Bret Stephens, writing at OpinionJournal ("What Is a Cabinet For?"), captures the "conventional wisdom" about Bush's cabinet appointments in this paragraph:
"Now that Condoleezza Rice has been nominated to be the next secretary of state," the New York Times editorializes, "the whole world seems to be noticing that George Bush is stuffing his second-term cabinet with yes men and women. It's worrisome. . . ." David Gergen, former wise man of Public Broadcasting, frets that Mr. Bush is "closing down dissent and centralizing power in a few hands." Andrew Sullivan, in his column for the London Times, bemoans the cast of "flunkies" and "servants rather than peers" around the president. "Fierce loyalty is a prerequisite for serving Bush," writes the disapproving Mr. Sullivan.
Allow me to speak from experience in the matter of appointing lieutenants. A leader must be confident that he and his lieutenants have common goals. A leader expects his lieutenants to give thoughtful, candid advice, but to give it privately and not leak it to the press in an effort to embarrass the leader or to shape policy. Sharing common goals and giving candid advice, privately, isn't a sign of blind obedience in a lieutenant, it's a sign of loyalty, in the best sense of the word. The alternative to the good kind of loyalty is disfunction and disarray -- but perhaps that's what the pundits want.
Experience gives the best proof of loyalty. That's why good leaders tend to select lieutenants whom they have come to know and trust. Bush isn't the first leader to select his lieutenants from a trusted, inner circle. Nor will he be the last.
But all of this is lost on reporters and pundits who have never managed anything bigger than an editorial page or a blog.