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Former President to Stay Involved in Domestic, Foreign Issues - 2001-07-31


Former President Bill Clinton marked his political re-emergence this week when he officially opened his new office in the Harlem section of New York City. At 54, Bill Clinton is one of the youngest former presidents in U.S. history.

Six months after he left the White House under a cloud because of some questionable presidential pardons, Bill Clinton returned to the public spotlight this week.

And, as he officially opened his new office space in Harlem, the former president provided some hints of the causes he will focus on in his post-White House years. "What I am going to do here is to try to help promote economic opportunity in our backyard, around our country and around the world, to try to help people to work against AIDS and other diseases and ignorance and for education in our backyard and around the world," the former president said.

Although a divisive political figure at home, Mr. Clinton remains enormously popular around the world.

Some analysts believe it is likely that his eight years of experience in dealing with world leaders will be put to use at some point in hotspots like the Middle East or Northern Ireland.

Stephen Hess is an expert on the presidency at the Brookings Institution here in Washington. He expects the former president will keep himself busy on important issues both at home and abroad. "I would not be surprised if domestically it has a lot to do with relations between the races. He has always been very concerned about that, he has cared about that," Mr. Hess says. "I would think he would probably pursue it. But he may also wish to try his hand, if possible, in some international negotiations, some of the more successful parts of his administration, particularly with Ulster (Northern Ireland)."

Bill Clinton remains popular within the Democratic Party as well. Political analysts say his fund-raising prowess and celebrity will be a strong draw for Democratic congressional candidates.

Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at the University of New Orleans. Speaking on NBC television he said, "I think Bill Clinton is a potent political force as somebody who can draw large crowds and also point fingers at George W. Bush's failures in the years to come. He is not, obviously, going to become president again. I don't think he is going to run for office again. But he is going to be, if you like, the titular head of the Democratic Party." Mr. Brinkley says.

Former aides expect that Mr. Clinton will work hard to repair his presidential legacy in the years to come. Although he survived the effort to remove him from office, the sex and lies scandal that eventually led to his impeachment in 1998 threatens to overshadow his achievements as president.

Analyst Stephen Hess says there are plenty of examples of former presidents using their post-White House years to rehabilitate their public image. "It certainly was true of Jimmy Carter who did not have a very successful presidency but has had a very successful post-presidency, if you will," Mr. Hess says. "And of course it was also the case with Richard Nixon who did leave the presidency in disgrace but then spent his years after the presidency writing some very interesting books and that helped to restore his aura. So I think a lot of that sort of thinking is probably guiding Bill Clinton at this time as well."

Bill Clinton also has another asset when it comes to remaining in the public eye. His wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is becoming a force in her own right in the U.S. Senate and may one day decide to seek the presidency herself.