Life After the White House, Part 6

The White House

Few Presidents have entered the office with more promise or left it with greater disappointment than Lyndon Johnson. Majority Leader of the Senate and decorated naval officer, he had more experience, leadership and political talent than almost any other president. Lyndon Johnson became President when John Kennedy was assassinated. His term saw the Great Society, great progress in civil rights, and an increasing involvement in the war in Vietnam. After declining to run for another term in 1968, Johnson retired to the LBJ Ranch in Texas.

He supervised the day-to-day operations of the ranch, and wrote his memoirs entitled “The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963-1969.” From December 1969 to May 1970, he held a three-part series of televised interviews with Walter Cronkite. His last public appearance was six weeks before his death when he addressed a civil rights symposium at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas. He had suffered a major heart attack in 1955, and had a second one in 1972, from which he recovered slowly. After that heart attack, he rarely left the ranch. On January 22, 1973, he suffered a third heart attack and died on the way to the hospital.

Richard Nixon was elected in 1968, and re-elected in 1972 carrying 49 states. After the revelations of the Watergate Affair, he became the first and only President to resign from office. After leaving the White House in disgrace, Nixon returned to San Clemente, California. He avoided political activities, and spent most of his time playing golf and writing. As time passed, his views on international affairs were highly valued and sought by later Presidents of both parties. In 1974, he accepted from his successor, President Gerald Ford, a “full, free, and absolute pardon” for all crimes that he “committed or may have committed or taken part in” while he was President. In 1985, Nixon mediated a contract dispute between major league baseball and the umpire association.

Still very popular abroad, Nixon traveled to eighteen foreign nations and met with sixteen heads of state. During the Reagan administration, he conferred with officials on a regular basis, although only rarely with President Reagan himself. Nixon published a number of books: “RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon” (1978), “The Real War” (1980), “Leaders” (1982), “Real Peace: A Strategy for the West” (1983), “No More Vietnams” (1985), “In the Arena” (1990), and “Beyond Peace” (1994). Nixon left San Clemente to live in New York City in 1980. In 1981, he moved to Saddle River, N.J., and in 1991 to Park Ridge, N.J. Nixon died in 1994. He and his wife are buried on the grounds of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California, near the house in which he was born.

With the resignation of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford became President of the United States. A poor economy plus his pardon of Richard Nixon resulted in Ford barely losing the 1976 race for a full term of his own. After leaving office, Ford retired to Rancho Mirage, California. He wrote his memoirs and maintained an active speaking schedule, reportedly earning $10,000-$15,000 per appearance. He conducted a college lecture tour under a program sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute. He also served on the boards of several corporations and became co-chairman of the People for the American Way.

There was excited talk of Ford running for Vice President on the ticket with Ronald Reagan in 1980, but the “dream ticket” never materialized. Ford did handle some assignments for Reagan after he became President in 1981, most notably when he joined former Presidents Nixon and Carter in representing the United States at the funeral of slain President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. Also in 1981, the Gerald R. Ford Museum opened in Grand Rapids and the Gerald R. Ford Library opened in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ford continues as a corporate director and public speaker.

Jimmy Carter is considered by many to be the best ex-President we have ever had. Jimmy Carter became President after narrowly defeating Gerald Ford in the election of 1976. In 1980, Jimmy Carter was soundly defeated for re-election by Ronald Reagan. Carter retired to his home in Plains, Georgia, to find the family peanut farm deep in debt as a result of its handling in a blind trust during his Presidency. He put the family business back in order and taught political science at Emory University, founding the Carter Center of Emory University in 1982. In 1986, The Carter Presidential Center was completed in Atlanta. It included the Carter Center of Emory University and the Jimmy Carter Library.

Carter is best known for his humanitarian work with Habitat for Humanity. Carter personally helped to build houses in New York City and around the country. The sight of Carter in work clothes and tool belt became a familiar one to many Americans. Carter engaged in many other humanitarian efforts. In 1991, he founded the Atlanta Project to coordinate government and private efforts to solve social problems that affect poor families.

Carter also participated actively in international affairs. Since the 1980’s, he has helped monitor elections in a number of nations. In 1991, Carter created the International Negotiation Network Council. The council is made up of former heads of state and other prominent people willing to conduct peace negotiations or monitor elections. In 1991, the military leaders of Haiti overthrew the elected President of Haiti and seized control of the government. In 1994, Carter went to Haiti and led the negotiations that convinced the military leaders to allow the elected President to return to the country and finish his term in office. Also in 1994, Carter traveled to North Korea on a trip that reduced tensions between that country and the United States over North Korea’s suspected nuclear arms program.

Carter has written several books since leaving the White House, including “Keeping the Faith: Memoirs of a President (1982) and “Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life” (1987) which he wrote with his wife, Rosalynn. He regularly makes speaking appearances on behalf of humanitarian issues.

Ronald Reagan was elected by a landslide in 1980 and was re-elected in 1984 by an even larger landslide carrying 49 states. When he left office, he left as the most popular outgoing President since Dwight Eisenhower. The Reagans retired to their home in Bel-Air, California. They did not move into their retirement house on St. Cloud Road until the house number had been changed from 666, considered unlucky because of biblical reference, to 668. Reagan vowed to continue to speak out for two constitutional amendments he favored, one to require a balanced budget and the other to repeal the 22nd Amendment limiting the President to two terms.

In 1990, the former actor published his autobiography entitled “An American Life” making sure in his contract with Simon and Schuster to retain all movie and dramatic rights to his story. In 1991, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library opened in Simi Valley, California, containing documents and other items related to his Presidency. In 1994, Reagan revealed the he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The disease causes an increasing loss of memory and other mental processes. Since then, although in good physical health, he has avoided public appearances and has been represented at some functions by his wife, Nancy.

President George Bush, after his defeat for a second term in the election of 1992, retired to Houston, Texas. Although an active speaker, he has refrained from criticizing his successor. He did take a more active role in the recent election, in which his son was elected President. He acted as an advisor to his son’s campaign and began making public comments on his son’s opponent, as well as some on the man who had defeated him in 1992. He made a very highly publicized parachute jump to celebrate his 75th birthday, but otherwise has kept out of the limelight.

Bill Clinton has only just begun his retirement, but already it has been active and controversial. The pardons made in the last hours of his Presidency as well as his initial choice of office space were prominent news stories. With his wife a newly elected senator from New York, he will remain more visible and active in politics than most of the earlier Presidents.