(5 of 7)
One of the minor perks of being a former President is the use of an unmarked townhouse on Lafayette Square, opposite the White House. The house has been there for more than a century, but it was converted into a presidential clubhouse by Nixon, mainly to keep LBJ happy when he was in town. The four-story townhouse, recently redone in tasteful earth tones, features a main parlor, an office equipped with bound volumes of all their papers, two dining rooms and a kitchen. A bold blue rug embroidered with the Presidential Seal sits in the foyer; the seal is also embossed on the white cotton bedspreads in both upstairs bedrooms. For reservations, you need to call the White House, and only four men are eligible to check in. Which is what Bush did early in 2010, when he and his son Jeb quietly slipped into town for the annual Alfalfa Club dinner, a Washington social ritual. When Obama heard Bush was seeking overnight accommodations at 716 Jackson Place, the clubhouse's official address, he invited father and son over for coffee the next morning. The snow was blowing sideways when Bush's limousine pulled up to the West Wing and the two men climbed out. Within minutes, Obama and Bush were together in the Oval Office, telling stories. A few days later, Obama sent Bush a picture of the two men together. In it, Obama looks amused as Bush, an accomplished raconteur, gets to the punch line. Sometimes, a President needs nothing so much as someone who can tell him a good joke.
3. Jimmy Carter: "We Always Have Sorrows"
The week Obama accepts his party's nomination, presidential historians--and at least one former President--will mark a minor milestone. That's when Carter will become the longest-serving ex-President in U.S. history: 31 years, seven months, 19 days--surpassing Hoover, who died in late 1964, a generation after he'd left the White House. By that time, Hoover had attained the stature of an elder statesman. How had he managed to deal with the critics who blamed him for the Great Depression? "I outlived the bastards," he said.
The Carter benchmark is key to understanding the 39th President in retirement. He lost to Reagan at the age of 56 and, after a couple of years of soul searching, invented a second career as a global problem solver--overseeing elections, fighting river blindness, malaria and other diseases, working on literacy programs and negotiating between warlords. His work helped earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002; Carter even admits he is a better former President than he was a President.