Obama checking in with exes

Before he moves into White House, Obama plans to meet with all living former presidents.

By Thomas Schaller
December 18, 2008 7:13PM (UTC)
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CNN's Ed Henry reports that Barack Obama, during his one-on-one meeting with George W. Bush after winning the election, talked with the current president about setting up a meeting with the two of them plus all three living ex-presidents. The aim is to pull the five men together for a January, pre-inauguration chat:

Two sources familiar with the plans tell CNN that at their first post-election meeting in the Oval Office on Nov. 10, Obama proposed that the two men get together again before the inaugural along with former presidents Jimmy Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton.

The sources said the current President quickly agreed it would be a good idea and all sides are trying to make it happen somewhere between Jan. 1 and the Jan. 20 inaugural, though coordinating the schedules of five onetime commanders-in-chief can be difficult.

The high-powered meeting is another sign of how closely the Obama and Bush teams have been working together to try and make sure the first post-9/11 transfer of power goes smoothly.

"It's been unbelievably cooperative," said one Democratic official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the private conversations between the President and President-elect.

As it happens, a few years ago I co-wrote wrote a journal article for Presidential Studies Quarterly on the post-presidency. The basic conclusion of the piece is that the post-presidency has become more important: in terms of influence on policy, domestic and foreign; influence over the parties and politics; and so on.


In part, heightened post-presidential influence is simply a function of greater longevity: Herbert Hoover still holds the record for longest lifespan after the White House, but Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter already round out the top 3, and Carter may soon pass them both.

Of course, to the chagrin of the incumbent, this also means that presidents have more predecessors hanging around. Abraham Lincoln was the first man to take office with five ex-presidents still alive. That didn't happen again until Bill Clinton's inauguration (with Richard Nixon, Ford, Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush) made him the second . . . but George W. Bush quickly became the third (four above, except swap Nixon out for Clinton). With Reagan and Ford having since passed, and presuming nothing happens to any of the exes between now and January 20, Obama will swear in with four ex-presidents alive, two Democrats and two (Bush) Republicans.

At the risk of being a bit morbid, given their age Carter and Bush 41 are probably the most likely to go next. That means Obama could leave office and join Clinton and Bush 43 as the living exes during the 45th president's tenure -- which, barring catastrophic failure of Obama's administration, is not the sort of comparative, historical reminder that favors Republicans.

Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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