It’s generally acknowledged that then-President Reagan set the standard for speeches on a former opponent at the dedication of a presidential library. In 1986, he came to Atlanta not to bury Carter, but to praise him.
Reagan said our political differences are what make our nation great, quoting Jefferson: “We are all Democrats, we are all Republicans, because we are all Americans.”
He deftly wove in anecdotes about Jimmy Carter’s upbringing to illustrate “the virtues of hard work and self-discipline,” saying his perseverance “for the meeting at Camp David … would mark … a breakthrough for peace in the Middle East.”
He gave the peanut farmer credit for helping to change the wrongs of the Old South “because men and women like Jimmy Carter stood up in church to protest the exclusion of black people from worship.”
It’s a formula that Clinton and Obama followed today at the dedication of George W. Bush’s library. They praised Bush’s family, his values, his humor, and what many historians consider to be his greatest achievement: his fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa.
But Reagan also seemed to see into the future when he told Carter, who gained admiration and popularity for his post-presidency work, “Mr. President, if I could give you one word of advice: Life begins at 70.”
You can read Reagan’s entire speech here.