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Ryan Gosling in the Ides of March. (Photo: Sonty

The O’Toole Chronicles: Trust Over Skill

By Kevin O'Toole, November 22 2022 12:01 am

Since I was a child, I had a profound love of movies, and an occasional compelling television series. I don’t need to perform some deep-rooted psychoanalysis to understand that I was running or searching for something outside of the life in my childhood home. The escape to movies allowed me to imagine life somewhere else, to see and feel experiences by others – even if only for a few hours. I found this transport educational and enjoyable – equal parts distraction and therapy.

I learned a lot from watching movies, and sometimes I find myself taking away significant life lessons. Whether it be art of the double cross, like in Miller’s Crossing, timeless wisdom and bloodless skill of calculating decisions, like in the Godfather (I or II), the pure humor in Fletch, the coldness of a quiet war, like in Body of Lies, lessons not to pre-judge one another, see Planes Trains or some other movie, I have always found some interesting or compelling truth buried in a movie. I know that you might be thinking that I have lived my life like Martin Tupper’s character in the HBO series, Dream On, but I haven’t.

Whether you get to visit a new country (Australia) or planet (The Martian), see inside the Sistine Chapel (Angels and Demons), or go deep see diving (The Abyss), each of these movies give you an experience or adventure that you probably won’t have in this life.  It broadens your perspective to understand there is a whole world outside of our own bubble.

With all the above as an all too exhaustive backdrop, I provide my column.

I was re-watching a cool, yet underrated movie, Ides of March, and loved the one pivotal scene between the campaign manager, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Paul), and his deputy, played by Ryan Gosling (Steven). Earlier in the movie, Ryan paid a covert visit to the opposition and thought about the offer to join forces with them. He failed to tell his boss about this possibly treacherous overture until days later when a reporter confronted him with this act of betrayal. During this critical scene, Ryan sought out his boss to tell him about the pending story that was about to break and he admits to taking the meeting.

The campaign manager let his subordinate speak. He then laid in about his own prior experience where he was offered a job from another campaign while working for a longshot state senate race that had no chance of winning. This practical, pivotal lesson in loyalty was summed up in a brief exchange that valued trust over skill – a lesson many politicians and public figures need to grasp. You can watch the clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5LHALGus5Q but I provided a transcript below:

Paul: I leaked it to Ida– at the event.

Steven:  I don’t understand.

Paul: We made a deal.

Steven: Paul they’re gonna — they’re gonna print that story in the paper tomorrow morning.

Paul: I know.

Steven: So why’d you do it? Why, why would you do that? Why would you do that to the campaign?

Paul: The campaign will survive.

Steven: Why would you do that to me?

Paul: Makes it easier to let you go.

Steven: What?

Paul: Why’d you meet with Duffy?

Steven: I made a mistake– I made a stupid- no- mistake.

Paul: No, Steven you didn’t make a mistake you made a choice. You called me left a message to call you back that it was important and when I did you told me to forget about it you chose not to tell me. Why’d you make that choice?

Steven: Because Paul I didn’t think it was important.

Paul: F— yes you did. But you went because you’re curious, because you feel flattered, because you felt special– to think that Duffy wanted to speak to you instead of me because you thought to yourself maybe I can get something out of this, because it made you feel big. You know the first campaign I ran is a tiny little race in Kentucky –State Senate seat you know working for some redneck nobody named Sam McGuffrey. No staff, no money, no f—— office, everyone thought we didn’t stand a chance no way we can compete right? And about this time this, this guy running this congressional campaign a few districts over gives me a call and he says I really like what you’re able to do for poor old Sam but let’s face it he’s a goner why don’t you come work for me? What did I do? Well, Steven, this is where you and I are different. I told Sam about the call and Sam says to me Paul if you think this other guys got a chance of winning and he can pay you more than anything I can afford and if it’s what you feel you need to do then I won’t get in your way. I say Sam you took a chance on me and hired me when I was even more of a nobody than you are so I’ll be damned if I’m gonna jump ship just because the shit  hits the fan. We lost that race three years later when Sam decided to run for governor who do you think he called? We won that race and 20 years later I am where I am f—— now. There’s only one thing I value in this world, Steven, that’s loyalty and without it you’re nothing and you have no one and in politics, in f—— politics, it’s the only currency you can count on. That’s why I’m letting you go. Not because you’re not good enough, not because I don’t like you, but I value trust over skill and I don’t f—— trust you anymore.

Steven: It doesn’t matter whether you trust me Paul, it matters whether the governor does.

Paul: The governor already knows and he thinks it’s the right thing to do.

Steven: He does?

Paul: Yeah and you know what if I were you I get a good night’s sleep because you’re gonna get f—–g pounded by calls from the press in the morning.

This two-minute scene offers a lot of punch. Many of us older generation staffers have been asked at one time or another to take that Gordon Liddy test of loyalty. Candidly, in my younger days, I have and would have gone above and beyond to help my candidate. But that isn’t what we are talking about.

In politics, the term loyalty is used a lot by folks; many of them do not understand its true meaning. Most principals who use it, do so as a training tether to keep underlings close and on message. As we have discussed before, being loyal does not mean Jim Jones worship.

Loyalty today is a currency that is rare and quantifiable. And that is true in life, not just politics.

Ask yourself the following: “You’re stuck in a hole, who’d you rather be there with?”

Do I even have to finish that question?

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