SUMMARY: Can an ex-President have fun? Atlantic writer Barbara Bradley Hagerty examined the lives of modern Presidents to see how they fared in the real world after leaving office in middle age. As part of a collaboration with The Atlantic, Hagerty tells Judy Woodruff that Jimmy Carter was the trailblazer, Bill Clinton the moneymaker, George W. Bush the laid-back painter. So what's next for Barack Obama?
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, The Atlantic: Well, generally, Presidents — and let's refer throughout history — unless Presidents were wealthy, they generally had to work.
So, George Washington became the largest whiskey distiller. And, you know, William Howard Taft became the Supreme Court chief justice. So, they had to work.
But, more recently, what I was interested in seeing is that Presidents are living so long now. And when a President leaves in midlife, at the peak of his game, what does he do then? What does he do for an encore?
JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour): So, over time, the idea of what to do and the amount of time has changed. Take us back to modern Presidents. I mean, you looked at Jimmy Carter.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Jimmy Carter, he had a rough landing after his Presidency, which is not atypical.
So, Jimmy Carter loses to — in a landslide — to Ronald Reagan, and he comes home to Plains, Georgia, and there he finds that his business, his peanut business, is a million dollars in debt, that his house is in need of repair, and, literally, the forest has come right up to his back step, their back step.
And it was kind of this metaphor for Jimmy Carter's life. How does he navigate through the thicket? How does he have meaning in his life, after he was a one-term, relatively unpopular President? And so that was his challenge.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And he was in his mid-50s.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: He was. He was 56.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how did he go about figuring out what he would do?
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: When you look at Carter, what you saw was a man who was — his personality, he was very smart, very ambitious, and he had a kind of biblical ethos.
In fact, Walter Mondale told me that Jimmy Carter said, “You know, when this is all over, I want to be a missionary.”
So there's that. And then there was his Presidency. And what you saw in the Presidency, it was a rough Presidency, but he had this one defining area, right, Camp David, peace between Israel and Egypt.