First, let me tell you what I'm not here to talk about.
I'm not here to talk about the role politics played in the sacking of eight U.S. attorneys. Or the fact that newly released e-mail exchanges and other documents indicate Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his deputies misled Congress when they said the White House had nothing to do with the decision to fire those attorneys. Or the fact that Gonzales is facing bipartisan calls for his head from angry lawmakers.
All this I will leave to others. I want to talk about a word that jumped out at me in news reports about this latest Washington scandal.
The word: loyalty.
We learn that, in deciding which attorneys to retain and which to release, one factor that weighed prominently in Justice Department deliberations was whether they "exhibited loyalty" to President Bush. The quote is from an e-mail sent by D. Kyle Sampson, then one of Gonzales' top aides. Sampson was also author of another note in which he suggested that the "vast majority of U.S. Attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc."
It is this notion that being a "loyal Bushie" is a qualification for getting or keeping a job that rankles. And if any of this sounds like deja vu all over again, that's only because you've been paying attention. Indeed, the revelations spilling out of Gonzales' office are distressingly familiar.
Take Brownie - please. You remember Michael Brown. Guy had zero experience in disaster management. So naturally, he wound up as head of FEMA, the federal disaster management agency. He was, after all, a "loyal Bushie" - a friend of a Bush friend. Not that that helped him when a hurricane named Katrina came knocking.
And don't even get me started on Iraq. To read "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book on the American occupation, is to sit gape-mouthed at the degree to which the requirement that job seekers pledge allegiance to George W. Bush shaped (read: misshaped) what happened there. People who applied to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority - the agency governing Iraq - told Chandrasekaran, former Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post, that they were asked in job interviews about their political party, their opinion of Roe v. Wade, their religious affiliation and whether or not they voted for Bush in 2000.
Talent and experience were secondary concerns, if that. It was more important that one be loyal than that one be qualified.
And we wonder why Iraq turned out the way it did?
What we're seeing in these e-mails, then, is just standard operating procedure for the Bush gang. Not that that makes it any easier to swallow.
Loyalty is a lovely virtue. But it is not the only virtue. And, in deciding what is best for a nation - whether Iraq or the United States - one would hope it wouldn't be the defining one.
The funny thing is, when George W. Bush came into office a hundred years ago, I remember thinking that though I disagreed with his politics, it would be good at the very least to have grown-ups - disciplined, sober, pragmatic - back in charge of the nation's affairs after the perceived juvenility and shenanigans of the Clinton team. I was wrong.
This is not the way grown-ups behave. It is the way cultists behave. The willingness to bypass critical thought, the tendency to make one's faith in a man a litmus test, the emphasis on belief, sounds more appropriate to followers of Jim Jones or David Koresh than to high officials of the U.S. government.
Every president has the right to seek subordinates who support his policies. But not at the expense of competence. Nor integrity. Nor loss of life and destruction of property.
Loyalty to Bush is all well and good. But ultimately, these people work for me and you.
Is it asking too much that they show a little loyalty to us?
- Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.