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, http://www.csbsju.edu/uspp/Election/bush122900.htm.
(2) Ibid. para. 15.
(3) Douglas, William. "Bush's Loyalty Raises Doubts About His Political Judgment," (Knight Ridder), CommonDreams.org, 2005 August 05, para. 5, http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0805-03.htm.
(4) Zacharia, Janine. "Bush's Choice of Gates Sets Stage for Shift on Iraq War Policy," Bloomberg.com, 2006 November 09, para. 22, http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aqsT9EIBeV1o&refer=home.
(5) Calmes, Jackie. "Questions of Leadership Style," Wall Street Journal, para. 1, http://users2.wsj.com/lmda/do/checkLogin?mg=wsj-users2&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%
(6) Schouten, Fredreka. "Dems split on extent of ethics changes," USA Today, 2006 December 05, para. 9, http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2006-12-05-dems-ethics_x.htm.
(7) Epstein, Edward. "Pelosi surprises by taking sides in majority leader race," San Francisco Chronicle, 2006 November 14, para. 1, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/11/14/PELOSI.TMP.
(8) Hulse, Carl. "In Race for Majority Leader, Pelosi Risks Early Setback," The New York Times, 2006 November 13, paras. 7 & 19, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/13/washington/14congcnd.html?ex=1165899600&en=196957d20df04983&ei=5070.
(9) "Witnesses: Murtha calls ethics reform 'total crap' but pledges support" CNN (The CNN Wire) 2006 November 16, http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/europe/11/15/wednesday/index.html.
(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, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/story/472181p-397307c.html.
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