Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bill Did a Jimmy

United States Presidents face an interesting challenge when comes to deciding how to spend their post-presidency.

In 1977 President Jimmy Carter rode into office as a populist outsider and was defeated after one term, leaving office with a failed economy and botched attempts to rescue American hostages who were held captive in Iran for more than a year. But he refused to remain a footnote. In later years he established a global reputation as an effective American statesman, often helping, as a private citizen, to negotiate international solutions to problems that elected administrations could not solve.

In 1993 President Bill Clinton entered office as a populist outsider and lasted through two terms. In spite of acting stupidly in personal behavioral matters, he left the country in better shape than when he started. But in the years since, he has struggled to find his way as something other than just a mere former President.

Yesterday Bill did a Jimmy.

He went to North Korea and helped negotiate a “special pardon” for two American reporters who had been jailed by the North Korean government. Clinton acted as a private citizen, as Carter had done several times, but his actions were presumably sanctioned by the current elected administration.

Clinton and Carter are two former Presidents who have made a name for themselves in ‘retirement’ and will likely be remembered fondly in history.

Ronald Reagan stayed out of the spotlight after his wildly successful presidency, in part because his Alzheimer’s started to kick in by then. But he was regarded as an effective statesman during his office. The first President Bush has also avoided publicity to a large degree, but we have seen him doing good deeds generating awareness and financial generosity after disasters around the world.

The second George Bush may face a different challenge. He has numerous talents, particularly in the business arena, and may find some history-friendly role to play in his post-presidency. But will he ever become a respected American statesman on the global scene in the mold of Carter and Clinton? Not likely.

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