March 17, 2007

The Dubiousness Of Political Loyalty

Peggy Noonan writes about the widespread impulse to act politically out of personal loyalty rather than agreement on policy on the part of American voters. In today's Wall Street Journal (subscription only), she decries the superficiality of brand loyalty, but interestingly, she doesn't extend that past candidates and campaigns.

She recounts speaking with a friend who told Noonan that he supported Hillary because he had known her for years, and he was a "loyal person":

I was puzzled. You're loyal. So what? You have a virtue, good. But that doesn't mean the person you're loyal to should be my president. That's not enough.

And I said this, in a more polite and less concise way.

Which made him defensive. "You should talk," he said. "You were loyal to Reagan."

"No, I wasn't," I said. "I agreed with him." I didn't know Reagan when I went to work with him; I only knew his views and philosophy and supported them. I wanted him to succeed because I wanted what he stood for to succeed. In time I came to feel personal loyalty. But agreement came first. And if, in his presidency, Reagan had turned into some surprising, weak, tax-raising, government-growing, soft-on-Soviets guy, I would have stopped backing him. I would have thought him very nice and a bit of a dope, like Jerry Ford. I wouldn't feel I had to hold high his memory and meaning.

Loyalty has nothing to do with it, not if you're serious.

Or rather personal loyalty has nothing to do with it.

As usual, Noonan captures a particular issue in a new and interesting light, but for once she seems to stop short of the real problem. Personal loyalty over policy support can be a problem long past an election, and it doesn't just apply to candidates. It also happens with political parties, and too often it leads to shading one's eyes to incompetence and destructive behaviors.

Mark Tapscott talked about this last year, when he started making the case that conservatives should put more separation between themselves and the Republican Party. A similar conversation occurred in 2004 on the Left, with anti-war activists agitated for a split from establishment Democrats, and to an extent in Connecticut last year with the challenge to Lieberman. In their ways, both made the point that policy should trump party and personality.

In the long term, effective politics focuses on ideas and policy. Voters should support the candidate and the party that represents their policy goals and their priorities, especially in primaries, but also in general elections. When the perform well, the politicians should get the support and endorsement of their constituents, but when they do not, they should not be spared from criticism, especially when they work against the policy goals of their supporters. That also applies to episodes of incompetence as well.

Does this mean we should toss people for minor disagreements and occasional failures? Of course not. We need to look at the totality of the policy positions of the candidate and the party, and not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. In general elections, we have to remember that we have the responsibility to make a choice, and not choosing represents an abdication of that responsibility. In general, though, if we are to make politics about policy and ideas and create the intellectual environment where we can win through reason, we need to quit making our decisions on the same basis on which we elect middle-school class presidents.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments (5)

Posted by SwabJockey05 [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 7:42 AM


To me, you are stating the obvious. I've been married for over 20 years to the same woman. She's a hard core dhimmocrat (some would even say "mouth-breather").

Somehow, we're still in love...and both loyal to eachother...yet, I can't imagine myself voting for her for ANY public office.

Posted by smagar [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 9:29 AM

Unfortunately, political leaders are not alway so easily disposable. If you pitch one over the side, you need an equally capable one on hand as a replacement. Also, what damage will the abandonment of a key party/movement leader create? Will the act of cashiering that person cause more damage than leaving them in place?

Exhibit A: Captain Ed's call for dumping Dennis Hastert as Speaker when the Mark Foley brouhaha first broke. OK--how was the House GOP going to mount a coup of a sitting Speaker, find and install a qualified replacement whom the voting public would accept and respect, and manage the resulting media Perfect Storm-- all in the midst of a disastrous election cycle? It sound good on a blog post--but how does one pull it off in real life?

Sometimes, you stick with a bad leader for a while, if getting rid of him/her would cause more damage to your movement than keeping him. This wouldn't be a permanent "sellout"--no major executive in the USA holds office for more than four years before the next election. (Six, if you count a Senate leader).

In his last paragraph, the Captain added enough qualifiers/caveats to make clear that he doesn't want our movement/party leaders to feel that they're standing on a trap door that's operated by a blogger-controlled trigger switch. And, I'm not saying that we should turn into a cult of personality behind any conservative leader. But, we conservative bloggers are often too quick to call for someone's head when a crisis/problem first appears. Evidence: Michelle Malkin.

It's easy for a blogger to call for someone to be fired. They're generally not the ones who have to pick up the pieces afterwards. If a party/movement leaders truly does become an apostate over time (e.g, Pat Buchanan IMO), he/she does need to go. But, let's not forget that there are indeed times when you truly can destroy the village as you try to save it.

Posted by conservative democrat [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 11:42 AM

When my conservative friends say the GOP got away from its conservative leanings and that it killed them in the midterms, I say "then why don't true conservatives run against the Rino's in the primaries? If the GOP really wants true conservatives, they'd run those candidates. I believe the war chests of the moderate republicans keeps them re-elected. Until the RNC and the NRCC start backing "true conservatives" in the primaries, the status quo Republicans will continue to shell out pork barrel projects and will get further and further from conservative values. Damn, Guliani is your frontrunner? How far away is he from being a conservative. Is Bush and the current GOP the face of conservatism. Maybe my party has drifted too far to the left, but its gravitational pull looks like its dragging the GOP with it. IMHO there is a huge gap between the current GOP and conservatism, i.e. Goldwater, Reagan.

Posted by burt [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 6:04 PM

Last summer this blog was among several blogs which sponsored a fund raising project for about two dozen congressional candidates. From reading the resumes attached to the fund raiser, I concluded I could support a total of two of them unequivocally as conservatives. I did support one of them. Most of the resumes were ambiguous in my mind as to whether the candidate was conservative. Several were candidates who I clearly couldn't support. One I could have supported but didn't, Steele, is not a conservative but ran in very blue state and had a potential for giving life support to the non socialist minority.

In my mind that fund raiser was not consistent with the statement, "...if we are to make politics about policy and ideas and create the intellectual environment where we can win through reason, we need to quit making our decisions on the same basis on which we elect middle-school class presidents."

Posted by BODYGUARDS [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 2:57 AM

She recounts speaking with a friend who told Noonan that he supported Hillary because he had known her for years, and he was a "loyal person":
This gentleman did NOT say that he felt Hilary to be unqualified or incapable. That appears to be Noonan's assumption.

By 'Loyalty', he may also be factoring in both his long term personal experiences with her with his political party ideologies.

Having postive personal interactions with a Politician over a period, does give one some insight into their personal character and capabilities and could make one feel more secure about supporting them.