Without Powell, groupthink a larger concern

Hopefully, Bush’s advisers are not afraid to speak up even when they disagree with him.

Last year in my introduction to sociology class, the professor briefly went over Irving Janis’ “Groupthink Theory.” I had not thought of the theory since that final, but for some reason, when I heard Secretary of State Colin Powell would not be back for the second term of President George W. Bush, it came to mind.

I did a quick Google search of “groupthink theory” and I clicked on www.psysr.org/groupthink%20overview.htm. The Web site, citing Janis’ “Victims of Groupthink,” says that groupthink occurs “when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of ‘mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment.’ “

Scrolling down the helpful Web site, I noticed eight “symptoms” of groupthink. I began to contrast the symptoms with my interpretations and observations of the first four years of Bush’s reign of the executive branch. I noticed a remarkably high correlation to what Janis warned and what Bush practiced.

The first symptom is “illusion of invulnerability.” In this symptom there is “excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.” Perhaps this “excessive optimism” is why Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney still believe we are winning the war in Iraq.

Perhaps that is the reason approximately 59 million people had “excessive optimism” when voting for another four years of Bush and Cheney.

Another symptom, number six, deals with “self-censorship.” Here, “doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.” Is that why people who are no longer in the administration denounced? Paul O’Neill, Richard Clarke and others have all been labeled as liars and denounced. 

Sure, the president has a right for cabinet members to serve at his pleasure, but it is OK for there to be a healthy disagreement. It is OK if there is dissension. It is OK if there are different beliefs at the table.

For when they are not, policy failures (like the Bay of Pigs and escalation of the Vietnam War) happen. When there was dissension (Janis cites the Cuban Missile Crisis and Marshall Plan), they worked out better for the world despite a minor disagreement in a situation room.

As the new cabinet is being formed, I am worried Bush is surrounding himself with even more “yes men.” The new secretaries of state and education, and attorney general among others, are all directly from inside the first four years of this White House.

That’s fine with me if, and only if, these people will not be afraid to speak up and fight even after the president makes a decision to go in another direction. 

I hope groupthink will not happen ever, period, let alone in the next four years. Although my understanding of groupthink comes only from an introduction class, I think three things are clear.

First, groupthink is bad. Second, in my opinion, the first Bush term and its policies were dangerously close to being groupthink policies. Third, and this is what I am now most worried about, the new cabinet is starting to look like “team players” who will be afraid to dissent from the president, and thus, four more years of groupthink.

Dan Bordwell is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]