What Does Loyalty Have to Do with Anything?

Hilarious op-ed posts from the Washington Post from both Bill Richardson and James Carville on Richardson’s endorsement of Obama for president, with both people sniping at each other.

But what strikes me as interesting is Carville’s assertion that loyalty is a cardinal political virtue:

I believe that loyalty is a cardinal virtue. Nowhere in the world is loyalty so little revered and tittle-tattle so greatly venerated as in Washington. I was a little-known political consultant until Bill Clinton made me. When he came upon hard times, I felt it my duty — whatever my personal misgivings — to stick by him.

To me, this sounds incredibly naive. Of all people, James Carville should know that famous Washington cliche: no permanent friends, only permanent interests.

Loyalty is only a virtue if you are loyal to the person who’s going to win–that is certainly not the most likely case with HRC’s campaign, now that the Democratic leadership is calling on the superdelegates to follow whichever candidate has the most popular pledge votes.

Meaning: short of divine intervention, Obama would end up with the most popular pledged votes.

This accusation of “disloyalty” seems too convenient, after all, as Bill Richardson’s own op-ed in the Post points out:

Do the people now attacking me recall that I ran for president, albeit unsuccessfully, against Sen. Clinton? Was that also an act of disloyalty?

Those schooled in the game should know that blind loyalty is a political liability, and Bill Richardson is doing no more than what any politician would try to do: he is trying to curry favor with the most likely Presidential candidate of his own party. Would things be different if HRC and Obama switched places? That’s hard to say, but any politician would be incredibly stupid if he doesn’t try to curry favor with the most likely candidate.

In this Bill Richardson is no more better or worse than any other politician: he gambled on the best calculation he could muster. If it works out, he probably gets a position within the Obama administration; if not, then surely the Clinton people will not give him anything. I cannot imagine that an experienced politician like Richardson does not know what kind of risk he’s taking.

So I find it hypocritical for Carville to play the disloyalty card. Sure, he took a calculated risk too: if HRC does end up becoming president, his loyalty will be remembered. But there is no such thing as permanent loyalty in a constantly shifting environment.

Loyalty comes at a price, and all political actors with Machiavellian virtu surely knows the price.

But that, as Omar says in The Wire, is all in the game.


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