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    Sunday, December 10, 2006

    Loyalty is Good or Bad Depending on Who You Are

    Something has been bugging me lately. Loyalty. Not loyalty itself, but treatment of the concept of loyalty. You see, it seems there are two kinds of loyalty. The first kind is Republican loyalty which is apparently evil and will kill us all (I am exaggerating the general view I have picked up on to emphasize how often I have heard it commented upon). The second kind is Democrat loyalty, which, while raising a few eyebrows, is not something that a lot of people are worried about.

    George W. Bush's propensity to give great weight to personal loyalty when making political appointments "can breed insularity, a prime catalyst for defective decision making."(1) In other words, prizing loyalty above other factors is not something that a responsible leader should do. "While this tendency [to value loyalty over competence in staffing decisions] in and of itself is not sufficient to undermine presidential leadership, it does have important implications with regard to a president's oversight functions."(2) This is some strong, and valid criticism of Bush given just after his first election that follows him to this day. Questions crop up from time to time "about whether Bush's loyalty undercuts his political judgment."(3) Most recently, I have been hearing and reading (mostly on the morning talk shows and blogs) about Robert Gates. Typical of what I have been hearing is Melvin Goodman's criticism. The former CIA analyst says of Mr. Gates, "He serves a master. He will be very loyal. But will that be good for the country?"(4)

    The general trend seems to be questioning the wisdom of President Bush's emphasis on loyalty over other factors when selecting political appointments. The thesis is that such a tendency makes Mr. Bush a bad or even dangerous (in a negligent sense) leader. Maybe it does; there is a lot to be said for hiring people on merit alone and seeking to inspire loyalty in them; he can always fire them if things don't work out. President Bush's tendency to "delegate details" makes the distinction between hiring based on merit and hiring on the basis of loyalty even more important.(5)

    Someone who's primary reason for holding a position is personal loyalty to the person who gave them the job might be more inclined to do only what they think their friend wants them to do. People hired to do a job because they are the best may be more inclined to do the best they can at it, even if it means disagreeing with the person who hired them -- after all, they were hired to do a job, and do it correctly (and this actually displays a more advanced sense of loyalty -- it's easy to side with someone, it's much more difficult to stand up to them for their own good). But I digress. You can read about the issue of President Bush's desire for loyalty above all else almost anywhere. And that's my point. There was another political figure who recently did something out of loyalty that compromised her alleged principles. Not much was said about it in the media as far as I know, and I did put some effort into looking.

    You might be familiar with Nancy Pelosi, the current minority leader in Congress. Among other things, she is known to have promised to deliver us "the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history."(6) However, one of her first notable actions was to support John Murtha for the position of Democratic House leader.(7) Mr. Murtha is notable for opposing ethics changes proposed by Democrats and for appearing, during another Democrat controlled Congress, to be open to accepting bribes.(8) And actually, if you want to get down to it, Mr. Murtha seems to be opposed to any sort of ethics reforms.(9) (Please note that Mr. Murtha has actually given contradictory statements on this point(10)).

    Ms. Pelosi's reason for supporting Mr. Murtha despite his opposition to the ethics reforms "because of her deep loyalty to Mr. Murtha."(11) When I heard that for the first time, I scratched my head a little bit, asking my self rhetorically whether or not that was something that people were always criticizing President Bush for. I really haven't heard many people speak negatively about Ms. Pelosi's overt placement of loyalty over other real concerns about her friend's qualifications. I seen it written that Mr. Murtha's loss in the Democrats' House elections could hurt Ms. Pelosi politically, but I just have not seen anyone suggesting that her strong sense of loyalty could impair her leadership skills. In fact, from Democrats, I've seen the exact opposite. They claim that Pelosi's loyalty to her friend shows the unity within the Democratic party and that it's a good thing.(12) Of course, that's what I'd expect Democrats to say, but I just don't see any rebuttals of that in the media, whereas I can find commentary on President Bush's emphasis on loyalty and how it's a bad thing.

    I don't see how news editors can be so oblivious to an obvious bias in the media. The sauce for the goose rule is not that hard to apply. Likewise, violations of it are not that hard to notice. I do it every day. Like things should be treated in a like manner. If loyalty in and of itself is seen dangerous in one leader, it should be seen as dangerous in another leader, and for the same reasons (unless your reasons for not liking the first leader's loyalty is because you don't like who that leader is loyal to, in which case you should be taking issue with that and not the propensity for loyalty).


    (1) Immelman, Aubrey. "Relying on loyalty could hurt Bush," St. Cloud Times, 2000 December 29, para. 10,
    (2) Ibid. para. 15.
    (3) Douglas, William. "Bush's Loyalty Raises Doubts About His Political Judgment," (Knight Ridder),, 2005 August 05, para. 5,
    (4) Zacharia, Janine. "Bush's Choice of Gates Sets Stage for Shift on Iraq War Policy,", 2006 November 09, para. 22,
    (5) Calmes, Jackie. "Questions of Leadership Style," Wall Street Journal, para. 1,
    (6) Schouten, Fredreka. "Dems split on extent of ethics changes," USA Today, 2006 December 05, para. 9,
    (7) Epstein, Edward. "Pelosi surprises by taking sides in majority leader race," San Francisco Chronicle, 2006 November 14, para. 1,
    (8) Hulse, Carl. "In Race for Majority Leader, Pelosi Risks Early Setback," The New York Times, 2006 November 13, paras. 7 & 19,
    (9) "Witnesses: Murtha calls ethics reform 'total crap' but pledges support" CNN (The CNN Wire) 2006 November 16,
    (10) Hulse at para. 10
    (11) Hulse at para. 17
    (12) DeFrank, Thomas. "Pelosi's bruising: Wins top job but loses in nasty fight over No. 2," New York Daily News, 2006 November 17, para. 9,

    * * *

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    Blogger David Schantz said...

    I think John Bolton is a good example of what happens when the best person for the job is hired. Loyal to his country/We The People.

    God Bless America, God Save The Republic.

    12/12/2006 5:38 AM  

    Blogger The Sovereign Editor said...

    Loyalty to one's country is something very different than what's being complained about in President Bush. John Bolton is, in my opinion, the best possible person to be our UN ambassador and it is a shame to see him go.

    12/12/2006 12:09 PM  

    Blogger Tom said...

    Blind loyalty is never good. Just look at the Islamic terrorists wanting their soldiers to blow themselves up (and everyone else around them). Anyone else with an ounce of common sense would question why.

    12/12/2006 8:11 PM  

    Blogger BadTux said...

    The problem with John Bolton was never loyalty, but, rather, the fact that he is not constitutionally fit to be a diplomat. He is a plain-spoken blunt person who says what he thinks whether it is in the best interests of our nation to do so or not, and that's not what is needed in a diplomat. A diplomat's job is to lie, cajole, urge, sweet-talk, and otherwise try to get folks out there to do what we want'em to do without all the mess and fuss of having to toss bombs at them and such. A diplomat's job is to talk, talk, talk, until he's managed to snow potential enemies into going along with what we want. That just isn't John Bolton. He says what he thinks, and that's that.

    Which is an admirable trait in and of itself, but that's not diplomacy, and he's not fit to be a diplomat. Sorry. I'm kinda John Bolton-ish myself and ain't gonna mince words there. He's simply not a diplomat. He simply lacks the skill at sweet-talking folks that a good diplomat needs.

    As far as Nancy Pelosi and Murtha, Pelosi wanted Murtha as majority leader because Murtha basically won the election for the Democrats. Murtha came out and pounded on the issue of Bush's screw-ups in Iraq, day after day, week after week, month after month, at a tremendous personal cost. He lost supporters, he lost campaign staff, he was accused of being a traitor and an enemy of the nation, he got death threats, and otherwise didn't have a pleasant time. But he did what was needed to get the Democrats in power -- through sheer persistence, he managed to turn the American public against Bush's war -- and in politics, you reward that kind of performance in hopes of encouraging it in others.

    In other words, Pelosi wasn't rewarding loyalty. She was rewarding performance (or attempting to do so, anyhow). And there's nothing wrong with that. Of course, Murtha had all those other problems that you mention, and it's probably better that he's not House leader. But that's got nothing to do with loyalty.


    12/13/2006 3:45 PM  

    Blogger The Sovereign Editor said...

    I understand what you're saying about Bolton, BT, and if he were the ambassador to Japan or the United Kingdom, I might agree with you. But I am sick of US officials simply smiling and taking it when an organization made up of mostly two bit dictators criticizes everything we do. All they do is whine that we don't give them enough money. Give As in gift. The appropriate response to such demands is to cut the amount of our generous gift, not to try to placate them by giving them more. In fact, I think we should start itemizing all the logistical support we give to the UN and start billing them, but that's just me.

    * * *

    In other words, Pelosi wasn't rewarding loyalty.

    So when a senior Pelosi aide said "that her endorsement is risky but said that she had to show her loyalty to Murtha, who has been steadfastly loyal to her," she didn't know what she was talking about?

    12/13/2006 4:16 PM  

    Blogger BadTux said...

    Editor, a diplomat's JOB is to deal with difficult people, and yes, that requires smiling and speaking softly and doing a lot of cajoling and such.

    You might not like the notion of speaking softly and smiling with crazy people like Kim Jung Il, but it's part of the job. I'm just wondering how much time you've spent dealing with crazy people? I spent some time teaching in a Behavior Intervention Center i.e. "crazy farm". Mostly they'd torn up their previous classrooms, and gotten sent to the BIC. These kids regularly went off, because they were nuttier than Kim Jong Il. Now, nine times out of ten, when a kid went off there was no need to call the "here squad" out to haul off the kid. Nine times out of ten, you could talk the kid down by repeating what he needed to do, reminding him of his goals that he'd set for himself during previous conferences, reminding him of the consequences of his actions, and just talk talk talk talk talk in a calm matter of fact voice (to a certain extent it didn't matter what you said to him, just that it was in a calm voice and persistent), and while you couldn't ever get a crazy kid to be entirely sensible (hell, they were *nuts*), you could generally at least get'em talked down and back on the job doing what you wanted them to do (i.e. learn stuff). The tenth time, of course, there was nothing to do but call the "here" squad and have the kid hauled off to isolation for a while until he or she calmed down and was ready to be a student again, but the "here" squad was our equivalent of a military strike, while my job was to be the diplomat trying to take care of things before it got to that point.

    Now, this has nothing to do with somehow "catering" to crazy dictators or crazy kids. I had a parent ask me if I had any behavior problems with her kid. I told her no, there was a couple of times when her kid decided to test the waters, but when I responded appropriately she gave up on that and now was an excellent student in my class. She asked me "How do you do that? All that happens when I ask her to do something is that she argues with me!". I said "I don't argue with children, I just repeat calmly what she needs to be doing, why she needs to be doing it, what good happens if she does what she needs to do, and what the consequences are if she doesn't do what she needs to do, and, if necessary, enforce the consequences." The secret in dealing with this girl (who was clinically diagnosed as bipolar) was to never raise your voice. Keep it calm, keep it even... but don't let her get away with things either, there were consequences, and if she misbehaved and redirecting her to the desired behavior (e.g. working on classwork) did not work, the consequences were enforced in a similar calm manner. No angry voice. No hysterics. No accusations. Just keep it on an even keel, be persistent, and be consistent.

    That's how you deal with crazies. Bolton can't do that. That's why he's not suited for being a diplomat. There's a lot of things he's suited for. But being a diplomat isn't one of them.

    Regarding the Pelosi aide, I have no idea why the Pelosi aide said that. I do live just down the highway from Pelosi and am privy (via various Democratic activists) to some of the reasoning that was behind the Murtha decision, and while loyalty may have entered into it, the primary goal was to a) reward Murtha for his work in helping the Democrats win, and b) reward anti-war Democratic activists who were significant in the Democratic win, and who had been pushing for Murtha to be the new Majority leader since the day after the election. In other words, it was Murtha's significant role in the Democratic victory, not personal loyalty to Pelosi, that was the primary driving factor there, regardless of what some anonymous Pelosi aide may or may not have said.

    Contrast this with Bush standing by Rumsfeld long after it became obvious that Rumsfeld's Iraq strategy was a failure. That's loyalty trumping competence, not loyalty *in addition to* competence. Pelosi may have been attempting to reward loyalty *in addition to* rewarding competence, but she wasn't trying to promote someone incompetent to the job just because said incompetent was loyal to her. There's a difference -- ideally, if you're a politician, you'd want someone both loyal and competent, but if you're a politician who cares about your nation, you'll put the "competent" part first and worry about loyalty after you've gotten some competent candidates. But standing by someone who has proven they're not competent out of some misguided sense of loyalty is putting your own personal wishes in front of the needs of the nation, and is just plain wrong.

    12/13/2006 5:17 PM  

    Blogger The Sovereign Editor said...

    BT: What you say about Pelosi may indeed be true, but that simply is not how it was reported in the news. A lot of play was given to the loyalty angle, that's why I picked up on it.

    Regarding the issue I'm focusing on, Pelosi's actual reasons are irrelevant. What is relevant is how the media reported it and what they focused on when reporting it. This is more of an article about media bias than it is about either Bush or Pelosi. In that view, maybe I should have shortened the Bush section.

    12/14/2006 1:08 AM  

    Blogger The Sovereign Editor said...

    There's a difference -- ideally, if you're a politician, you'd want someone both loyal and competent

    That's true, and I was a little hard on Bush, I think.

    Honestly though, if I were President, I would assume that I didn't know everything and make sure I got the absolute best people I could find that wouldn't actively be working to put a knife in my back when I turned around. This minimum level of loyalty leaves my subordinates free to do their job without worrying about what I'll think of them.

    I think part of the focus on Bush's rewarding of loyalty has more to do with the fact that the opposition (and many in the media) want Bush to hire people who will stab him in the back and that is hardly fair to him.

    12/14/2006 1:26 AM  

    Blogger BadTux said...

    The reason people focus on the loyalty thing with Bush is that he hasn't hired competent people in many cases (Drownie Brownie, anybody?), or in some cases (such as Rumsfeld) hired people who seemed competent at the time (Rumsfeld had been SecDef under Ford and did a fine job then of helping transition to the all-volunteer Army), but later proved incompetent, yet Bush stood by Rumsfeld for years after it was obvious that Rumsfeld was not competent to properly handle the Iraq occupation and rebuilding. People tried to come up with some explanation for why Bush would do this, and all they could conclude, in the end, was that Bush valued loyalty over competence.

    Having experienced journalists personally and seen what they've done to my words, I can tell you that journalists are really only interested in one thing -- writing an interesting story. That's their bias. I've only been accurately quoted by one journalist in my life, and she was a journalist for a financial news magazine (businesspeople will *NOT* tolerate the wishy-washy nonsense that goes into our newspapers, they need accurate news if they are going to make proper business decisions). I've had my words mangled every which way, but always in order to make a more interesting story that would hopefully get more readers for the newspaper or magazine.

    Frankly, I just don't buy all this stuff about "media bias". If there is a bias, it is a bias towards laziness and towards making stories be "news" via adding sensationalistic elements of conflict with no regard for whether it's accurate. If me and my political opponent agree 99% on things, the only thing the reporter is interested in is that 1% where we disagree -- not with the 99% of things that we agree on. Because it's that 1% that makes it "news". Otherwise, she has to say "Badtux and Joe agree on pretty much everything and either one would make a good county commissioner." Bore-ing!

    12/14/2006 4:30 PM  

    Blogger The Sovereign Editor said...

    I was actually thinking of using Brown as an example, but I did some more research and that was more of a cronie thing than it was an old loyal Bush friend thing. Brown was the pick of a friend of Bush, they didn't actually know each other from before.

    12/14/2006 6:06 PM  

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