Former President’s Role
In recent remarks, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest spoke from the White House press briefing room podium and accused President Elect Donald Trump of being “obviously aware” of alleged Russian hacking. Furthermore, Earnest went on to suggest how the incoming administration should conduct the press briefings. Given that White House press secretary’s job is to be the voice of the President and his administration, this raises some interesting questions on the role of the outgoing administration and, more importantly, the role of a former president once his term has ended.
For most part, American presidents have stayed away from making public remarks on issues and second guessing their successors once they left office. Despite constant accusations and blaming all failures on George W Bush by the Obama administration, Bush 43 maintained total silence only saying that his successor “deserves my silence”. Recent former Presidents like Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush (Bush 41) and Clinton have also lived by the standard they belong to a unique club and members don’t criticize each other. Bill Clinton and George W Bush even worked together on Haiti Fund to assist in the Haitian rescue effort raising over $50 million. Even as far back as the 50s, President Truman, a Democrat, became close friends with President Hoover, a Republican, and called him “the best man that I know of”.
There is one notable exception to this unwritten congeniality rule: Jimmy Carter. Former President Carter has inserted himself into many issues since he has left office. He once called the Bush Administration the “worst in history”. President Carter’s criticism wasn’t just limited to his Republican successors. He criticized the Obama administration on North Korea and Iran. When President Obama sent Jimmy Carter to North Korea in 2010 to negotiate the release of an American prisoner, he was so concerned about Carter going off script, Obama had him sign a 12-point contract before Jimmy Carter left. One of the points on the contract is to not talk to the press, which Jimmy Carter promptly broke. During the Clinton administration, Carter often initiated his own foreign policy projects, many of them at odds with Clinton administration’s policy.
When it comes to the most appropriate behavior by a former president, George Washington continues to be the gold standard. Twice he retired and rode back to Mt. Vernon (once as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and once as President of the United States) and maintained his silence unless he was invited back by near unanimous request. I hope that President Obama preserves the dignity of the Office by maintaining his silence in his retirement and dedicating his time to causes he deems worthy. This country needs only one President at a time. President Obama, be like George Washington, not Jimmy Carter.