With the sad news that Jimmy Carter has cancer, I was thinking about how our ex-Presidents stack up. Let’s look at the last six of them (including the current one), and what they’ve done (or are about to do) since leaving office:
- Ronald Reagan: got old and died of Alzheimer’s.*
- George H.W. Bush: goes sky-diving every five years to prove he still has physical courage.
- George W. Bush: has become a skilled portrait painter.
- Jimmy Carter: established the Carter Center, which, among other things, monitors the electoral process in support of free and fair elections around the world, and also works to improve global health through the control and eradication of diseases such as Guinea worm disease, river blindness, malaria, and others; has been at the forefront promoting Habitat for Humanity; has gone on diplomatic missions to North Korea and the Middle East; played a key role in negotiation of the Nairobi Agreement between Sudan and Uganda; participated in the “Elders” group of global thinkers with Nelson Mandela; and if that wasn’t enough, has written 29 books since leaving the Presidency.
- Bill Clinton: has created the Clinton Global Initiative, a non-partisan organization that convenes global leaders to devise and implement innovative solutions to pressing world problems, and whose members have made more than 2,300 commitments in more than 180 countries, and which are roughly valued at $73.5 billion.
- Barack Obama: is about to guide us through a long-overdue national conversation on race.
There is no comparison when it comes to ex-Presidents: the Republicans have been completely mediocre, the Democrats absolutely laudatory. While Carter may have been a mediocre President, he is arguably the best ex-President we’ve ever had.
And now he’s an old man with cancer. Most of us, if we haven’t already, are going to have a brush with cancer sooner or later. Carter, at age 90, is unlikely to survive his encounter. But he’s already done more than one could have asked, and will leave a very proud legacy.
*Some people argue that Regan already began to develop Alzheimer’s while he was still in office.