Leaders must be loyal to the people who work under them. But the U.S. president's greatest loyalty must be to the nation. He must always keep his eye on the bigger purpose of the national agenda, especially in an era of such contentious political discourse, when the 24/7 news cycle can turn even a whiff of controversy into a tornado.
The Van Jones controversy threatened to become a major distraction for President Obama as he tries to deal with health care reform, energy initiatives, two wars, and a number of other crucial issues. At this delicate moment, the president cannot afford a misstep that would bolster his foes. Given the drumbeat of conservative criticism of Jones, his departure seemed inevitable.
Vetting a job candidate for a key government position is difficult. In today's political environment, however, the task becomes harder. It's more essential than ever that the process is handled with extreme diligence. Perhaps the Obama administration failed to do so in the hiring of Van Jones. If that's the case, then the president should be held accountable, publicly owning up to the error and explaining how it happened.
At the same time, the job candidate has a responsibility to disclose any piece of information that could later harm the organization that hired him. Whether Van Jones neglected to mention some of his views or the president's staff did not discover them, this was clearly not an example of first-rate vetting.
The president will suffer a hit over this episode, but the greater concern is that the national agenda is sidetracked, as always happens when the White House becomes bogged down by controversies that could have been avoided.
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