Richard Nixon, Setting A Post-Presidential Example
Earlier this month, an article by Anneta Konstantinides at ABC News’s site considered the question of what President Obama might do after he leaves office on January 20, 2017. The President recently joked that he might go to work for ESPN, but on a more serious note, Ms. Konstantinides noted his and the First Lady’s recent interview with Barbara Walters (a video of which is at the link). When Ms. Walters posed the question, the President and First Lady answered that the education of their younger daughter Sasha would be an important consideration.
While the Obamas’s older daughter Malia will be in college by the end of her father’s second term, Sasha will be fifteen and a half, and still in high school. The President and First Lady indicated to Ms. Walters that if their daughter wished to stay in school in Washington, they would remain in the area. This would mark a break from the tradition of former Presidents leaving Washington almost from the moment their term ends. In the last century, only one Chief Executive, Woodrow Wilson, stayed in the District of Columbia – chiefly because his fragile health did not permit him to travel any substantial distance. (Although, had John F. Kennedy lived, he would have resided not too far from Washington – in Middleburg, Virginia, where he and his wife Jacqueline built a house, called Wexford, in which he spent a total of just two weeks before his assassination.)
The way in which former Presidents have spent their time since leaving the White House has differed from era to era. In the nineteenth century, more often than not Presidents would simply go back to their previous work, very often the practice of law. After Herbert Hoover left office in 1933, he gradually assumed the role of an activist elder statesman. Some subsequent Presidents, like Lyndon Johnson, maintained a lower profile.
Herbert Hoover’s example was taken up by Richard Nixon after the conclusion of his Presidency, and the role RN came to play in public life, especially after moving to the New York City area in 1980, has been followed by several of his successors, especially Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. It involved frequent travel abroad, with visits to foreign leaders; a steady stream of books; and emphasis on staying involved, in remaining, to use Theodore Roosevelt’s phrase which RN so memorably invoked, “the man in the arena.”
From Ms. Konstantinides’s article:
Mark Updegrove, director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and author of the book “Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House,” told ABC News this change came with the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency.
“Richard Nixon in some respects ushered in the modern age of the post-presidency. He used his status as a former president to make himself almost a self-appointed secretary of state and he traveled the world and talked to former and current leaders and got a sense of where America stood in the world,” Updegrove said.