Weekly Feature

presidents leaving their position
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Bill Clinton

White House Life: Moving Out

November 21, 2008
by Jen O'Neill
“What is there to do but drink?” Franklin Pierce retorted, after being asked what he will do upon leaving the White House. This is a question that every president faces before he claims the title of “ex-President,” and although some return to the lives they had before leading the free world, others use their commander in chief background as a resume-builder for their next career move.

George Washington

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As the pioneer president, George Washington had no standard to follow when he departed from the White House. The Miller Center Web site says that after returning to his Mt. Vernon estate, Washington was appointed by John Adams to be the “Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief of the armies raised or to be raised.” Washington eventually resigned his position and died the following year, making him the only former president to have ever pursued active military duty.

James Madison

The “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison returned to tend his Virginia estate Montpelier after his presidency, and along the way took up social causes and represented Orange County at the Virginia Constitutional Convention, where he denounced the Nullification movement in a public forum. He went on to promote efforts to abolish slavery and helped to create the American Colonization Society, the organization that instated Liberia as a colony for ex-slaves. According to MSN Encarta, he also helped Thomas Jefferson establish the University of Virginia, where he served as a Board of Regents member. Even though his ailing health hindered his productivity, MSN Encarta reports, “His interest and concern for the nation he had helped to found continued undiminished.”

Jimmy Carter

Some say Jimmy Carter had more of an impact on the world after he left the White House. He established the Carter Center in Atlanta to promote human rights and peacekeeping efforts in war-torn parts of the world, ABC News reports. He has fought against Trachoma and Malaria, and formed the International Task Force for Disease Eradication in 1988, “to evaluate disease control and prevention and the potential for eradicating infectious disease.”

Gerald Ford

According to The Boston Globe, after Harry Truman left office he had to take out a bank loan, since “he had no income or support of any kind from the federal government other than his Army pension of $112.56 per month.” However, “the Accidental President” Gerald Ford was the first former president to use his new title of “ex-president” to turn a profit. Only months after leaving the White House, Ford jumped on opportunities to give speeches, appear in commercials, narrate documentaries and join the corporate boards. By the 1980’s, he earned over $1 million , sparking a trend that former Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton would follow. He resided in Palm Springs, playing golf and helping out his wife’s clinic for addiction (The Betty Ford Clinic), while advocating the legalization of marijuana for terminally ill patients.

Bill Clinton

Some critics say Bill Clinton went into exile, but memoir-writing, bypass surgery and supporting Hillary during her time in the Senate, and most recently during her presidential campaign helped Bill Clinton to bounce back from his White House days, NPR reports. In 2004, he moved his foundation to an office in Harlem where he received a warm welcome from some and was cast off by others. Today, Bill Clinton pursues multiple social agendas through his organizations. The William J. Clinton Foundation’s central question is, “Are people better off now than when we started?”

George W. Bush

At the fairly young age of 62, President George W. Bush might find himself embarking on a job hunt. Then again, since his assets are estimated to be around $8 million, as the Scholars and Rogues Web site asserts, does he actually need a job? President Bush has made no definitive statements about his next steps, but has offered up one statement for his next move, “I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch.” He’s leaving the White House with a historically low rating, and might attempt to “change how history views him.” He’s hinted at keeping the presidential library theme alive by erecting his own, and claimed he will give speeches just to “replenish the ol’ coffers.” The Web site points out that, “President Bush will have wielded unprecedented power in the United States for eight years,” and asks, “How will he handle not having such power?”
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