The reveal of President George W. Bush’s artwork Friday morning got the Loop wondering how other U.S. presidents of the last century chose to spend their post-White House years. Sure, there are high-priced speaking engagements, memoir writing and presidential library establishing, but what else?
President Chester Arthur once said, “Well, there doesn’t seem to be anything else for an ex-president to do but go into the country and raise pumpkins.” And President Herbert Hoover, who was possibly the first post-president to take a truly activist role, once told a woman who asked what a retired president does, “We spend our time taking pills and dedicating libraries.”
On the other hand, John Quincy Adams took a job as a congressman (could you imagine a president today serving in Congress?), and William Howard Taft became chief justice of the Supreme Court. While modern post-presidents don’t take official government jobs, they do seem to keep themselves busy.
George W. Bush: Bush has largely stayed out of politics, though he’s spoken out a bit on immigration reform and aid for Africa. But mostly, Bush has kept a low profile in Texas, where he has used his memories as artistic inspiration.
Bill Clinton: Clinton, on the other hand, can’t seem to stay out of politics. When he left office, he went straight back to work, establishing the Clinton Foundation, and through that the Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton Foundation Climate Change Initiative. After the southeast Asia tsunami in 2005, Clinton teamed with old political foe President George H. W. Bush to create a relief fund. And he crisscrosses the country campaigning for Democratic candidates.
George H. W. Bush: Bush retired to Texas and splits his time between there and a home in Kennebunkport, Maine. Until he and Clinton teamed up on natural disaster relief efforts, Bush’s community service was done mostly at home. Bush has also kept up with one of his favorite death-defying hobbies: skydiving.
Ronald Reagan: Because of his age and his Alzheimer’s disease, Reagan spent much of his retirement at home in California where he enjoyed horseback riding. He established the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award given to a civilian who promotes freedom around the world.
Jimmy Carter: Carter is credited with developing an activist role for a retired president. After his reelection defeat, Carter stayed in the public eye working with Habitat for Humanity International and then establishing The Carter Center to advance human rights. He won a Nobel Peace Prize for his global work.
Gerald Ford: Ford retired to California to hang out and golf, but kept the door open to returning to politics. He joined the American Enterprise Institute as a fellow and also did some college teaching.
Richard Nixon: Having left office in disgrace, Nixon eventually began speaking and writing to promote normalizing relations with China and on other foreign policy matters.
Lyndon Johnson: It’s said that when Lyndon retired to his Texas ranch, he became reclusive, literally letting his hair down (he grew it long). According to one story, he would drive around his ranch listening to “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B. J. Thomas.
Dwight Eisenhower: Eisenhower retired to a farm in Gettysburg, Pa. where he raised cattle and, like Bush, painted.
Harry Truman: Truman retired to Independence, Mo. where he used his retirement to read and drink bourbon with friends. He also, apparently, enjoyed walks around town. He called himself, “Mr. Citizen.”