Peggy Noonan has a beautifully written piece on the lost tradition of former presidents being reluctant to criticize their successors in today’s WSJ. She contrasts the public support of Ike and Nixon for JFK after the Bay of Pigs fiasco with the constant carping of Clinton and, lately, Carter.
Do you remember or know how Kennedy’s partisan and political foes responded to the crisis?
The Republican who’d lost the 1960 presidential election to Kennedy six months before and by less than a percentage point–and who had reason to believe that it may have been stolen–was invited to the White House. He didn’t bring his resentments in his briefcase.
From Richard Reeves’s “President Kennedy”: ” ‘It was the worst experience of my life,’ Kennedy said of the Cuban fiasco . . . to, of all people, Richard Nixon. . . . Kennedy wanted the symbolic presence and public support of both political friends and foes to show the nation and the world that Americans were rallying around the president, right or wrong.”
Kennedy asked Nixon’s advice. Nixon told him to do what he could to remove Castro and communism from Cuba. The meeting ended with Nixon telling JFK, “I will publicly support you to the hilt.”
I will say that I think, on the whole, Carter has been a terrific ex-president. I am in near-total disagreement with his views on foreign policymaking and thought much of his tenure in office was a disaster, but he’s always handled himself with class. He’s far enough removed from his term of office that I don’t mind him speaking out on issues he deeply believes in and, unlike Clinton, has nothing personally to gain by criticizing Bush. Furthermore, if the war does go badly for some reason, I expect Carter would show the class Nixon and Eisenhower did. I can’t say the same for Clinton.