Bill Clinton and some others seem to think that because he gave Bill Richardson a couple of jobs in his administration, the New Mexico governor now owes lifetime fealty to the Clintons. Clinton supporter James Carville labeled Richardson “Judas” when the governor announced his endorsement of Barack Obama.
It’s as though, once attached in some measure to the Clintons, a person is no longer free to follow his conscience and remove himself from the embrace. This is an odious abuse of the concept of loyalty. Loyalty has to be considered contingent or else it lapses into tyranny.
There is, after all, a higher loyalty than that which we owe our employers, family and friends, church and state. There is a point when our personal conscience refuses to make cowards of us, when we have to go where our hearts and minds tell us to go. In the end that choice may not be either the right or wise one, but we must be free to make it.
An irony here is that Obama, too, made a choice when he stood by his fiery pastor. He chose to remain loyal to a man who had mentored him and drawn him into the church community. Wise or not, Obama followed his conscience and in spite of the political risks, he felt free to do so.
Naysayers like Carville and the Clintons who criticize Obama and Richardson for their choices might spare a measure of respect for the essential American right to freely choose. That they have failed so far to do so says more about them than it does about those on the receiving end of their complaints.