The Ex-Presidents Club 20 Years Later

On host Liane Hansen's first show 20 years ago, she and now-Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr chatted about the former presidents. At the time, the first President Bush was in the White House and four previous presidents were still living. Schorr rejoins Hansen for an update on today's former presidents.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

In 20 years, we've been with you through major events that were just breaking over the weekend.

Mr. PAUL BREMER (Former Chief Administrator, Iraq): Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

HANSEN: Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was taken into custody by...

Unidentified Man: The body of Princess Diana has begun its final journey home to Britain. Her casket, draped with the flag...

HANSEN: With us through these major events has been NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr, bringing his decades of experience to the news of the day.

On our first show, 20 years ago, Dan Schorr and I chatted about former presidents. At the time, the First President Bush was in the White House and four previous presidents were still living.

What do you make of all of this?

DAN SCHORR: Well, certainly there are more ex-presidents at four than we've had in more than a century, which must be a credit to their good health habits and maybe the fine socialized medicine that they enjoy in government facilities.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCHORR: They're very different, one from the other...

HANSEN: Dan Schorr is with me once again to talk about the former presidents, although it's a different lineup now.

Hi, Dan.

SCHORR: Hi, Liane.

HANSEN: In 1989, when we had this conversation, the elder George Bush was in the White House.

SCHORR: Yes.

HANSEN: And the living former presidents were: Nixon, Reagan, Ford and Carter. Give us a quick summary of what they were up to in 1989.

SCHORR: Well, in 1989, they were - like almost all ex-presidents - making a little bit of money by lecturing, writing memoirs, establishing foundations and libraries. And in the case of Jimmy Carter particularly, it was something more that. He decided he would try to do good around the world; monitoring elections, trying to collect money to take care of diseases of poor people in Africa and so on.

He probably was more active as an ex-president than he'd been as president.

HANSEN: Hmm. Now we have four living ex-presidents: Jimmy Carter...

SCHORR: Yes.

HANSEN: ...and both the elder and younger Bush, and Bill Clinton. How does this group differ from that group we talked about in 1989?

SCHORR: Well, the difference, in the first place, from not having either President Reagan or President Nixon. That makes it all very different. It is a more relaxed group of ex-presidents on the whole, who can be invited to lunch together. They can make appeals for good causes together.

HANSEN: So let's see what they're up to now. You mentioned President Carter's work building houses and so forth. He's one of the first group that's still living. And the elder George Bush, how is he spending his retirement?

SCHORR: Well, he's writing memoirs and then he also cooperates with former President Clinton at times on worthy causes, such as trying to raise money for relief of tsunami victims in Asia. They are both together as a team, kind of a bipartisan do-gooders.

HANSEN: And former President Clinton, he's often still in the news.

SCHORR: He's probably the most active of ex-presidents. First of all, he worked very hard for the nomination of his wife as president, which didn't work. He travels around the world practically, trying to be helpful. He was the one who made a trip to North Korea to get two reporters released and managed to do that.

He leads a somewhat more active life than most of the other ex-presidents.

HANSEN: And the most recent former president, George W. Bush, what's he up to?

SCHORR: Well, George W. Bush in a recent interview said, As president, I made calls as best I could and I didn't sell my soul. He also refers to himself, his new title he said is "retired guy."

HANSEN: Huh. How have the actions of these men shaped the perception or the role of former presidents?

SCHORR: It's interesting. It moves in a direction of trying to have something like a council of elders. In many countries, former presidents have a certain role in which they become the conscience of their countries and try to do things together. That has not happened quite so quickly in the case of American presidents.

But I do think it's beginning to happen now, that you have presidents and former presidents who can deal with each other pretty well and are available for good causes.

HANSEN: NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr. Dan, thanks a lot.

SCHORR: My pleasure, Liane.

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