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Joanne B. Ciulla
Scholar

Joanne B. Ciulla

Joanne Ciulla is Professor and Coston Family Chair in Leadership and Ethics at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond, the only undergraduate degree-granting school of leadership studies in the world.

Bush Gets It

Ancient poets and philosophers would argue that former Vice President Dick Cheney's defense of his administration and his public criticisms of the current administration show a lack of reverence and propriety. The ancients believed that reverence is the virtue that separates leaders from tyrants and keeps leaders from acting like gods. In his eloquent book Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue, philosopher and classicist Paul Woodruff writes: Reverence begins in deep understanding of human limitations; from this grows the capacity to be in awe of whatever we believe lies outside of our control..." The capacity for awe brings the capacity to respect human beings, flaws and all. It also entails the ability to "be ashamed when we show moral flaws exceeding the normal human allotment."

The ancient Chinese emphasized the importance of ceremony as a means of cultivating reverence and a sense of propriety. Ceremony binds leaders and followers together and reinforces common values. At the end of the inauguration, we saw one such ceremony. The nation and the world looked on as President Obama said good-bye to President Bush and watched him fly off into the sunset. That ceremony exemplified respect for those who hold the office of president and the dignified handover of power - both of which are hallmarks of our democracy.

President Bush understood what this ceremony meant in terms of how and when it is appropriate to criticize the president. Apparently, Vice President Cheney did not.
Former leaders in the public and private sector do not give away their right or their obligation to give advice to new leaders. If they have deep concerns about the safety of the country that are based on solid evidence, they should take their concerns to the appropriate parties. What matters is that they express their views the right way, at the right time, and for the right reasons. From what we have seem of Vice President Cheney lately, he seems to have gotten the first two wrong, and perhaps the last one as well.

By Joanne B. Ciulla

 |  May 13, 2009; 11:48 AM ET
Category:  Followership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Dear Joanne: Please write an essay on the propriety of going overseas and bashing your country and/or its present or former leaders when you are a past President or a sitting President. It is indeed comical how the Post brings people out of the woodwork to lecture on the perceived ethical lapses of conservative leaders when we have Secretaries of State apologizing to third-world countries for acts committed by terrorists and blamed on the US. Ancient poets and philosophers were not and are not responsible for the security of the United States of America.

Posted by: chatard | May 13, 2009 9:49 PM
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I wonder if you were as strongly opposed to Clinton and Carter speaking up when Bush was president?

Posted by: rogerrussell1 | May 13, 2009 4:56 PM
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If the former Vice President spent a session or two on the waterboard (like I did during my Navy training) then perhaps he would not be so quick to defend this form of torture. Same goes for Hannity, O'Reilly, and all of those other chicken-hawks over on Fox News.

Paul Robinson

Posted by: PaulRobinson1 | May 13, 2009 3:48 PM
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I agree that former U.S. Presidents should exercise considerable restraint in commenting on a successor's policies. However, I don't think this should apply to former Vice Presidents. Unlike former Presidents, a former Vice President will often run for office in the next election cycle. Is such a person to be gagged simply because of the office they held? I think not. The fact that Vice President Cheney has disavowed any interest in running for the office of President is utterly irrelevant to whether or not he is entitled to voice his opinion on the current office-holder's policies.

Posted by: VelaFella | May 13, 2009 3:17 PM
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