This past week President Barack Obama delivered his last State of the Union address to Congress and the American people.
It is nearly eight years since the tide of ‘Yes we can’ optimism swept the young Senator from Illinois into office. Obama’s presidency has been stormy: tumult and suspicion overseas, bipartisan conflict and economic instability at home. Yet at 55 Obama will leave the White House as one of its youngest occupants.
Many presidents have substantial careers after their tenure. Using their name recognition and connections, former presidents can be excellent spokesmen for political and social causes.
Jimmy Carter, not conventionally remembered as a great president, has had a very well respected post-presidency career. Through the Carter Center he has undertaken worked hard in the field of international diplomacy, human rights, and global health problems, winning a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
Similarly, Bill Clinton established the Clinton Foundation that pursues global development goals, and which continues to be one of the larger development agencies in the world.
So what issue might Barack Obama choose?
The President has been unabashedly outspoken in the fight for clean energy and climate change policy.
The issue of climate change is a truly global one, and with an international reputation that earns him meetings with virtually anyone Obama would be well suited to champion this cause.
Particularly in recent years, Obama has made to explain the implications of climate change, even appearing with Bear Grylls to expound on the threat this poses.
Following in the footsteps of Carter and Clinton regarding international peace and development respectively, Obama may seek to assume the role of a world statesman in the fight against climate change.
Gun control has gradually become a very emotive issue for Obama.
During his time in office there have been multiple cases of mass shootings, most horrifically at Sandy Hook where twenty children and six adults were killed. The President has demonstrated that he does not conceal his sadness over these shootings, nor his deep frustration with a political system that refuses to engage in serious debate about gun control.
On a personal level it appears that gun control may well be the most powerful issue for Obama to champion. However, he has witnessed first hand the impossibility of moving the debate in the current political system.
While he may consider this a noble cause, he may not wish to dedicate himself to it until the National Rifle Association’s political clout is curbed with campaign finance reform, or Congress is won back by the Democrats.
A bit of a wild card, but there is the chance that President Obama will devote significant time to his political homeland of Chicago in the years ahead.
For Obama, his formative years were largely spent in Chicago, and it is significant that during his recent address on gun control he reminded Americans that gun violence happened “on the streets of Chicago every day”.
He has already established the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago, where his presidential library will sit. The Center aims to inspire communities and individuals in civic leadership and promote opportunity.
While the history of Obama’s presidency will be housed in Chicago, he could also become a leading voice in the fight for criminal justice reform through the city. Plagued by gun violence and racial inequality, the President could use the example of Chicago as a call to arms for change across the nation when it comes to urban poverty and criminalisation.
Of course, he could do none of these things.
George W. Bush has almost entirely retired from public life after his presidency. By comparison, the United Kingdom’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair, similarly tarred by the Iraq War, took on a role as a Middle Eastern peace envoy after leaving office.
Yet W. did no such thing: returning to Texas, ’43’ rarely makes noted public appearances, and is known to have settled into his painting during his retirement.
With so much left on the field, it would be surprising if Obama called it day after he is replaced in 2017.
However he has been the subject of intense ridicule from some corners of the Republican establishment and conservative America. Added to which, he has sat in the Oval Office during some of the most punishing months in recent history from a foreign policy perspective.
After all, there’s plenty of golf to be played.