The New Bill Clinton

Ten years after leaving office, the vigorous, newly vegetarian former US president is devoting his time to convincing billionaires to care about the world's poor

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RD: Jimmy Carter is said to have set the standard for being a productive former president. When you left office, did you consult him?
BC: I’d been in almost constant contact with Carter since I’d been in office. I went down to the Carter Library, and I followed very closely what he did with monitoring elections and promoting human rights and agricultural self-sufficiency. I had also studied the careers of other successful former presidents, such as William Howard Taft, who went to the Supreme Court, and Theodore Roosevelt, who started a new political movement. Herbert Hoover oversaw the reorganisation of the federal government. Thomas Jefferson never gets credit for this, but he was actually an immensely successful former president. He went back to Monticello and supported the careers of James Madison and James Monroe, and he started this political dynasty.

RD: When you and George H. W. Bush went down to the South Pacific after the 2004 tsunami, you both witnessed the US navy playing a role that had nothing to do with making war and was instead about humanitarian assistance.
BC: One of the things we saw in the tsunami when we got there was [the benefit of] this grief counselling being done for the children. These kids were asked to draw what they were feeling or thinking or the nightmares they were having. We saw the succession of the kids’ drawings through various phases, but the first thing the kids did was draw very dark pictures – death, destruction, whatever – and the last thing they did was draw typical kid pictures: sunshine, flowers and people playing. At some point, all these kids would draw salvation pictures, and every one of them had something to do with the American military, saving the lives of them or their parents. Bush and I were looking at that, and it was all we could do not to cry.

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