TOPICS: What Bush should do next
George W Bush is in the perfect spot to set an example for all our ex-presidents. Come Jan. 20, he’ll be an ex-chief executive of the United States. That’s a nice addition to the CV, but where do you go from there? Especially if your job performance has been sub-par recently. Well, if he’s looking for a role model to help him restore his image after he leaves office, he should look beyond Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. President Bush should crack open a history book and study the case of John Quincy Adams.
Like Bush, Adams was born with an unquestioned sense of family entitlement. His father, John
Adams, helped draft the Declaration of Independence and served with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in the First Continental Congress. The elder Adams was also posted to Europe as a special envoy of the Revolutionary American government and went on to become the second president of the United States in 1797. Also like Bush, due to his father’s extraordinary career, John Quincy Adams divided much of his youth between cities. And in 1824 he was elected as the sixth US president.
So where’s the lesson for our latter-day Bush in this? Well, what distinguishes John Quincy Adams from every other US president is the job he pursued after leaving the White House. Instead of launching himself on the 19th-century equivalent of the elder statesmen schmooze circuit, Adams sought election to the House of Representatives. After losing his bid for presidential reelection in 1828, Adams chose, by running for Congress, to effectively demote himself. Despite this downgrading of his job description, Adams was delighted. “No election or appointment conferred upon me ever gave me so much pleasure,” he wrote in his diary. In his 17 years in the House, Adams cried out against the Mexican War, battled the infamous Gag Rule, which prevented any discussion of petitions against slavery, and championed the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution.
Bush should do the same. That is, he should return to Texas and run for Congress. Surely, he’d get elected. But Bush should also make it conditional, as Adams did when he ran for Congress in 1831. Adams allowed his name to be put forward on two conditions that present-day candidates would probably find hard to contemplate: That he would never solicit the votes of his constituents and that he would speak his mind at all times.
This should come pretty easily to Bush. Okay, so he’s not a natural orator, able to deliver memorable phrases off the cuff. But he has shown that he’s well able to do the vision thing, and with a few smart Congressional aides on his team he can continue that tradition in the House. These days, the wisdom of the Founding Fathers can sometimes get lost in the hubbub of party politics. John Quincy Adams rose above the din when he brought his experience to the HoR nearly 180 years ago. Maybe it’s time for George Bush to follow in his
footsteps and give Congress a shot as well.