Bush has art, Clinton and Carter have their causes, but what did other ex-presidents do?


While his son paints, George H.W. Bush jumps out of airplanes. Different strokes. (Sgt. 1st Class Kevin McDaniel/U.S. ARMY GOLDEN KNIGHTS VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The reveal of George W. Bush’s artwork Friday got the Loop wondering how other U.S. presidents chose to spend their post-White House years. Sure, there are high-priced speaking engagements, memoir writing and presidential-library establishing, but what else?

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.”

On the other hand, after leaving the White House, John Quincy Adams became a congressman (could you imagine an ex-president serving in Congress today?) and William Howard Taft became chief justice.

With assists from the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and from presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, here’s a quick look at modern life after the presidency:

George W. Bush has largely stayed out of politics, though he’s spoken out on immigration reform and aid for Africa. He’s mainly kept a low profile in Texas, where he has used his memories as artistic inspiration.

Bill Clinton, however, can’t seem to stay out of politics. He set up the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton Foundation Climate Change Initiative. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, he teamed with predecessor and old political foe George H.W. Bush to create a relief fund. And he campaigns for Democratic candidates.

Bush I retired to Texas and splits his time between there and Kennebunkport, Maine. Until he and Clinton teamed up, his community service was done mostly at home. He’s also kept up with a favorite death-defying hobby: skydiving.

Ronald Reagan’s age and his Alzheimer’s disease kept him from doing much. He spent a lot of his retirement at home in California, where he enjoyed horseback riding. He set up the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award, given to a civilian who promotes freedom around the world.

Jimmy Carter is credited with developing an activist role for a retired president. 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 work.

Gerald Ford retired to California to hang out and play golf, but he kept the door open to returning to politics. He joined the American Enterprise Institute as a fellow and also taught.

Richard Nixon, having left office in disgrace, eventually began speaking and writing to promote normalizing relations with China and on other foreign policy matters.

Lyndon Johnson retired to his Texas ranch, where it’s said 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 retired to a farm in Gettysburg, Pa., where he raised cattle and, like Bush II, painted.

Harry Truman retired to Independence, Mo., where he used his leisure time to read and drink bourbon with friends. He also apparently enjoyed walks around town. He called himself “Mr. Citizen.”

R-You Sure?

Scott Brown was so busy picking a new state, he forgot to pick a party.

The former senator from Massachusetts is hoping to become a senator from New Hampshire, but whoever completed the formal statement of organization for his campaign exploratory committee left blank the small gray box asking for the candidate’s party affiliation.

The Brown committee received a letter from the Federal Election Commission on Friday about the omission. As of Monday morning, his file on the FEC Web site did not have him listed as a Republican.

Brown’s campaign said the blank box was an “administrative oversight” that will be fixed when “exploratory” is dropped from the committee’s name Thursday — the same day Brown will make his candidacy official. He is listed as a Republican on his statement-of-candidacy form.

With qualifications

President Obama’s administration — criticized in recent months for ambassadorial nominees who were fine campaign mega-bundlers but lacking in knowledge of the countries in which they were to serve — has agreed to start posting nominees’ credentials for the jobs online.

The move follows embarrassing testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by nominees for Norway, Hungary and Argentina, prompting the American Foreign Service Association, the Foreign Service employee union, to demand access to the “certificates of demonstrated competence” that are part of the nomination documents sent to the Senate.

AFSA said Friday that the State Department will publish those certificates on the department’s Web site when a nominee is announced.

But with less than three years left in Obama’s second term, the number of nominees affected is likely to be small. Other than garden spots such as Sudan or Syria, there are only a couple of primo embassies (Ireland and France) left for mega-fundraiser nominees.

Major vacancies in India and Russia are, given current friction between Washington and New Delhi and Moscow, are likely to go to career Foreign Service officers.

— With Colby Itkowitz

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter:@InTheLoopWP.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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