“The Dean” David Broder wrote earlier this week about the recent death of former defense secretary Robert McNamara and Sarah Palin’s surprise resignation. He uses both departures to discuss when public officials should hang it up and leave, concluding that neither McNamara or Palin serve as good examples.
It was not until 1995, when he was again a private citizen, that McNamara published an apologetic memoir, revealing for the first time that he had harbored the gravest doubts about the war that took 58,000 American lives. The public reaction was harsh. Opponents of the war said that if McNamara had made the reason for his “resignation” public at the time, Johnson might have been forced to end the war — and thousands who died over the next seven years might have been saved.
McNamara said he had never seen himself in the role of whistleblower. As an appointee of the president, he said he owed Johnson his loyalty. The voters had chosen Johnson; his judgment deserved deference. It foreshadowed the similar decision by Secretary of State Colin Powell not to go public with his reservations about the Iraq war.
These are hard calls, and those of us on the outside, who can only imagine the pressures of public office, can show some sympathy for the people who have to wrestle with the conflict between their conscience and their sense of obligation to the administration in which they serve.
But resignation on a matter of principle is never a bad thing, and it can have salutary effects. This country would be better off if it happened more often.
David states that Palin’s departure is “much harder to understand or justify” and concludes, “McNamara stayed too long and left too quietly. Palin is bailing out on her people far too soon. Neither can serve as an example for those in government wrestling with the decision of when to quit.”
So when’s the best time to quit? Leave your thoughts here.