WASHINGTON: Whether it’s writing a book, working with minority youths or helping the Democratic Party to rise from the ashes, Barack Obama sees life after his eight years in the White House as that of an active “citizen.”
At 55, Obama will be a year younger than Bill Clinton when he leaves office on Friday. He remains highly popular and says he hopes not to become “the old guy at the bar, you know, who’s—who’s just hanging around re-living old glories.”
America’s first black president says he has no intention of getting involved in the “day-to-day scrum” of political life once he leaves the White House.
But he also says he will not hesitate to weigh in on “foundational issues about our democracy”—a subtle hint that Donald Trump may face some well-placed pushback over the coming four years from his predecessor.
In the short term, after Trump takes the oath of office on the steps of the Capitol at noon Friday, Obama will head on vacation with his wife Michelle and two teenage daughters Malia and Sasha. Destination: Palm Springs, California.
“I have to be quiet for a while. I don’t mean politically, I mean internally. I have to still myself,” Obama told former close aide David Axelrod in an interview for CNN.
Former presidents rarely remain in the nation’s capital after their time living and working in the city’s oldest public building, but the Obamas will be staying in Washington while Sasha finishes high school.
Jimmy Carter headed home to Georgia and Ronald Reagan did the same, residing in California until his death.
Bill Clinton opted for New York, where he launched his family foundation and where wife Hillary launched her own political career as a US senator. George W. Bush went back to Texas.
Obama, a Hawaii native who made his start in politics in Chicago and never expressed any real love for Washington, has rented a home in the city’s upscale Kalorama neighborhood.
In the middle term, Obama has expressed a wish to work with young minorities from poor neighborhoods, where school dropouts, unemployment and incarceration rates are higher than elsewhere.
“Those opportunity gaps begin early, often at birth, and they compound over time, becoming harder and harder to bridge,” Obama said in 2015.
“This will remain a mission for me and for Michelle, not just for the rest of my presidency, but for the rest of my life.”
Supreme Court? ‘Too monastic’
Hillary Clinton’s surprise election loss in November—and Trump’s win, which Obama admits he did not see coming—changed the outlook for Obama’s post-presidency.
The Democrat has clearly said he will work to rebuild his battered party.
“I want to make sure that I’m doing everything I can to amplify and lift up a next generation of voices not just in politics, but in civic life,” Obama said in the exit interview with CNN.
“And I have the connections and, I think, credibility to be able to do that in some unique some ways.”
Obama says he hopes that he can push his party to go beyond aiming to win presidential elections and instead be present not just in Democrat-leaning big cities but also in communities “where people feel as if they’re not being heard.”
Several ex-presidents have stayed in Washington to make a mark in other branches of government.
Defeated in 1828 after one term, John Quincy Adams was elected to Congress, where he remained till his death. His oratorical skills served him well, and he is remembered for his passionate fight to abolish slavery.
William Howard Taft, who left the White House in 1913, later became a Supreme Court justice.
Obama, an expert in constitutional law and the former president of the Harvard Law Review, doesn’t see the high court in his future.
“I think being a justice is a little bit too monastic for me,” he told The New Yorker in 2014.
The example of his two Democratic predecessors—Carter and Clinton, who both launched charitable foundations respected at home and abroad—could be instructive.
Obama might use his presidential library, which will be built in Chicago, to develop some of his post-White House initiatives.
Persistent rumors say he wants to teach at New York’s Columbia University, where he earned his undergraduate degree.
“I love teaching. I miss the classroom and engaging with students,” Obama—who lectured at the University of Chicago before becoming president—told The New Yorker in 2014.
Obama, the author of two successful books, will also spend time writing—a rite of passage, and a lucrative one, for former US leaders.
Media reports say he could earn more than $20 million in book contracts, including for his memoir.
He could rely on the journals he has kept since his student days, including at the White House.
“I’ve kept some, but not with the sort of discipline that I would have hoped for,” Obama told The New York Times. “Not as much as I would have liked. I just didn’t have time.”