president of the National Home Library Foundation and a member of the board of the LBJ Foundation, which supports the LBJ Library & Museum and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Avlon is a senior columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast as well as a CNN contributor.

Popular presidential historian Richard Norton Smith speaks on Thursday. Now a scholar in residence at George Mason University, Smith has created or directed presidential libraries dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. A regular contributor to C-SPAN and the “PBS NewsHour,” he is creator of “The Contenders,” a C-SPAN series about presidential candidates who ran and lost, but changed history.

To close the week, and Chautauqua’s 2012 morning lecture season, on Friday, Duffy will join Gibbs in conversation. Duffy is an executive editor and the Washington bureau chief of Time, where he directs the coverage of presidents, politics and national affairs for both the magazine and its website. He joined Time in 1985 as a Pentagon correspondent and in the 25 years since has covered Congress, the White House, national politics and national security. In addition to The Presidents Club, Duffy and Gibbs also co-authored the New York Times best-seller The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House.

Week Nine’s Interfaith Lecture Series, held at 2 p.m. weekdays in the Hall of Philosophy, is themed “The Ethics of Presidential Power.”

Monday features Ronald C. White Jr., author of the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times best-seller A. Lincoln: A Biography.

Lecturing Tuesday is Philip Nash, associate professor of history at Penn State University. John Q. Barrett, professor of law at St. John’s University and frequent Chautauqua collaborator and guest, returns to speak Wednesday.

On Thursday, John W. Dean, former Nixon White House counsel, and James D. Robenalt, partner at Thompson Hine LLP, will speak.

The final interfaith lecture of the season, on Friday, features lecturer Douglas C. Neckers, professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University and chief executive officer of Spectra Group, Ltd., a photochemical sciences business.