Ted Sorensen on the Bay of Pigs and Political Accountability

John F. Kennedy publicly admitted his mistake in ordering the Bay of Pigs invasion, and his popularity sky-rocketed. Why are today’s politicians so loathe to admit their mistakes?
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: How did JFK handle the fallout from the Bay of Pigs Invasion?

Ted Sorensen: It’s funny you would bring that up. That was the only blot on his record. He handled it very well. He even took responsibility for it. And that was so shocking to everyone in Washington that his popularity zoomed up. He was a little rueful about that. He thought maybe we’d have to make some more blunders to keep it up there.

Question: Why are today’s politicians so loathe to admit their mistakes?

Ted Sorensen: Politics changed. Individual leaders changed. There is no one in office today even remotely like John F. Kennedy – certainly not in the Executive branch – which has been the most blundering, incompetent Executive branch of leadership for my lifetime. I don’t go back to James Buchanan. But certainly they think that admitting mistakes is a weakness because they don’t have the strength of character or the vision that John F. Kennedy did. He knew that when things are down they’ll come up again. When they’re up they’ll go down again. And he was able to look at that big picture, and look at himself objectively and recognize what his strengths were, but also his weaknesses.

Question: Is it too late for this administration to do penance?

Ted Sorensen: It’s never too late. Bob McNamara demonstrated that even decades after mistakes are made, an honest public servant in retirement can acknowledge those mistakes as Bob McNamara did with respect to the Vietnam War. I doubt that Mr. Bush has one-twentieth of the strength of character that Bob McNamara has – he’s still alive – and had. So I don’t expect to hear a mea culpa from Mr. Bush.