Vice Presidents Collage

The Clinton Foundation & the Institutionalized ex-Presidency?

Newspaper front-pages have featured the doings of the Clinton Foundation, headed by a former President and a current candidate for President. The reports (see here and here) raise important questions about whether foreign entities were purchasing access and influence by giving donations to the foundation and paying huge speaking fees to President Clinton. In at least one case, the donors had interests which the Secretary of State (that is now presidential candidate Hillary Clinton) had oversight.

The first question is whether or not there is a scandal here? I don’t really know. This kind of thing is tough to prove and frankly murky. Having gone through the 1990s as a Clinton-hater, I’ve come around. I am relatively forgiving of complex rich guy stuff. Really rich people are often involved in complex ambiguous stuff – unless they are pretty directly killing and hurting people I am pretty forgiving. Further, I DO NOT believe that the Clintons would blithely toss away U.S. national security. I do think the Clintons could be a bit smarter and maybe less avaricious about their cashing in on the presidency which brings up…
The second question is whether or not there is going to be political fall-out. For that, see my thoughts on Hillary’s email imbroglio and multiply. Here’s a key excerpt:

…having spent much of the 1990s fighting with special prosecutors over her documents – fueling suspicions that she was hiding something – she goes ahead and recreates that scenario by building her own private email system with which to do the State Department’s business – refueling those suspicions….
This email issue (and we are talking about the Clintons, so who knows what other strange stuff will come up) just reminds me people of silliness of the 1990s. One can easily imagine these uninformed yet critical voters, thinking, “Ugh, these people again? Aren’t we done with their craziness yet? Why are they rebooting that franchise?”

But the third question is the one I really want to talk about, which is the institutionalization of the ex-presidency. Clinton, as a young president has already been out of office for 15 years and could easily be on the national scene for another 15 or more (he’s not quite 70 and shows no signs of slowing down.) He can raise a LOT of money in that time (he already has.) Besides his wife, his daughter is now involved. So we could have a foundation with a billion dollar endowment and deep political connections. In effect a family influence business that will never go away. This is new.
One component of studying the vice presidency was the institutional changes to the office. First, the VP needed to acquire the institutional tools (staff and access) to effectively advise the president. But, probably under Gore, this expanded to not merely the vice president as a key advisor but the Office of the the Vice President and player in the broader policy process.
I’m seeing the same sort of the with the ex-presidency. The the terrific fun book The Presidents Club, we see how former and current occupants of the Oval Office work together. Hoover and Truman became friends and Hoover took on some critical tasks (such as food relief after World War II or running the Hoover Commission on reforming government) to help out Truman. Certainly, ex-presidents never wanted for opportunities to share their views with the public or those in power. Nixon was particularly adept at clawing his way back into the public eye.
In the federally mandated Presidential Libraries, ex-Presidents have acquired a modest institutional base. The Kennedy Library has been particularly notable in keeping the memory of Camelot alive. A few presidents have established institutes to carry on their worldview, most notably the Hoover Institute at Stanford and the Carter Center in Atlanta.
But Clinton has built a far greater institutional base and, in placing his daughter at the head, has established a fiefdom. Will George W. Bush (the same age as Clinton) or Barak Obama (who will in his mid-50s when he leaves office) follow suit? They may not have the fund-raising prower of Clinton – but they won’t be slouches.
These institutions will be able to fund research, award scholarships, pursue policy initiatives and a host of other things that will both burnish the reputations of their founders and pursue the founders’ agendas far into the future.
And of course, with the institutionalized ex-presidency, can an institutionalized ex-vice presidency be far behind? The high-profile post-VP roles of Gore and Cheney suggest not…

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