A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Will Dick Cheney Go the Way of Jimmy Carter?

In a recent interview with CNN's John King, former vice president Dick Cheney directly criticized Barack Obama and his administration on foreign policy. It would have been entirely possible for Cheney to defend the Bush Administration's record during the interview and state his perspective without having to take a direct swipe at the current president.

Contrast that with his former boss president George W. Bush, who refused to criticize his successor noting, "I'm not going to spend my time criticizing him. There are plenty of critics in the arena. He deserves my silence." Former Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice also would not jump on the "blame game" wagon on The Tonight Show noting how easy it is to get "chirped at" when those offering the criticism do not know the whole story of what is happening behind the scenes.

A sitting president has plenty of critics. In a free society this is a good thing. But I am bothered when someone who has stood in the very shoes of someone currently, can't resist taking "pot shots" when he or she knows what it is like to be on the receiving end. As a pastor, I have been appalled when some of my colleagues have publicly criticized their predecessor or successor in ministry. It is unprofessional and does not serve the ministries of the church and the purposes of the Gospel in the world. Such behavior is petty and unprofessional and reveals some serious character flaws in the person who is doing the chastising. And by the way, the response to the Cheney interview by the current press secretary Robert Gibbs (whose job performance continues to underwhelm me) was no more professional. The Obama Administration has every right to respond to vice president Cheney's criticism, but to react childishly by saying that Cheney was offering criticism because Rush Limbaugh wasn't available, was simply glib and unbecoming of a presidential administration.

I have told my wife on several occasions that one of the things I am looking forward to in retirement is getting actively involved in a church from the perspective of the pew and giving my unqualified and public support to my pastor. If I am asked for my opinion on something, I will express myself in private, but I will refuse to undermine the ministry of the pastor with public carping. After all, I have been on the receiving end of such criticism (some of it certainly deserved) for twenty-five years with several years yet to go. There will be those who are critical. I do not need to add to the cacophony.

Vice president Cheney would do well to take a lesson in professional behavior from his former boss and not go the way of another former president, Jimmy Carter, who for the past eight years has played the role of an amateur as he has often publicly criticized president Bush referring to him as the worst president in history, ignoring the fact that his own presidency will hardly go down in the history books as memorable.

It is true that former presidents and vice presidents are still part of the democratic process, and they should participate in those proceedings fully. They can still give their views and be influential people. And while there are no official "offices" for former presidents and vice presidents, they hold "office" in practical terms and they demean those "offices" and themselves and their continued influence when they publicly criticize those who hold the constitutional offices they once occupied.

Former vice president Cheney and former president Jimmy Carter should have no fear that their nemeses in politics will go unscathed. There are no lack of critics expressing their views each and every day, including those of us who are lowly bloggers. We don't need more critics; what we need are more people who know how to act professionally, who can stand above the fray, and whose silence is more profound than their opinions because they understand, unlike the rest of us, what it is like to stand in someone else's shoes.

+ + + + + + +

Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian


Andy B. said...

Great thoughts, Allan. Thank you for sharing this perspective.

Anonymous said...

Well, said, Allan, and thank you for the reminder about criticising past ministers and what it means.

Beth Quick said...

Nice comparison Allan. Thoughtful post.

guy m williams said...

Insightful as usual, Allan. By the title alone, I was curious to see if Cheney was developing plans to begin working on Habitat houses and teaching Sunday School! My (potential) shock was quickly relieved.

I think I agree with much of this. Carter is throwing stones at a glass house. And I do viscerally appreciate W's and Rice's responses over Cheney's (but am not surprised one iota at Cheney).

The analogy connecting the presidency/nation and the pastor/congregation is helpful, but to a point. I think it breaks down at the "gag order" level--never speaking ill of the former in public. I agree on with you on the pastoral side---only critique in private if you feel you must, but refrain from doing so publicly.

But on the presidential side, I think it is a matter of timing. That's the difference for me, I think, between Bush, Rice, and Cheney. They continue to inhabit the democracy, so let them speak. But it seems like a little more time would help them detox from the heat of the office/moment and provide a little perspective, thus giving them the possibility of gaining a little more credibility.

So, take a year or so to distance yourself from the experience, detox a little, then speak up---rationally, evenly, with solid critical thinking (not the idealogical tribalism that dominates our public discourse), and I'll be interested in what you have to say, no matter what I thought of your presidency (which isn't much in W's case).

I must be honest about my gut, however, and admit that I'd be interested in what Bush has to say in a year, but doubt I'd ever have any use for Cheney's opinions. Perhaps this is how some feel about Carter?

Earl said...

Unlike Cheney, Carter remains an amateur. Carter is at his best when he says nothing. On the other hand, regardless of whether they like him or not, when Cheney speaks, people listen.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Well put, Allan. Thanks.