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Loyal Opposition: Not Just for Countries

Josh Marshall notes that what characterizes the early 2nd term Bush appointments is not a shift to left or right, but a shift toward greater control. By appointing Gonzales, and certainly by appointing Rice, Bush gains two loyalists who have no political base to curb their bit.

This isn't new in American history, and it doesn't always turn out badly. Wilson's 2nd Cabinet was "his"; Lincoln was able to disable Chase and Seward politically in his first term. I'm sure you can find other examples.

But... it can turn out badly. Harding. Grant. And....Nixon. I am re-reading these days Seymour Hersh's The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House. With Bill Rogers, Kissinger, and Mitchell, Nixon appointed a first-term Cabinet whose only loyalty was to him, with decidedly unfortunate results. Loyalty, for Nixon and, I am afraid, the Bush family, is "never, ever, disagree with me".

The idea of a "loyal opposition" is alien to the American experience, and I have a hard time explaining it to my countrymen. The idea is: "we want the same things; we have the same goals. We differ about how to achieve them, but I am shoulder-to-shoulder with you in getting them." This concept is the basis for government throughout most of Europe.

But that just doesn't work back home, where anyone who does not fall in line is, ipso facto, disloyal. The other team. The enemy. Whereas the "opposition" might be nothing more than "here's another way to look at it...."

For a long time, after moving to Europe, I was bemused and baffled that organizations that I belong to that are primarily American (Democrats Abroad, various expat associations, "international" (but basically American) professional assocations) are almost always aggressively binary: "you on the train or not? with the program or not? if you can't back me 100%, you shouldn't be on the team") . But organizations that are primarily Danish or European absorb differing views -- sometimes clumsily, but generally successfully..

Why is that? Call me simple, but I'm sure it's because the American political and organizational view is so often "Are you with me? Or against me?" Whereas the European view is "OK, we are five at this table. I have this view, and I have these reasons to back me up.... let's see where it goes." (Some Americans like to call this the "Euro-weenie" view.... these Americans have, presumably, never played poker very well).

The European leader is no more willing than his American colleague to part with power. Nor is he or she more ready to change an opinion. But European leaders meet opposition with "Show me I'm wrong, if you can", whereas the American says "Tell me I'm wrong, if you dare."

Right approach? Wrong approach?

It's culturally ingrained, so "right or wrong" is fruitless to discuss. It just is.

I think my country is not served well by "are you with me or against me" loyalist thinking, but its existence is not immediately threatened.

But that is not true of "American" companies and organizations. I suspect that those who do not accept loyal opposition are setting themselves up for a fall.

Allan Jenkins posted this at 06:38. Permalink |

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