Equating the individual with the office

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Equating the Individual with the Office is a form of equivocation in which loyalty to the organization is equated with loyalty to the particular person currently in a position of power in that organization.

In some forms of government (e.g. dictatorship) this equivalence is enforced by law. It is one of democracy's key principles, however, that government officials above a certain level (always including the very top levels) must be chosen by the citizens. Democracy as we generally recognize it (and specifically as implemented in the United States) also includes the requirements that anyone in any public office:

  • may be freely criticized by anyone, without fear of retribution, as long as such criticism does not amount to libel or slander ("freedom of the press" and "freedom of speech")
  • may be removed from office if their performance or conduct fails to meet certain standards

Criticizing a leader of such a democracy does not therefore equate to disloyalty or anti-patriotism. Indeed, since a leader has great power to damage the country's well-being through his/her actions, it is the responsibility of the public to monitor those actions, to ensure that those actions are widely known, to publicly praise or criticize those actions where appropriate, and to take steps to censure or remove a leader who is not acting responsibly.

Unfortunately, this distinction seems to escape many people, and that confusion can be exploited by unscrupulous political agencies to further their own agenda. In recent times, for example, those who criticize President George W. Bush's Iraq policy have been attacked for being "Anti-American", "disloyal", "unpatriotic", "unwilling to fight for freedom", and other similar qualities.