Obama Drops Hints About Post-Presidency Life

Obama hints at public post-presidential life after the White House.

ByAnneta Konstantinides
December 06, 2013, 4:53 PM

Dec. 6, 2013— -- John Quincy Adams once proclaimed: "There is nothing more pathetic in life than a former president."

It may not be leader of the free world, but life after the U.S. presidency is hardly bleak. Many former commanders-in-chief have used their ample amount of free time to build up lucrative speaking careers, delve into philanthropic causes and even take up new hobbies -- like painting.

It's now that time in a president's second term when questions are being asked about what President Obama's second act will be. During a Nov. 26 visit to Jeffery Katzenberg's DreamWorks Animation campus in Glendale, Calif., Obama revealed he's set his sights on his dream job post-presidency.

"At least I know what I want to do when I retire ... host ESPN's SportsCenter's Top 10 List," he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

President Obama also revealed he might stay in the nation's capital after moving out of the White House, telling ABC News' Barbara Walters in an interview that they want to give youngest daughter Sasha, who will still be in high school, a voice in the decision.

"We've got to make sure that she's doing well ... until she goes off to college," the president said. "Sasha will have a big say in where we are."

One thing the Obamas told Walters they do know for sure: The president will not be seeking a future in politics.

"President Obama: Nowhere to go but up"

President Obama's decision is a common one. Returning to political office hasn't been a popular option -- only three former presidents have gained a seat in the House of Representatives, Senate or Supreme Court, and all did so before the Great Depression.

John Quincy Adams, after being defeated in the general election for a second term, successfully won a seat in the House, where he served until his death.

Andrew Johnson, the first president to ever be impeached, gained a Senate seat after he was denied the nomination for a second presidential term by his party, and lost a bid to the House.

William Howard Taft became the only former president to serve on the Supreme Court when he was appointed chief justice by Warren G. Harding in 1921.

These men were the exception, not the norm, as many presidents, including George Washington and Harry Truman, returned to their hometowns and enjoyed a life of quiet retirement (precisely the life, it seems, Quincy Adams wanted to avoid).

But there's been a major shift in that trend in the modern era, and it has changed the way we perceive our presidents. 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.

"He burnished his legacy so that when he was memorialized 20 years after leaving the presidency in disgrace, he was remembered more as a venerable elder statesman than a disgraced former president."

Updegrove also cites Jimmy Carter as the perfect example of post-presidential success. After losing the general election for a second-term to Ronald Reagan, the 39th president went on to establish the Carter Center in 1982 for the advancement of human rights. The nonprofit has played a part in resolving major conflicts in Haiti and North Korea, and in 2002 Carter became the only president to receive the Nobel Prize after leaving office.

Post-presidential life also has promise of profit. Along with a yearly pension (around $200,000) established by the 1958 Former Presidents Act, a number of former presidents have built post-White House careers thanks to speaking tours and book deals.

Bill Clinton received a $15 million advance for his autobiography "My Life," and, according to CNN, has made over $100 million on the lecture circuit since ending his term in 1999.

But it seems the biggest upside to a contemporary president's second act is not so much a growing bank account but a spike in approval ratings.

According to an April Gallup Poll, a president's retrospective approval ratings frequently exceed what they were during the president's term.

Updegrove credits this rise to the fact that it's easier for the public to see a president as a person once they leave office.

This seems to be the case with George W. Bush, who has enjoyed positive publicity as he focuses on his painting and philanthropic work since leaving the White House.

George W. Bush: 'Painting Has Changed My Life'

Whether it's philanthropy, a hobby or unfinished business, it's clear today's former presidents are hardly settling down.

"You know what the interesting lesson is though, that you can keep learning in life," Bush told ABC News' Diane Sawyer in April. "I mean, some guy one time said to me, 'Man, you deserve to rest.' And I don't wanna rest. I wanna live life to the -- I wanna ... you know, sprint into the grave."

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