A better future than the present?The New York Times’ Sunday Review featured an article titled “The Making of a Great Ex-President” on May 23. The contributor was Boise State University professor Justin Vaughn. He analyzed how former presidents could succeed after leaving the White House. He claimed the best ones “engaged in important work, sometimes at a level that exceeded White House accomplishments.”
President Jimmy Carter is one of them. Despite his human rights diplomacy in the White House, he failed in the re-election. However, upon retirement, he played the role of a troubleshooter and won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Vaughn said the worst ex-presidents “took strong positions against the national interest and undermined successors for personal and political reasons.” For example, Theodore Roosevelt, left the Republican Party and created the Progressive Party after failing to gain a presidential nomination.
However, more recent ex-presidents cannot be judged by this measure easily.
Former president Bill Clinton, who had displayed formidable political influence upon leaving office in 2001, is faced with a crisis of trust over a financial issue. The Clintons have earned $30 million in 16 months by making speeches. Hillary Clinton’s policy promises for the working class do not sound so convincing as a result. In addition, George W. Bush is still trapped in the quagmire of the Iraq War, which he started.
Here, President Barack Obama is likely to write a new chapter in the history of former presidents. By the time Obama exits the White House in January 2017, he will be 55 years old. Having struggled in party politics, he is not likely to be caught up in factional interests.
Obama has repeatedly expressed his intention to work as a community activist in poverty-stricken neighborhoods when he leaves the White House. He also wants to give vision and jobs to African-Americans and other minority groups.
Before entering Harvard Law School, Obama was a community organizer in an underprivileged neighborhood in Chicago. Then he worked as a civil rights attorney and was elected to the Senate. Activism for the underprivileged African-American community was his political root. He will also continue the project of assisting veterans’ families, a cause which was a special passion of his in office.
It is refreshing to see a president returning to the place that inspired his political career in the first place. As the first African-American President of the United States, he is the most suitable person to resolve racial conflict and accomplish social integration. He is known for his communication skills with the public, so the campaign would be very effective.
His hope may finally come true upon retirement. I look forward to his future more than his present.
*The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, May 26, Page 30
by LEE SANG-BOK