WASHINGTON, April 5, 2014 – The post-White House lives of Presidents can be more fulfilling than the momentous times they spent on Pennsylvania Avenue. George W. Bush, 43rd President (2001-2009) unveils evidence of his surprising and very personal post-presidency passion Saturday: his own, original oil paintings. Portraits, in this case, of world leaders including Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin, the Dalai Lama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
The new exhibit, entitled “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy,” features his paintings alongside source photographs and other memorabilia from Bush’s diplomatic life.
How have our presidents occupied their lives after the White House? One can only imagine the dramatic, abrupt transition each president confronts when striding out of the Oval Office and the White House in that final moment of his presidency. On the day a new president is sworn in, the previous First Family is whisked out of the private presidential residence as the White House undergoes an immediate remodel to suit the newly incoming occupant.
But presidents do indeed have post-White House lives.
President John Quincy Adams served just one controversial term from 1825 – 1829. Upon leaving the White House at the age of 62, he famously asserted “There is nothing more pathetic in life than a former president.” Post-presidency, however, our still-energetic sixth president successfully ran for Congress, serving nine terms in the House until his death in 1848.
Andrew Johnson won a Senate seat after leaving the White House. William Howard Taft served on the Supreme Court as Chief Justice. George Washington returned to the quiet civilian life he and many of his successors lamented losing while in office.
Modern presidents retire from elected office with plenty of life stretching out ahead. Even after the Watergate scandal that led to his resignation, Richard Nixon went on to become a de facto ambassador-at-large, traveling the world to work behind the scenes with foreign leaders. His post-presidential life started out unpromisingly as he struggled with health and financial issues. But all this led to his penning of “RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon” (1978) and other efforts, in order to settle his debts and step back into the public eye, much as General and former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant did in his own famous 19th century memoirs.
In his eulogy for former President Nixon, President Bill Clinton said “May the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close.”
Jimmy Carter’s presidential engagement with Beijing eventually led to Nixon’s advisory role on normalizing relations with China. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush consulted him, and the once-reviled former president was recognized as an expert on foreign policy. This led to a fruitful career as a writer and speaker.
Gerald Ford, president from 1974-1977, was a frequent speaker and author. Jimmy Carter, 1977-1981, continued as an advisor, writer, speaker, but most importantly went on to a life of service as a champion for human rights and democracy. Once derided as one of the worst presidents of the 20th century, Carter is considered by many to be one of America’s best ex-presidents.
Ronald Reagan served from 1981 – 1989. At 78, he was our oldest modern post-president and enjoyed spending his time on his ranch, organizing his papers and doing a limited amount of public speaking. His period of influence after the White House was cut short when, on November 5, 1994, he addressed the American people with a shocking revelation: “I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.”
With this one sentence, followed by the dignified manner in which he and Nancy Reagan faced this devastating disease, he continued to serve America by raising awareness and financial support for continuing research to find the cause and cure for Alzheimer’s, which remains a frightening and devastating scourge of the elderly.
President George H.W. Bush (“Bush Sr.”) and his wife Barbara returned to Texas, becoming active in their community, church and local affiliations. President from 1989-1993, Bush was 69 when he left Washington, D.C., and his post-presidential work included forging a friendship with President Bill Clinton, resulting in the Bush-Clinton Houston Tsunami Fund.
President Bill Clinton is obviously still active in Democratic politics and social issues. President from 1993-2001, Clinton was the first Democrat since FDR to be re-elected to a second term. A relatively young 67 when he left office, Clinton still works out of his New York office and is an active public speaker, both on his own behalf and for the Democrats. His post-presidential activities include promoting numerous social and historical concerns, including the Clinton Presidential Foundation.
Clinton’s work in combating HIV/AIDS and in promoting racial and ethnic reconciliation and the economic empowerment of the lower classes is ongoing, as is his work with former President George H.W. Bush. One of the youngest post-Presidents, Clinton remains a political analyst for the Democratic party and a champion for former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton, and could be a significant force in what’s viewed as her likely second run for the Presidency in 2016.