People of the Year: Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush

ByABC News

Dec. 27, 2005 — -- What an unlikely pair -- former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Herbert Walker Bush. The two men came together earlier this year to try to ease the suffering of so many in the wake of Asia's devastating tsunami.

"I think that if someone gives you the White House and gives you the most wonderful job in the world," Clinton said, "you ought to spend the rest of your life trying to give back to the American people whatever you can."

"I'm an old-fashioned guy," said Bush. "I still think politics is a noble calling. I believe most people in politics are honorable people that are serving for the right reasons."

The two have come a long way since running against each other in 1992. Bush once called Clinton a bozo while on the campaign trail.

"I never thought that was an offensive word, but yeah, that was what, 15 years ago," said Bush. "You just can't go through life with a great deal of bitterness in your heart over something that happened 15 years ago."

At President George W. Bush's request, the two visited the region and raised money for rebuilding homes and lives ravaged by the tsunami, which left more than 200,000 people dead or missing.

"Here was a young child, life shattered, mother drowned in front of her, sitting on a mud floor. It's terribly moving. The children are what gets me the most," said Bush.

"It was very painful," added Clinton. "It's breathtaking. You think, 'How do they go on?'"

The former presidents have also raised more than $100 million for Hurricane Katrina relief in Louisiana and Mississippi. More than 500,000 families lost their homes in the hurricane.

In today's divisive political climate, they have tried to promote tolerance and bipartisanship, leading by example.

"This so-called politics of personal destruction is a part of a larger trend to force everybody into little boxes," said Clinton. "You've got to be liberal or conservative. We're all supposed to be two-dimensional cartoon characters, not flesh and blood people with strengths and weaknesses. We're right and we're wrong."

"Because you run against each other that doesn't mean you're enemies," said Bush. "Politics doesn't have to be uncivil and nasty."

Said Clinton: "Where we can find common ground and do something for the future of the country and for the future of our children and grandchildren, I think we ought to do it."

On a long flight to Asia to visit tsunami victims, Clinton gave the one bed on the plane to Bush and slept on an air mattress.

"The guy is indefatigable," Bush said about Clinton. "Energizer bunny, he just keeps going and going and going here and there and around the world. When you see it up close, it's undeniable."

Said Clinton about Bush: "He's funny. He's straightforward. He's all business when we're working. Doesn't beat around the bush a lot, doesn't take a long time to make decisions. He's interested in results, just like I am."

Their work together will continue in the coming year. There is still an overwhelming job to do.

"This Katrina thing is staggering," said Clinton. "I mean, it's much worse than people know still, and our response nationally is still way inadequate. We just have to persist and keep our energy level up. Hopefulness is an important part of that. You have to believe that tomorrow will be better than today."

"I want to see life a little better for people in Bande Aceh or Sri Lanka. Clearly, that's what I'd like to see in New Orleans," Bush added. "If he and I working together can be a vehicle for part of that -- believe me, it's only an infinitesimal part of it, what we're doing -- I have the satisfaction of saying this is worth it."

ABC News' Bob Woodruff filed this report for "World News Tonight."

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