Thursday, May 03, 2012

Mitt Romney and Richard Grennell: Is There an Obligation to Stand Up for Your People?

The Richard Grennell flap has me thinking.  Mitt Romney hired a gay conservative who worked under John Bolton in the George W. Bush administration to be his spokesperson for foreign policy matters.  Grennell is open about his sexual orientation.  It was no secret.  A presidential campaign vets everyone who works for them in significant places, especially as talking heads.  They knew he is gay. 

They also know they are Republicans.  So, when the howls of indignation predictably came from social conservatives that the GOP presumptive nominee had a gay man working for him, they built to the point where Grennell felt the need to step down.

What has me baffled is the handling of the flap by the Romney people.  They knew it was coming and thought that the best idea was to do nothing about it and let it blow over.  They told Grennell not to appear in public to "be quiet and not to speak up until it went away and let it go away" -- which, of course, it didn't.  There was a passive instead of an active defense from the Romney campaign.  They never stood up for their own.  they never showed the backbone that one would expect when a member of the group was being attacked.  I understand that it would be politically difficult to risk alienating the conservatives who already view him suspiciously.  But he hired him.  Isn't defending your people what you are supposed to do for a member of your team?

Feminist ethicists of 70s and 80s drew a distinction between contractual relationships that we find in the marketplace and care-based relationships we find in personal life and worked to differentiate the obligations we have in the different spheres.  Here is a contractual situation -- Grennell was hired as an employee to work for an organization.  But isn't there something more like a care-based duty to stand up and stand behind your people when you are the one who hired them?

Is there a moral obligation to stand up for your people?  Should those hired have the reasonable expectation that they will be defended by the organization they have chosen to accept an invitation to join?  The association isn't accidental, he was selected and courted.  Do those actions come with moral requirements?