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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
After the White House
Former US presidents, from left George Bush, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter
All former residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Ex-presidents have an exalted place in US society - belonging to the most exclusive of clubs.

US presidents at Richard Nixon's funeral - from left, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford
Employment history: President of the United States

Unlike Britain and many other countries, they may not have lost an election but simply had to leave at the end of their two terms.

Even so, once the last strains of "Hail to the Chief" fade away, the motorcades stop and the following press packs dwindle, the former residents of the White House have to work out what to do with the rest of their lives.

Bill Clinton is said to have had talks about becoming a TV talk show host while Jimmy Carter is soon to visit Cuba to promote democracy and human rights.

BBC News Online examines the post-White House years of the five living ex-presidents.

Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford
Healer of old wounds: Gerald Ford
Gerald Ford - the 38th President of the United States - had one of the shorter tenancies at the White House and is the only unelected man to lead the US.

He became the "Accidental President" on the resignation of Richard Nixon but quickly lost much of the good will and respect he had when he pardoned his predecessor for his role in the Watergate scandal.

He struggled to win popularity as president and once he had lost the White House to Jimmy Carter, a Washington career that had lasted more than three decades seemed to be at an end.

But Mr Ford - 63 when he left office - managed to move into the role of elder statesman, becoming the face of senior Republicans during the 1980s.

Though perhaps best known for his love of golf, Mr Ford was brought back into the political spotlight after the 2000 presidential election fiasco when he and former foe Mr Carter were asked to change the voting system for the better.

Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
Peanut farmer turned statesman: Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter has become the epitome of what Americans regard to be a successful ex-president.

He lost resoundingly to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and was often denigrated during his presidency as a peanut farmer out of his depth, but in the last two decades he has reinvented himself.

Perhaps, as some observers say, it simply took that long for the public to get to know Mr Carter.

He now gives advice on the Middle East - he had brokered the historic Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1978 - and champions fair elections while still teaching Sunday School when he is home in Georgia.

Mr Carter was very useful as a freelance ambassador for the Clinton administration which could use him as a high-profile but unofficial representative to various trouble spots.

He founded the Carter Center to address issues of public policy by "Waging peace, fighting disease, building hope".

Overseas, Mr Carter has helped settle a tense nuclear dispute with North Korea, worked for democracy in Nigeria, East Timor and Liberia, negotiated border disputes between Ecuador and Peru and been ready to be an intermediary between China and Tibet.

Now, he is preparing to go to Cuba as the first US president in or out of power to visit the island during Fidel Castro's 43 years of power.

At home, as well as working with Mr Ford on reforming the electoral system, he is a regular volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, renovating and building homes with needy people.

His work outside the White House has also changed people's memories of the work he did inside, with approval ratings for his 1977-1981 term increasing as the years go by.

Like Mr Clinton, Mr Carter was a relatively young ex-president - 56 when he left office - so he had plenty of time to find a new niche.

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan
The one who did retire: Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan had had two full careers - as actor and governor - before he became president.

He was also the oldest man ever to serve as US leader and was just a month shy of his 78th birthday when he was succeeded by his vice-president.

Perhaps partly because of this, he seemed more than happy to retire to Bel Air in California, collecting the odd huge fee for a speech.

But his health was also deteriorating - signs of Alzheimer's disease were said to be clear when he was questioned in 1992 about the Iran-Contra scandal, though he only confirmed the illness in 1994.

The website of his presidential library lists no interests, involvements or achievements after he left office and his rare public appearances stopped completely as the dementia progressed.

George Bush

George Bush with his son, George W Bush
A very special adviser: George Bush

George Bush had planned another four years in the White House when he lost to Bill Clinton in 1992.

Though he had one of the broadest resumes for an ex-president - having been UN ambassador, CIA director, envoy to China and chairman of the Republican National Committee, for a while he seemed more than prepared to spend his retirement working on his memoirs and fishing with his grandchildren.

But he did become an important adviser to his sons George W - then governor of Texas - and Jeb, governor of Florida.

Since he has become father of the president, he has played down that role, anxious that his namesake is seen as his own man, though he clearly remains a proud and honoured father.

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton
Still looking for a role: Bill Clinton

As the most recent man to leave the White House, he is still being blamed for things that are not right in the US in the same way that he blamed Mr Reagan and Mr Bush and they blamed Mr Carter who blamed Mr Ford and Mr Nixon.

Obsessed by politics, Mr Clinton has been standing for and winning elections since he was at high school.

And while that may have made things difficult when, at 54, he had to leave the top job without being able to appeal to the voters, people close to Mr Clinton said the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September made him feel even more at a loose end.

He is reported to have said that every presidency needed a defining moment but his two terms in the Oval Office had none. Yet a few short months after becoming a private citizen, his successor had to face one of the biggest challenges ever to hit a president.

Though he was in New York, Mr Clinton made sure he did not upstage George W Bush whose popularity soared after he donned a New York Fire Department hat and went to talk to rescue workers at Ground Zero - a stage on which Mr Clinton would surely have shined.

The Bush administration has also decided not to use Mr Clinton as an ambassador for peace in Ireland or the Middle East and he seems to be a man without a cause.

He and his supporters are said to be keen to take the first draft of history - as recorded in newspaper reports of scandal after scandal in the Clinton White House - and remodel it to focus more on the successes.

Whether he might seriously try to do that as a talk show host or whether he will follow in Mr Carter's footsteps remains to be seen.

See also:

02 May 02 | Americas
Clinton said to seek TV deal
29 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea 'wants Clinton' as mediator
09 Apr 02 | Americas
Carter set for historic Cuba trip
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