The economic crisis has collapsed the retirement accounts of millions of Americans, but one pension that’s guaranteed belongs to the Texan with the single-letter nickname: W. The nation’s 43rd president will, this year, collect almost $200,000 in retirement money – an amount that will supplement the millions he’ll earn from his memoir and speeches, and the millions he already has.
The rich get richer. Nothing wrong with that. Except in the case of an ex-president who doesn’t need the money, and could rehabilitate his image by donating his government pension to a good cause – say, for the families of Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers killed in the war that Bush instigated; or for the continued rebuilding of New Orleans, whose flooding became a symbol of Bush’s presidential ineptness; or for workers laid off in a downturn that started under Bush’s watch.
Such benevolence would renew the “compassionate conservative” label that helped galvanize Bush’s base in 2000. Bush would be following in the footsteps of other former presidents (most notably Jimmy Carter) who give time or money to needy causes. He would also be connecting himself to a former president who inaugurated the practice of presidential pensions: Harry Truman.
Truman didn’t ask for the money. In fact, the nation’s 33rd president was content with his Army pension of $111.96 a month. Truman – whom Bush was fond of citing – never took high-paying speaking engagements after office. The reason? He didn’t want to “commercialize” his position, according to author Matthew Algeo. Fifty years later, Bush is – if not abusing the privilege – taking advantage of it. Last month, he earned a handsome fee delivering a speech in Calgary. Later this month, Bush returns to Canada, where he’ll appear at a moderated forum with the man he succeeded: Bill Clinton.
Clinton is another nicely paid former president who doesn’t really need the elaborate pension – and expense money – he gets from Washington every year. Maybe their joint appearance in Toronto will inspire both ex-presidents to announce they’re donating their pensions to charity. The gesture would make international headlines. The National Taxpayers Union estimates that Bush will receive more than $5 million in presidential pension money if he reaches the same age as his father is now (84). In 1988, Ann Richards famously said that George W. Bush was “born with a silver foot in his mouth.” She also called him “poor,” but she didn’t mean it the monetary sense. Not at all.