Organizations Over Individuals
As a general rule I think former leaders should step aside gracefully, offering both advice and criticism on a private basis when requested by their successors. The reason for this is that the organization should be more important than the individual leaders.
Bitter public disputes among leaders of an organization can be harmful in that such disputes divert energy and attention away from fulfilling the primary goals of the organization.
The model for transition that I always admired occurred at a small liberal arts college in Maryland. The long-time-serving president of the college announced her resignation. She played a low key role in the search for her successor. Once the successor was named, she worked hard to provide excellent transition materials for the new president. Once the new president was sworn in, her predecessor took sabbatical leave out of state. Upon her return, the outgoing president made no public comments about the new president, but she did make herself available for consultation if needed.
National politics arguably changes these rules. While governing may benefit from quiet discussions between the incoming and the outgoing, active politicians (and that means anyone living who ever held office) are also concerned about affecting the political climate for the next election. Some may feel that public criticism should be done to uphold principle or party philosophy, while others might take the position that it is simply bad form for leaders at certain levels of government to be engaged in a public squabble.
Actually, what is happening regarding Vice President Cheney is simply an exercise in "back to the future." Our 19th century politics are full of stories about politicians at the highest level engaged in intense public criticism of presidents and vice presidents between the national elections. Cheney seems to be trying to prove that, in politics, there is nothing new under the sun.
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