Numero Uno Theory of Sociology

My wife Julie has a degree in sociology. Furthermore, she has a knack for sociology, the way I have a knack for computers. It’s part of what makes her such a great mom and teacher. Anyway, Julie once told me that sociology is easy because everything you need to know about a given theory is in the title. Not sure how true that is in sociology in general, but it certainly is true of my own personal sociological theory, the aptly named “Harry Pierson’s Numero Uno Theory of Sociology”, which states:

Everyone Looks Out For Numero Uno.

This applies not only to individuals, but also to organizations. When forced to choose between what is “right” (as defined by the organization’s core principles) and what will protect the organization’s long-term survival, the organization will always choose to protect itself and sacrifice its core principles.

I first came up with this theory several years ago, when the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal was in full swing. The Catholic Church – like pretty much all religions – has very rigid definitions of what is right in the way of values and morality. Yet when their own priests violated these very principles and acted immorally, the representatives of the church chose to “look out for numero uno” and protect the organization by suppressing the evidence rather than doing what is right by their own definition.

Now we’re embroiled in a similar scandal, this time in politics. Last week, Congressman Mark Foley (R-Fla) resigned when it came to light that he had sent sexually explicit emails and IM’s to underage male Congressional pages. While criminal, what makes this a Numero Uno scandal is that Republican leadership has known these messages since late last year but decided to “look out for numero uno” and try to cover it up. Even as late as last week, Congressman Tom Reynolds’ (R-NY) chief of staff Kirk Fordham tried to cut a deal with ABC “not to publish the raw, sexually explicit messages“.

The fallout from this scandal has already been massive. Liberals and conservatives alike are appalled by both Foley’s predatory behavior and Republican leadership’s attempt to sweep it under the rug. While other recent scandals on Capital Hill – such as those involving Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham – have been further reaching, Foley’s scandal is more likely to be covered at length by the mainstream media. To quote Kevin Drum, “It involves sex, it involves coverups, it involves powerful players turning on each other to protect their own skins, and it involves lots of documentary evidence.” Like it or not, that’s the kind of scandal that gets eyeballs and ratings.

The timing couldn’t be worse for Republicans, as this comes barely a month before the mid-term elections. Most political analysts give the Democrats a decent chance to take back the majority in one or both houses of Congress, and that was before this scandal broke. We won’t know how big an impact the Foley scandal will have until after the mid term elections.

However, if Republican leadership had dealt with it last fall or even last spring, the election impact would have been drastically reduced. Of course, it would have gotten wall-to-wall media coverage, but it would have lacked the coverup angle and it wouldn’t be taking up so much pre-election airtime now. Foley wouldn’t be on the ballot in Florida. And I wonder what this will do to Republican voter turnout across the board, given that a significant percentage of conservative voters are anti-homosexual.

But that’s the thing about Numero Uno, you’re always looking out for it, regardless of the potential consequences down the road.