Five job ideas for Tuesday’s big loser.
- By Joshua E. KeatingJoshua E. Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. , Ty McCormickTy McCormick is Africa Editor at Foreign Policy. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, he has reported from across much of Africa and the Middle East, including Egypt, Lebanon, Somalia, South Sudan, Burundi, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was a finalist for the 2015 Kurt Schork Memorial Award for International Journalism. In addition to FP, he has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and National Geographic. Ty received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, and a master’s from the University of Oxford, where he was a Clarendon Scholar. He received a second master's degree from the Queen's University Belfast as a George J. Mitchell Scholar.
Whatever happens on Nov. 6, the U.S. unemployment rolls are going to have one new member next year. Sure, the election loser could sit on some corporate boards, collect speaking fees, or work on his memoirs. But here are a few ideas on how Barack Obama or Mitt Romney could keep busy and make a difference… even if it’s not in the White House.
JOBS FOR ROMNEY
Romney has made his successful stewardship of the Salt Lake City Olympics a centerpiece of his campaign, running campaign ads featuring former Olympians and rarely letting a speech go by without mentioning his role in saving the 2002 games, which were running behind schedule, overbudget, and mired by corruption scandals when he took over as CEO. He’s even written a book about the experience. So why not turn it into a full-time gig?
Even as revenues have grown, the International Olympic Committee has been plagued for years by allegations of corruption and vote-buying among its board members, criticized for its cozy ties to authoritarian governments and political insensitivity. Current President Jacques Rogge is required by term limits to step down in 2013. Yes, the IOC board traditionally elects the president from among its own ranks, but perhaps they might make an exception to bring in a leader with an international profile, a squeaky-clean reputation, and experience in managing international sporting events.
Downsides? Romney may have ruffled some feathers with his controversial comments about the London Olympics in July, and things might get awkward with 2014 Winter Games host/"No.1 geopolitical foe" Russia, but these don’t seem like insurmountable obstacles. And hey, we know his French is pretty good.
Green Energy Czar
Yes, it certainly seems an unlikely move from the candidate who used the Oct. 3 debate to attack Obama for wasting $90 billion on funding for green energy startups. But as Romney well knows from his business career, not every investment is going to pay off. If Obama were interested in finding a way to bring his former opponent into the fold — something he’s done before — he could put the former management consultant to work overseeing the government’s green investments, separating the game changers from the potential Solyndras.
This wouldn’t be entirely unprecedented for Romney, who was in favor of measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions before he was against them. His Massachusetts government put in place some of the country’s first statewide restrictions on carbon emissions and in 2005, he helped negotiate a nine-state regional agreement on emissions reductions. Romney has certainly shown a penchant for reinvention over the years. It might not be too late for him to go back to his roots and help make the green economy a reality.
Ambassador to Israel
Another outside-the-box idea for how a second-term Obama administration could make use of Romney. For all the talk of who-threw-whom under the bus, there aren’t that many differences between the two men on substantive policy toward Israel. Both favor continuing heavy military aid to the Jewish state, both are committed — at least in public — to negotiating a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and both favor a mix of sanctions and negotiations with Iran without ruling out the possibility of military action.
But tone and personal connections do matter in diplomacy. Obama and Netanyahu have had a frosty relationship from the start, while Romney and the Israeli prime minister are old friends who share more than a few allies and donors. Preventing a war in the Middle East in the next four years may require reigning in the hawkish Israeli leader, who looks like a lock for re-election. But such a message might be more effective if delivered by someone Netanyahu trusts.
Revamp Mormon Aid
Former U.S. presidents and presidential candidates have often devoted their time to aid work, and Romney clearly has thoughts on how international aid can be made more effective. But rather than starting his own foundation, why not work with a group he’s already close to: the Church of Latter-Day Saints?
Though people generally associate Mormon missionaries with proselytizing, many devote their missions to humanitarian work, and the church has been involved in activities including disaster relief, immunization drives, and clean-water projects in 179 countries. The church touts the fact that it has donated more than $1 billion to humanitarian causes since 1985 — though this is actually not that high considering that it may take in as much as $8 billion in tithing every year.
Romney — a rather sizeable donor to the church in his own right — could push to increase that number, encourage more young Mormons to do humanitarian work on their missions, and implement some of the ideas about integrating private sector development into foreign aid that he shared in his Clinton Global Initiative speech this year — a message to which the business-minded LDS church would surely be receptive. And of course, some more good press for the oft-misunderstood church could only help the next member to run for office.
Romney was runner-up in the GOP primary in 2008. If he’s runner-up in the general election this year, it only means he got one step closer to the White House. Yes, he didn’t exactly ignite the passions of the GOP base this year, but with another four years to shake the Etch-a-Sketch, he might just find the right formula. After all, he won’t have to run against Obama again. And if his dire predictions about what’s in store for the country if the president is reelected turn out to be correct, 2016 should be a cakewalk.
JOBS FOR OBAMA
Pull a Grover Cleveland
Only one American president, Grover Cleveland, has served non-contiguous terms (Martin Van Buren, Teddy Roosevelt, and a few others tried), but there’s no reason why Obama should treat the next four years as the first four of his retirement. After all, if he really believes what he’s been saying about Mitt Romney’s agenda, come 2016, the American people will be looking to end their coming national nightmare, right?
Aside from the fact that American voters don’t like losers (see Dukakis, Michael), the biggest potential obstacle to this plan is the economy. If the analysts prove right and the United States sees even a mild economic recovery in the next four years, Romney will be able to claim vindication for his economic program. This would tip the scales against Obama for sure, but it may not be a dealbreaker. The fact that Obama is even in contention this year with unemployment at 7.9 percent suggests that Americans have more complicated economic views than many give them credit for. If Romney presides over a modest recovery, but Wall Street sees more benefit than Main Street and inequality — already the worst among advanced industrial countries — continues to rise, Obama’s message of support for the middle class may win over more voters the next time around. Of course, he’ll have to duke it out with Hillary, who might have a different idea about how Election 2016 should go down.
Earn that Nobel Peace Prize
Sure, Obama’s first swing at Middle East peace was an embarrassing whiff, but that hardly makes him unique. For close to 40 years now American presidents have been working on the Arab-Israeli peace process and, if anything, we’re farther from a comprehensive agreement. Obama could follow Jimmy Carter’s lead and dedicate his golden years to getting the Palestinians and Israelis to strike that "elusive" compromise he talked about in his Cairo speech.
And it’s not just that peacemaker Obama would make things less awkward in Oslo; the president is tailor-made for the job. As a student, as a community organizer, and as a professor, Obama spent his pre-political years searching for ways to bring people together. While studying at Harvard Law School, he was famously elected president of the Law Review not because of his superior legal mind, but because of his ability to play nice with both liberals and conservatives. Out of office and away from the bitter partisanship of Washington, it’s not difficult to imagine the charismatic professor getting both sides to stop pointing fingers and start negotiating in good faith.
Of course, Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have their own differences to work out, which admittedly makes this plan a bit of a stretch, at least in the short run. Maybe the thing to do is for Obama to warm up by subbing in for U.N. peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and get back to Arab-Israeli peacemaking when he’s got the Syrian conflict sorted out.
Write Dreams for Our Children
Practically every 20th century president wrote a memoir after leaving office, but since Obama got this out of the way with Dreams from My Father at the tender age of 34, he’ll have time to work on something more forward-looking. In Dreams for Our Children, he might stick to the themes of identity, purpose, and coming-of-age, but this time he could discuss what they mean for the country. What kind of immigration policy is appropriate for a nation of immigrants? What is our responsibility to future generations? How must the United States deal with developing nations that are increasingly assertive on the world stage?
A memoir would afford Obama an opportunity to have an impact on an issue near and dear to his heart — as 2000 runner-up Al Gore has with climate change. With the political constraints of the presidency behind him, Obama might be able to voice a few inconvenient truths of his own. The crisis in higher education — and its impact on American competitiveness — is one possibility, as is the need to retool American manufacturing so that it can compete in the 21st century.
Keep fighting the war on terror
Obama may have run as a peacenik the first time around, but the former constitutional law professor will be remembered for his aggressive counterterrorism policies. In four years in office, the president has authorized six times as many drone strikes as his predecessor, expanded drone warfare into Somalia, and decimated Al Qaeda’s leadership. Oh yeah, and he killed Osama bin Laden.
True, Romney probably won’t be feeling all that generous toward his opponent if he squeaks out a victory, but the governor could certainly learn a thing or two from the man who has personally overseen America’s Third War and reportedly approved each individual drone strike before it was carried out. But if it’s hard to imagine Obama as the director of the CIA, it’s not unreasonable to think he could become a sort of Henry Kissinger for the post-Cold War world, called on by sitting presidents for advice on fighting a faceless and increasingly stateless enemy.
And aside from minor quibbles over who is America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe, Obama and Romney actually seem to agree on a lot when it comes to foreign policy. In the final presidential debate in Boca Raton, for instance, the two candidates agreed on everything from the timeline in Afghanistan to the Libyan intervention to the crisis in Syria. Romney even congratulated Obama for "taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al Qaeda" before pivoting unexpectedly to one of the more memorable lines of the evening: "But we can’t kill our way out of this mess." Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That’s because it’s straight out of Obama’s playbook, circa 2008.
Bring Back NBA Europe
Okay, so this one is more of a personal interest. But the president is still young — only 51 — and if Hiroshi Hoketsu, a 71-year-old Japanese equestrian rider, was in good enough shape to compete in the London Olympics, then the famously fit Obama might just have a few years of B-level professional basketball in him yet.
And it’s not like he hasn’t been training. He’s been known to hoop it up on occasion with NBA giants like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and invites former college and professional players to his regular pick-up game. These "ridiculously challenging" games, as Michal Lewis described them in a recent Vanity Fair profile, pit the president against opponents who are all "roughly 28 years old, roughly six and a half feet tall, and the possessor[s] of a 30-inch vertical leap." And nobody goes easy on the president. As a former Florida State point guard quoted in Lewis’s article put it "If you take it easy on him, you’re not invited back."
European basketball might not be as glamorous as the NBA, but Obama, who was a member of his high school’s state championship basketball team back in Hawaii, is still wildly popular across the pond and might actually be able to drum up some interest in the sport. Remember when Kobe Bryant was going to go play in Italy or Greece or whatever? Well, this would be an even bigger shakeup in the world of professional sports.