“After the White House, what is there to do other than drink?” asked Franklin Pierce, who did, stupendously.
Other former presidents have fared better. Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. William Howard Taft became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter have had more successful post-presidencies than their unique White House terms.
The Clintons and Obamas are forging decidedly different paths.
They’ve started foundations, libraries and museums, and global initiatives because that’s what modern past presidents and first ladies do. But they have also become massive content creators. They live on our screens and in our ears and courses through our social media feeds. They produce movies and television shows. As of 2021, they’re all hosting podcasts. The Clintons write his and hers thrillers to be released this year. The couples have partnered with creative forces like Netflix, History Channel, Apple, Spotify, and Springsteen.
They have become brands. And, frankly, they seem to be having fun.
“Public policy, culture and entertainment are so intertwined these days,” Hillary Clinton wrote in an email, sent by her spokesperson. “There are huge new opportunities through the media to tell important stories and raise the voices of people who have quietly changed the world. And if, while I’m at it, I can have a little fun writing a mystery with my friend Louise Penny, so much the better!
“There is no manual for a post-presidency like this,” said Katie Hill, spokesperson for the Obamas. “President and Mrs. Obama have understood the power of storytelling. They used their unique perch to share the stories of the people who inspired them. “
The two couples left the White House in their early fifties, blessed with time and income-earning options. Two decades after his departure, Clinton is still younger than the current occupier. “Age and modern medicine are what completely change history. Presidents didn’t live that long after their term, ”says Jeffrey Engel, director of the Presidential History Center at Southern Methodist University.
They adapted to the times and mastered Hollywood and social media to share each other’s stories, with “story” being a preferred term for both couples. Higher Ground has about ten employees. Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton founded HiddenLight Productions to “Share the Stories of Leaders – Celebrated and Unsung,” the 2016 presidential candidate said in a previous press release. By creating TV shows, movies, podcasts, digital content, and page turners, the Obamas and Clintons are achieving a wider, younger and more diverse audience than that of the White House memoirs.
Barack Obama, author of the bestselling memoir “A Promised Land,” has long celebrated his voracious consumption of popular culture with his annual favorites list. books, music and movies. His podcast “Renegades: Born in the USA” with Springsteen sounds like two baby boomers chatting about their passions over beer. In their third episode, the 44th President sings more than Bruce. (Also, Obama, a “renegade”, seriously?)
Even a memoir becomes something else entirely, a global franchise and an event. Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” has sold over 15 million copies, supported by a documentary, as well as an arena tour with special guests and merchandise. With the pocket versions and for young readers making their debut this week, its appeal is unlikely to diminish. Hillary and Chelsea Clinton have turned their 2019 book “The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience” into an upcoming Apple TV Plus documentary series, created by their production company, which they will host.
This month, the Obamas are launching Netflix’s “Waffles + Mochi”, sort of international “Sesame Street” foodie with a celebrity passel. Other Higher Ground projects include a TV series about Frederick Douglass, a biopic of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin directed by George C. Wolfe, and a film based on Mohsin Hamid’s novel “Exit West” with Riz Ahmed. .
The company is “set up as a platform for telling the types of stories that embody the values and interests of Obamas,” says Joe Paulsen, chief strategy and business officer at Higher Ground. “We have a house with Netflix and Spotify. If we believe in a writer, believe in an idea, we can defend it. Malia Obama, who shares her parents’ interest in entertainment, joins the editorial staff of Donald Glover’s Amazon Project “Hive.” (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Contrary to John Quincy Adams’ belief, “the greatest job in the world is to be ex-president,” Engel says. “For the most part, they have nothing to do that they don’t want to do. People pay you for your participation. Everywhere you go people are standing up and applauding.
There was a time when former presidents even worried about the appearance of profiting from their public office. Mark Updegrove, CEO of the LBJ Foundation, author of “Second Acts: Presidential Lives And Legacies After The White House”, states that even after leaving office, Truman was so wary of “belittling the office” that when signing books he refused to sign with a recognizable branded pen, such as a cross or a Bic, “lest it sound like a corporate endorsement.” , and he incurred mailing costs to send copies to readers. In 1958, the Former Presidents Act helped ease many financial burdens, providing former CEOs with a range of benefits, including postage.
Subsequent presidents, many after decades in public service, learned that they could be paid generously for a few hours of their time. To interview David Frost paid Richard Nixon $ 600,000 and a share of the profits to tell his story. Gerald Ford was paid to serve on the boards of directors. In 1989, Ronald Reagan set the gold standard when he received $ 2 million for two 20-minute speeches and a few public appearances in Japan, opening the floodgates to criticism. It is a practice that the Clintons and Obamas have continued.
Not all former presidents would rather stay in the public eye or woo Hollywood. George W. Bush works with Clinton on disaster relief and the Presidential Leadership Scholars, but has opted for a quieter life, preferring to paint.
Before leaving the White House, the Clintons and Obamas had never generated the kind of wealth they have it now, although Barack Obama received a significant salary thanks to the success of his previous books “Dreams from My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope” which far exceeded his salary in the US Senate. The Obamas have reportedly earned up to $ 65 million for their recent memoir, negotiated by Washington attorney Robert Barnett, who represented the Clintons and George and Laura Bush.
Bill Clinton, the first (and, so far, the only) presidential candidate to play the saxophone on television, “has always been a voracious reader and lifelong fan of pop culture – from music to sports through television and cinema ”, declares its spokesperson. Angel Urena. “Bringing these projects to life gave him the chance to try new things, explore different forms of storytelling, and work with people he admires through his wide range of interests. It has been fun, exciting and rewarding. “
Therefore, a thriller, which could be more fun than writing a 957 page memoir. The former president is once again partnering with publishing giant James Patterson after their 2018 success with “The President is Missing,” which sold over 2 million copies. Their new book released in June is called “The President’s Daughter”. It is not a sequel, although it is also disappearing. “State of Terror ”, his wife’s project with the famous mystery writer Penny scheduled for October, speaks of a secretary of state who deals, according to the press release, with “the complex world of high-stakes diplomacy and betrayal.”
The lives of the former occupants of the Oval Office could be easily knocked down again. Before politics, the most recent former president was a reality TV host who put his name on everything from casinos to steaks. As to what Trump might do next, Updegrove says, “All bets are off. We haven’t seen anything yet.