Jobs for an Ex-President?
April 28, 2012 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Assume that Barack Obama will not win a second term. What, effectively, will he do with the rest of his life?

If Obama doesn't win a second term, he'll be 51 and jobless, with two young kids.

If I had to guess, I imagine that he would author several more books, regularly give speeches/keynote addresses, and perhaps even go back to academia. But what political contributions, if any, would he be able to make?

Considering his age, I can't imagine him completely and totally bowing out out government.
posted by lobbyist to Law & Government (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Look at Bill Clinton, he left office when not outrageously old and manages to keep himself pretty busy with travel, writing books, and his foundation.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:59 PM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


honestly, though... he may end up the way that bill clinton (or kofi annan to a lesser extent) did and just use some of his political clout to take care of more-pressing issues that aren't necessarily politically-motivated.
posted by raihan_ at 4:00 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

College president, lecture circuit, appointed Ambassador someplace. Or he could follow Taft's example.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:08 PM on April 28, 2012

Teddy Roosevelt was only 50 when he left the White House, but I don't imagine Obama's post-presidential life will be nearly as ... colorful.
posted by mcwetboy at 4:09 PM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Speeches and foundation work.

I think it would be really cool if a former president went back to the House or Senate or were appointed to the Supreme Court, but given the remuneration possible from the lecture circuit, I can't imagine that happening.

You could almost imagine the presidency of Harvard to be good enough for a former president -- if it were available.
posted by jayder at 4:12 PM on April 28, 2012

posted by NoDef at 4:17 PM on April 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

If he loses the election this year he can still run again in 2016, not that I imagine he would. The short answer is he can pretty much do whatever he wants.
posted by Yorrick at 4:18 PM on April 28, 2012

I can't tell you what he would do but I think he'd be a heck of a professor.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:19 PM on April 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Ideefixe: "Or he could follow Taft's example."

You know, that might almost be worth it
posted by Blasdelb at 4:26 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since President Obama doesn't think the unelected Supremes should be changing laws that were passed by him and Congress, I don't think Taft's example is really his bag.

However, I'll contribute constructively to this thread-- I was trying to remember which president (duh, Taft) had gone to the Supremes after serving and found this awesome article, which summarizes the post-presidential careers of the 37 presidents through Bill Clinton. President Clinton was the 42nd* president, of course, but you recall that Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy didn't meet the criteria, unfortunately.
(The dates in this article seem rather screwy)

*presidential trivia nerds know about those weird little bits of history where so-and-so's VP might've technically been president for a day, and of course Grover Cleveland's second term wasn't connected to his first term, etc.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:34 PM on April 28, 2012

Corporate or foundation boards, college presidencies, founder of a foundation, diplomatic travel (not necessarily as an official U.S. Ambassador), and the public speaking circuit. Bill Gates is retired from day-to-day at Microsoft and is working pretty hard for the Gates Foundation, and I can imagine Obama doing something in the same vein, whether he leaves in 2012 or 2016.
posted by asciident at 4:43 PM on April 28, 2012

I can't tell you what he would do but I think he'd be a heck of a professor.

He was senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School previously.
posted by FlamingBore at 4:58 PM on April 28, 2012

It's going to be a memoir and speeches and foundations and boards and special envoy work and all of the stuff that Carter and Bill Clinton have done; the modern presidency just doesn't support reprises within the formal structures of political life. I'm pretty sure that Bill Clinton was asked about it and said that he treated ex-presidentin' in terms of keeping out of the way of the incumbent, but being permanently on call if the incumbent thought he'd be useful. Inactive reserve duty, if you like.

(The same now seems to apply to British prime ministers, even though it's a more recent precedent, and a deviation from tradition, given that the job doesn't entail being head of state.)

The governing precedent is to pack up and go home, following the example of Washington; the examples of Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt and Taft, a couple of decades either side 1900, are anomalous, and the subsequent era of presidential libraries (dating from Hoover, who lived 30 years past his presidency) locks in the idea that there are no true second acts after the presidency.
posted by holgate at 5:37 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Obama would probably go work for the Clinton Global Initiative and Michelle Obama will start her own foundation, reason unknown now. Obama will build a presidential library and use it as a base to run for president again. Basically, presidential libraries are both a museum and a publishing house - essentially a fundraising vehicle that has survived beyond its purpose but survived nonetheless. Remember Dan Quayle started one? He could have gone into office again, probably. But he would not garner any support now. Republicans know he is about having money, not changing anything.

There's something to be said that we as Democrats should prepare. If we Democrats are to really rise, we need to be prepared for catastrophes in a much more concerted and popular way. I think we could have rallied much harder in 2002, for example, to use the congress to punish the judiciary and perhaps could have stopped Alito and Roberts from take their seats.

What would Obama do? I would like to imagine him as a kind of Democratic Whip stalking Washington to round up votes.
posted by parmanparman at 6:33 PM on April 28, 2012

I'll bet he'll write at least one Spider-Man special and cameo in the next Trek TV.
Like others have said, he's a fantastic speaker, and there are people who will pay big money for that.

I'm thinking he'll be a bit of a Gareth Evans or Tony Blair as much as Clinton, and get out on the world stage, since he seems to be well respected internationally.

[Or he could run for president of Kenya.]
posted by Mezentian at 12:39 AM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recently heard an interview with Bill Clinton in which he said (I'm paraphrasing as I don't have the exact quote) that as an ex-president he didn't have as much power, but he wasn't hostage to events in the same way he had been in office, and therefore he has more time to focus on the causes and initiatives that matter to him. He also noted that while an ex-president doesn't have a president's power, he still has quite a lot of influence and a LOT of connections, so it's still possible to achieve a lot, albeit by more indirect means.

With that in mind, I'd say that for an ex-president, it's a case of choosing the things that really matter to you -- whether that's education or the environment or something else -- and then picking the most effective way of continuing to achieve things and push an agenda in those areas.
posted by meronym at 1:22 AM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

holgate has pretty much nailed what will likely happen in reality, versus what he could hypothetically do.

After a lengthy spell at the very top, his successors won't want to have him around too prominently. If he's remembered as a success they'd be overshadowed, if he's remembered as a failure, they won't want to be tarnished by association.

And mostly it is hard to spend much time at the top without eventually lots of people coming to dislike you for one reason and another. You can't get everything right; you mostly have to say no to what people want; you can't ever be pure enough for the true believers; you get blamed for everything bad that happens whether it's within your control or not; you don't get much credit for anything good; the media gets bored of saying what a great guy you are and turns to finding as much mud as possible to throw at you. Also in party terms, you make enemies, you thwart people's ambitions, deny them the jobs they wanted, maybe sack them or their friends, or just not pay them as much attention as they craved. So overall, after a longish stint at the top, there's no real place for you in mainstream party politics.

I'd expect him to write more books, maybe do some stints at the Kennedy School of Government, maybe start a foundation or adopt some not-too-contentious cause.
posted by philipy at 6:58 AM on April 29, 2012

Bill Clinton spends a lot of time endorsing and supporting (doing rallies, fundraising, etc.) other Democratic candidates for office. (These days, his endorsements are almost always predicated on whether someone supported his wife's presidential bid.) Obama strikes me as much less of a political animal than Clinton, so I wouldn't expect to see him hitting the campaign trail in the way Clinton does, though I'm sure he'd be in insanely high demand.

I suppose there's also a possibility that Michelle Obama could run for her husband's old Senate seat in 2016, since it's now occupied by Republican Mark Kirk. So if she did that, I'd imagine Barack would do everything in his power to help her.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:38 AM on April 29, 2012

I think everyone is discounting the fact that a one-term president can run for president again. Grover Cleveland did it. Why should it not be a possibility now. We have to stop treating people who lose races as also-rans. Predominantly, they tend to be able to raise money quite well. It's them that taint the water after they lose an election. I think Obama would attempt to regain the presidency in 2020 with a goal of developing a strong fellowship program for another Democratic president early on.
posted by parmanparman at 2:32 PM on April 29, 2012

I think everyone is discounting the fact that a one-term president can run for president again. Grover Cleveland did it. Why should it not be a possibility now.

Because it's not 1892: the presidency is very different now from what it was a century ago, as is presidential politics. There is now a well-trodden path for ex-presidents, bolstered by the Presidential Libraries Act and the Former Presidents Act, both of which were passed during Eisenhower's time in office. This applies whether they lost their bid for re-election or left after a second term. Even Nixon got his foundation and library eventually.
posted by holgate at 8:14 PM on April 29, 2012

Pity no one seems likely to pull a John Quincy Adams again.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:32 AM on April 30, 2012

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