The suggestion by August A. Imholtz Jr. (op-ed, Sept. 5) that every retiring president should be awarded an at-large seat in the House of Representatives coincided with the 24th anniversary of another brainstorm: the introduction of the Edsel.
Give me a recent chief executive spoiled for years (or even a few months) with the perks of the Oval Office, and I'll lay odds that he'd be as interested in sitting in the House as George Allen would be in coaching the Little Sisters of the Poor. Not to mention the problems of security for the Ex in the chamber, interpersonal relations with the 25-year-old member fresh out of college and the fact that it is the lower house of Congress.
The problem with some former presidents is not the absence of an effective method of communicating whatever wisdom they have distilled. Rather, the intellectual brew has been bad, with memoirs too often illustrative of a claptrap trait. More serious is the failure of some men to be creative enough to find a useful place for themselves after their White House years. Busy work via a guaranteed seat in the House is scarcely an incentive for bringing out the
best in former presidents. John Quincy Adams and his con stituents wanted him to run for the House; he fought in
the customary political arena for his seat over the years.
So did Andrew Johnson, for a Senate seat that he won
in the wake of his turbulent presidency.
Then there is the matter of whether the nation should give former presidents more after it gives them so much in post-term perks. The logic used by some Americans to knock the welfare system--it stifles initiative--should be applicable to men most capable to fend for themselves.
There are numerous examples of former chief executives who found utility and peace of mind in retirement and/or continued public service. Jefferson and John Adams come to mind as well as most presidents who lived in the remainder of the 19th century. The same can be said of 20th century presidents, save Theodore Roosevelt, whose attempts at public service were sometimes spurned. After 1929, Calvin Coolidge continued the retirement he began when he became president in 1923. William Howard Taft served as professor of law at Yale, then chief justice of the United States in the years after his presidency, and Herbert Hoover and his name were synonymous with service on various government commissions in the 1940s and 1950s.
Finally, there was Harry Truman. When he retired to his home in Independence, he conducted himself much in the fashion of judge, senator and private citizen. Of course, as a former haberdasher, old Harry had a decided edge: he recognized that the biggest problem for former presidents wasn't the seat of their pants or a seat in the House. It was making certain their heads didn't get too big for their hats.