Replenish the Ol' Coffers: Bush on Life After the White House
Some ex-Presidents grow in stature after their departure from the White House. Others are diminished by it. In a disturbing New York Times profile Sunday, President George W. Bush left little doubt which will be his destiny after exiting the Oval Office.
In a series of interviews with author Robert Draper, Bush confirmed that the banality - and venality - that defined his presidency will characterize his post-presidency as well:
First, Mr. Bush said, "I'll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol' coffers." With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, "I don't know what my dad gets - it's more than 50-75" thousand dollars a speech, and "Clinton's making a lot of money."
Then he said, "We'll have a nice place in Dallas," where he will be running what he called "a fantastic Freedom Institute" promoting democracy around the world. But he added, "I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch."
Despite Bush's vow (like his disgraced outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) to "to sprint to the finish" of his term, his pre-occupation with his legacy is clearly paramount. Certain of his course in Iraq, President Bush like his wife Laura wants America to understand the price in suffering he has paid for his supposed steadfastness:
"I can't let my own worries - I try not to wear my worries on my sleeve; I dont want to burden them with that. Self-pity is the worst thing that can happen to a presidency. This is a job where you can have a lot of self-pity.
I've got God's shoulder to cry on, and I cry a lot. I'll bet I've shed more tears than you can count as president."
In advance of the Draper book Dead Certain, Karl Rove has been making the comical case that his President's legacy will that of the "far-sighted" architect of the Bush Doctrine. But Bush himself makes clear in the Times, his life after his White House tenure will very much resemble his life before and during it. The sense of entitlement, the kindness of strangers (read: his father's friends) and the perpetual campaign to sell a war, a terror threat, the loss of civil liberties and now his legacy are all symbolized by the coming George W. Bush presidential library and right-wing think tank.
Some former presidents grow in status - and the people's esteem - only after they leave the White House. Jimmy Carter's failed term was redeemed in part by his charitable works and efforts for world peace. Bill Clinton's foundation and campaigns to battle AIDS, disease and natural disasters have made him perhaps the last globally respected American president. Even Richard Nixon's partial resurrection earned him elder statesman status.
But not President Bush. Already a small man, he will only decrease in stature as leaves the stage in Washington to "replenish the ol' coffers" and, apparently, just hang out. "Sixty-two is really young," Mr. Bush said, "and yet I'll be through with my presidency."
So much time, so little good to do.
UPDATE: The Washington Post has more coverage of the upcoming Bush book. Capturing the once and future banality of President Bush is this exchange:
He told Draper he could see himself shuttling between Dallas and Crawford. Noting that he ran into former president Bill Clinton at the United Nations last year, Bush added, "Six years from now, you're not going to see me hanging out in the lobby of the U.N."