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Published: Sunday, 1/14/2001

What's ahead for Clinton?

No textbook exists for ex-presidents once they have relinquished the pomp and prerogatives of the world's most powerful leader.

For William Jefferson Clinton, who will leave office in just six days at the age of 54, it is not a matter of boarding Air Force One for the last time to fly home to retirement. Mr. Clinton is young enough for a new career or a continuation of the one he has. And by all appearances he will miss the job. That surely was behind the comment that if he had been permitted to seek a third term, he would have won. He is an indefatigable traveler.

That probably left his sworn political enemies gritting their teeth, but as the nation sizes up what is likely to emerge in the way of leadership during the next four years, and given the perceived inadequacies of the two candidates back in November, it does not seem improbable at all that the President, despite the impeachment mess, might have won another term in office.

It has been speculated that, with his wife Hillary busy at her Senate duties, he might take a job as a movie studio head, author, international negotiator, senator from some state of his choice, mayor of New York City, or college president, perhaps even as head of a college at Oxford University or Harvard. As the Toronto Globe & Mail suggested, he might even become a late-night comedian, and he could count on an attentive audience in the political community. The idea sounds a little improbable, but he has to pan for gold somehow.

He does not have an independent fortune, and he faces a ton of legal bills. The litigation will continue. He faces a possible indictment for perjury in connection with his affair with Monica Lewinsky. His pension of $161,200 will go only so far, although it has been estimated he could get an advance of between $5 million and $7 million for his memoirs. Such a book would, of course, keep him in the public eye, although it would be ironic if his advance fell short of the $8 million Hillary is getting.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who also left the White House at a relatively early age, found a satisfying career as a peacemaker, and even worked with his hands at Habitat for Humanity, probably stands higher in public esteem than he did during much of his presidency.

The possibility of further elected office is not an impossible dream for Mr. Clinton. John Quincy Adams, not highly regarded as a president - he was the winner of a disputed election in 1824 - was elected to the House of Representatives, serving in that body from 1830 to 1847. An independent-minded lawmaker, he strongly opposed the Gag Rules, designed to keep anti-slavery petitions off the floor of the House. He died following a stroke suffered at his desk in the House chamber. Charles Francis Adams, his son, and Brooks Adams and Henry Brooks Adams, his grandsons, were all distinguished men of letters whose books were not the work of ghost writers.

Historians will probably say of Mr. Clinton that, despite his political astuteness, he did not live up to his potential as president. True enough. But there is still plenty of time for him to make a valuable contribution to American life in whatever field he chooses.



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