WASHINGTON – A retired elder statesman came up with wise advice for President Obama. He just wrote that, many years ago, when he was just getting started in politics, he was told by a seasoned politician in his own state that one should always be loyal to one’s friends. And he believes that this was and still is a valid guideline.
And why? Because –you see– in the long run, this is the smart thing to do. Staying loyal may carry a price. In some cases it may be inconvenient. But, look, that fact is that you will need your friends’ support when things get rough. Therefore, take my advice. Be smart: stay loyal to those who are on your side. You never know, but sooner or later you will need them.
Well, in principle this piece of advice may sound self-evident and unobjectionable, even though it is clear that, in practice, many leaders do not stick to this principle. No, they turn with the wind and change loyalties, if this seems to be politically convenient.
No moral foundation
Anyway, my point here is not to debate the validity of the advice as it may apply to this or that issue.
My goal here is to point out that the advice of “staying loyal” is based entirely on what is politically smart, as opposed to being moral.
Here the advice to pursue loyalty is presented as the result of a careful and shrewd “cost-benefit analysis”. Even though it may cost you in the short run, in the long run the smart thing to do in politics is to be loyal to your friends. Trust me, when all is said and done, this is the wiser course of action.
Loyalty is smart
So, here we are talking about good or bad tactics, and what may or may not lead to long-term political advantage, and not about moral principles. A business-like approach tells you that being loyal will benefit you more than being disloyal.
So, don’t be stupid. You assess the pros and cons; and, if you are smart, you will see that it is more convenient to stay loyal to your supporters than to betray them.
Again, note that no moral principle is invoked here. The wise advice is not that “You should be loyal because this is the moral thing to do”. No, “You should be loyal, because this is the shrewd thing to do. Because it pays. “
What if being disloyal pays more?
But what if in the real world the opposite were true? What if we discovered that betraying one’s supporters in fact benefits the elected leader more? Then what? Well, then the smart thing to do would be to betray. Because –you see– being disloyal pays more than being loyal.
Welcome to our unhinged world in which some do not even try to provide a genuine moral foundation for what they deem to be clever political behavior.