Ahhhh, the post-presidency! Our commanders in chief are always rhapsodizing about their retirement years to come.
“We could play some dominoes together,” President Obama suggested wistfully to the soon-to-retire David Letterman last week. “We could, you know, go to the local Starbucks, swap stories.”
We’ve heard this kind of chatter from all our lame-duck presidents, a wink at how great it will be to get out of Washington, relax and let someone else lead the free world for a change.
But the days when an ex-president and his wife could step off the world stage and retreat into private life are long gone. Like their recent predecessors, the Obamas are quietly devoting some of their final months in the White House to laying the groundwork for a very busy life after it: a free-form career that is expected to be very public, very active and — owing to their relative youth — very long.
On Tuesday, the president’s foundation is expected to announce the location of the Barack Obama Presidential Library, which early reports have indicated will be on the South Side of Chicago. And the president and first lady have started giving some hints of their plans following the next president’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017.
“I’ll go back to doing the kinds of work that I was doing before — just trying to find ways to help people, help young people get educations, help people get jobs, help bring businesses into neighborhoods that don’t have enough businesses,” Obama recently told a group of middle school students. “That’s the kind of work that I really love to do.”
Chicago, where Michelle Obama grew up and her husband began his political career, is where his presidential foundation is already based. But unlike Harry S. Truman returning to Independence, Mo., the Obamas have said they may remain in Washington until their younger daughter, Sasha, completes high school. Associates have suggested that the first couple may make a more permanent home in New York.
The president recently announced that My Brother’s Keeper, the White House program he established to help young men of color, will form an independent nonprofit organization that will raise money from corporations. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign is already affiliated with a nonprofit independent of the White House. The president and first lady also recently launched a program to boost girls’ education around the world, in partnership with the State Department and the government of Japan. Any of those programs could be part of their post-White House work.
While taping the interview with Letterman, Obama told the talk-show host that he plans to take off only about a month after leaving office.
The Obamas’ moves are part of the ongoing evolution of the lives of ex-presidents, said Burton Kaufman, author of “The Post Presidency: From Washington to Clinton.”
“In the old days, presidents died after they left office,” Kaufman said. Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson — none survived more than a decade after their presidencies. Ronald Reagan, suffering from Alzheimer’s, lived quietly in California. “What presidents do now,” Kaufman added, “is they make lots of money.”
That evolution has been a crooked path. George Washington retired to his plantation, as did Thomas Jefferson, who also spent his time building up the University of Virginia. They both remained involved in politics, but just a little, Kaufman said.
Source: The Washington Post | Krissah Thompson