Patterico's Pontifications


Merit vs. Knowing the Boss

Filed under: Judiciary — Patterico @ 10:17 am

Everybody knows the kiss-ass down at the office. He’s the guy who slaps the boss’s back and laughs at his jokes. He goes to lunch with the boss. He goes on fishing trips with him. He’s not as good as Mike, the guy two offices down who always gets his work done and does it better than anyone else. But the kiss-ass gets promoted over Mike every time.

Most people I know and respect would prefer someone like Mike over someone like the kiss-ass. They understand that hard work and merit should be rewarded over proximity to (and good relations with) the boss.

There are plenty of people who take the opposite point of view, of course. There are a lot of aspects to merit, they’ll tell you. Good interpersonal relations are important — and why shouldn’t that be true with the boss as well? Sure, Mike is a hard worker. Sure, he’s never been late once in 28 years. Sure, he keeps his head down and does his job better than anyone else. But that’s not all there is to getting ahead.

When you point out that the kiss-ass would never be promoted were it not for his personal relationship with the boss, and doesn’t do anywhere near a good as job as Mike, it has little effect. The response is usually some variant of: tough luck. Life isn’t fair. It’s the boss’s decision. That’s the way it is.

You’ll find people who tell you things like that. But I tend not to respect these people. Nor do I respect the bosses of this world who pass over the Mikes of this world.

That is part of why I am so annoyed to see similar types of arguments made on behalf of Harriet Miers. We can have confidence in her because the president knows her, we’re told. That’s how we know she won’t be another Souter.

Meanwhile, the Mikes of this world, including the Mike Luttigs and the Mike McConnells — people who have kept their head down and worked to become the best in their fields — those guys are getting screwed. The message to them is clear: you should have found a way to hang out with the boss more.

This is not to compare Harriet Miers to the kiss-ass in my example. By all accounts, she is an extraordinarily hard worker. She is not the kiss-ass down at the office. (Though she did call the president the most brilliant man she has ever met. Maybe she really believes that, which I’d find scarier still. I’m hoping she is just a kiss-ass.) That’s not the point.

The point is not her behavior, but that of Bush in picking her. Bush is the glad-handing boss who picks his lunch pal over the best-qualified people. Sure, these bosses can try to justify such decisions by saying that they know their lunch pals better. But that’s not the way it should be — and observing that that’s the way it is, doesn’t make it right.

Merit should matter. The message sent with the Miers nomination is: it doesn’t. It’s all about who you know. And it’s sad to see how many people are comfortable with that, when they wouldn’t be comfortable seeing it happen to Mike down the hall.

27 Responses to “Merit vs. Knowing the Boss”

  1. That’s a great tie you have on today, boss.

    Angry Clam (fa7fff)

  2. Amen.

    I thought the light roughing up Roberts got from some quarters was misguided; Roberts is an eminently qualified justice. If his opinions do not match mine, it will be from honest differences on the law, not because Roberts is a chucklehead.

    Miers is a gravely disappointing choice. I expect her to be confirmed because the Dem’s won’t block her (and get possibly a far more conservative justice) but it’s the wrong choice. I understand that knowing the candidate may well help in close cases, but this is not a close case.


    John R. Mayne (de6363)

  3. That’s a great tie you have on today, boss.

    Thanks! I’m going to expand your blogging privileges — because you’re so good, of course. Buddy ol’ pal.

    Patterico (4e4b70)

  4. I agree that the boss picking someone for an important post largely on the basis of personal relationship is irresponsible. But remember, one of the main reasons we initially picked this boss was not because he was clearly the best we had to offer at the time but rather because his father had once had the job.

    President Reagan did not confuse himself with the office to which he had been elected or with the movement he led. President Bush appears to do just that, however, and the undercurrent of dynasty that led to his being leapfrogged to the front of the line for the 2000 nomination might have something to do with this perception.

    fritz (395674)

  5. Over the weekend, I’ve decided that I don’t support the Miers choice. It sounds like she hides her own opinions and tries to get along with everyone. We don’t need a baby-splitter on the Supreme Court.

    Having said that, I do believe Bush has the best intentions, and I’m annoyed as all get out at the constant references to this nomination as some kind of reward. The fact that so much of the opposition speaks this way raises my hackles and kept me on her side longer than I might otherwise have been.

    Bostonian (a37519)

  6. But remember, one of the main reasons we initially picked this boss was not because he was clearly the best we had to offer at the time but rather because his father had once had the job.

    And there are those of us who weren’t too thrilled with the pick, either.

    Patterico (4e4b70)

  7. fritz,

    I don’t agree. GWB was the best candidate, so far as I can recall. Who did you like better?

    Black Jack (ee9fe2)

  8. Fritz-

    We picked the current presideent because he was the best of the available picks. The fact his daddy was president had nothing to do with it. can you get some cites for your assertion? We picked Bush 43 because Bush 41 was Prez? C’mon.

    Richard Cook (80aa3d)

  9. Having said that, I do believe Bush has the best intentions, and I’m annoyed as all get out at the constant references to this nomination as some kind of reward. The fact that so much of the opposition speaks this way raises my hackles and kept me on her side longer than I might otherwise have been.

    I understand what you’re saying. He probably does have good intentions; so do a lot of bosses who pick their buddies for promotions. They just haven’t made a conscious decision to follow an unswerving principle of picking the best person for the job. It probably doesn’t occur to them how their decisions look to hard-working subordinates who don’t suck up.

    Patterico (4e4b70)

  10. Patterico:

    Is there such a thing as Miers Derangement Syndrome?


    Dafydd (f8a7be)

  11. All well and good Patterico, but you miss the point, you set up the choice as an either-or dichotomy, “Mike” is obviously so much better than “KA.” But it’s only because of your set up that this is so.

    One of the things in life, that is so true, is that capability is not nearly as valuable as sales. Trust me on this…ever wonder why the “smartest” doesn’t always get the farthest? It’s because smart isn’t that valuable, smart doesn’t take nearly as much work as sales. The salesperson has to have the smarts and the interpersonal dynamic. Big monetary “success” comes from being a good seller, and that’s also why commission based jobs can pay quite well to those who are good at them. BUT Sales is tough, I dislike selling, most people I know shudder at the thought of “working in sales.” You know what though, that’s why the good salespeople do really well. As “smart” as Mike is, he’s pretty much demonstrated that he doesn’t have the interpersonal ability to work with others. I don’t think of myself as a “KA” but I’m going to do what I can to build a healthy positive relationship with my superiors, if I fail to do so, and am passed over for someone who did who the heck’s fault is that.

    This goes to one more point, look how persuasive all the brains in the world are…not very at all. Instead, it is those inter-personal abilities that really help one persuade, how many people do you know were persuaded about anything by a rational discussion? Not many if you ask me, but it is the people who built relationships and devoted themselves to their friends who managed to persuade. So, who’s more likely to be persuasive once they’re on the court? It may very well be that “Mike” like “Tony” might actually drive people away instead of persuade. Because look while “Tony” may be one of the brightest on the court, the fact is, he hasn’t been writing many majority opinions the past few years.

    Joel B. (31d860)

  12. I agree, Patterico, but I also think Bush blinked. He’s afraid of a fight in the Senate on abortion rights. So, even after seeing it happen, it hasn’t dawned on him that a highly qualified nominee can engage the Dems and drive the discussion toward judicial philosophy and Constitutional interpretation, where it belongs, without falling into the what-do-you-think-about-abortion trap. Roberts managed to do this, while at the same time leaving his would-be attackers bloodied. Has the White House forgotten just how bad the Dems looked and just how good Roberts looked? You can’t make this stuff up: We had Ted Kennedy using the hearings to talk about Hurricane Katrina and Joe Biden looking absolutely foolish trying to lecture Roberts, each not making any effort to give Roberts a chance to speak. Diane Feinstein gave a characteristically empty-headed performance. And it wasn’t just the Dems — even Arlen super-duper-precedent Specter got some.

    The biggest reason that Roberts was confirmed was Roberts himself. Does anyone really think that there isn’t another available candidate who would also be a bad intellectual mismatch for the Senate Dems? Lesson learned? Apparently not.

    TNugent (58efde)

  13. Is there such a thing as Miers Derangement Syndrome?

    Fewer insults, more facts and arguments, please.

    Patterico (4e4b70)

  14. You didn’t answer his question.

    Xrlq (5ffe06)

  15. Just add my comment to his.

    Joel B. (31d860)

  16. You didn’t answer his question.

    If I were going to answer it in like vein, I’d say: yes: when people defend the pick as a stroke of political genius, that does indeed strike me as deranged.

    But I’m trying to keep the discussion on a higher plane than one-liners simply insulting people who disagree with me. I’ve not always succeeded — witness my unexplained and rude insult of the guy who did the MOOSEMUSS post — but I’m trying.

    Patterico (4e4b70)

  17. You did a great job in that presentation with xrlq and Joel just now, boss!

    Angry Clam (fa7fff)

  18. I’m selecting you over the guy who called me deranged, Clam.

    Patterico (4e4b70)

  19. Having qualifications that are clear and unassailable should be preferred. Not everyone needs to be a sitting judge, but just being and lawyer for a long time doesn’t cut it for me. I saw a reference that mentioned she went to court 22 times in her career. That doesn’t make her a bad lawyer in any way- but it does lend credence to the “it who she knows, not what she knows” theory.
    Roberts did do a good job and I honestly think Senators from both sides did their fair share of looking silly; from the fawning of Hatch to the caricature of Ted Kennedy performance by Ted Kennedy. The key for me was that he was qualified. He had the experience, smarts, & skills to prove it.

    The comment about W being picked because of his dad is a bit unfair; however I am one who believes that the GOP machine did more for him in 2000 than he did for himself. Given the chance I would rather have voted based on math grades and experience.

    I still have not forgiven him for the 1994 World Series.

    ajds (d3705b)

  20. I agree that by the time of the nomination process, Bush was the best bet–certainly better than McCain who seemed and seems a lttle too willing to please the MSM at his own party’s expense.

    Further, Bush’s father’s appearance with him the night before the 2000 N.H. primary might actually have contributed to the magnitude of his son’s embarrassing defeat the next day. Being the son of a president cuts both ways and not just with McCain supporters but with conservatives who never trusted the first Bush.

    But am I really supposed to believe that who his father was had absolutely nothing to do with his selection by the Texas GOP to run for Governor in 94? That it had nothing to do with the GOP governors coalescing around him in 99 instead of another one of their emminently qualified members–something done to maximize the chance the GOP would nominate a governor and not someone in Congress? Did both groups, the morning after the selection, wake up to discover “You mean he’s the son of THAT Bush?” Movement conservatives (such as me) might have had to actually overcome the lineage to support the younger Bush–but party insiders, both in Texas in 94 and nationally in 99 were as concerned with winning as with ideological purity and the Bush name was considered–logically or not–a plus.

    However, with that said, I will certainly agree that although lineage can help one get a foot in the door–and for those individuals it cannot be otherwise even if they might wish it–it cannot win the final election. That must be earnt and Mr. Bush has certainly done that, both in Texas and then nationally. Further, although Bush’s name certainly helped with his fellow governor’s selection of him–read any conservative journal from the period, name alone was not enough and then Governor Bush had in fact impressed his fellow governors–read any conservative journal from the period.

    But the bottom line remains that part of the reason that Mr. Bush was being singled out, at least initially, was because of who his father was. That is not a reason of merit however much merit Bush has shown supsequently.

    fritz (395674)

  21. Joel B.,

    You seem to be assuming that Miers has people skills. You should read my latest post, which refutes that assumption.

    Patterico (4e4b70)

  22. Does it not strike you as inconsistent to argue, simultaneously, the following?

    The President’s evaluation of this nominee’s qualifications based on his close association with her counts for nothing; we are not obliged to defer to it and should give it no weight; and we must ourselves evaluate the nominee’s qualifications without paying any regard to the President’s views.

    — and —

    The fact that this person was chosen by the President based on his close association with her means she’s a crony, without regard to her qualifications or whether she‘s an “ass-kisser”; and we should reject her because cronyism is an evil that must be defeated.

    I respectfully submit that neither proposition is true. The President’s evaluation based on his close personal association with the nominee is worth considering, but ought not be determinative (either on us, as citizen-pundits, nor on the Senate). And the fact that he has had a close association with her ought not be a disqualification, nor should it lead to any presumption either that she’s unqualified or that she obtained her nomination solely on the basis of her friendship with the President. But I take it you disagree?

    Beldar (22d2bb)

  23. Patterico:

    In the past five days, starting with the first post of 10/6 (Another Bogus Argument for Miers), you have posted thirty-nine times. Thirty-five of these posts have been increasingly virulent attacks on the Miers nomination, an average of seven per day.

    The four posts that were not Miers related were praise of Michelle Malkin; praise of Captain Ed; a defense of Hugh Hewitt; and some cryptic comment about brisket. You’ve posted no substantial political post on any subject but the unworthiness of Harriet Miers.

    Doesn’t this seem just a tad over the top, my friend?


    Dafydd (f8a7be)

  24. Miers is by far the biggest political news of the moment, with decades-spanning consequences for our society.

    Add to that the natural interest in the Supreme Court that lawyers have, and it makes some sense.

    Isn’t that right, boss?

    Angry Clam (a7c6b1)

  25. I’m selecting you over the guy who called me deranged, Clam.

    Oh no, we can’t have that! I declare cronyism! Next thing we know, you’ll be promoting the guy who called you brilliant, and passing over (or maybe even firing) the guy who called you a dumb fuck. Equal rights for assholes now!

    Xrlq (428dfd)

  26. I guess you got the joke, then.

    But I missed the part where Mike Luttig called Bush an asshole. In public, that is — I’m quite sure he’s done so in private, since Miers was nominated.

    Patterico (4e4b70)

  27. My boss never asks me to lunch. I’m always given the toughest assignments.
    I’m never invited to design meetings after almost 15 years of developing software.

    I choose not to ‘kiss ass’ and perhaps that’s what gets me screwed. I look at others that have very little experience getting promoted to management positions over developers and they are invited to design meetings. Others are outsourcing their work and just managing the outsourcers.

    It’s really a shame that society has let the bullies of yesterday become the bosses of today. It seems unless you are willing to bully others, you can’t get ahead in this world anymore.

    I look at my future and all I see it more bullies. Is there hope?

    Xenon (f48a9b)

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