Simanaitis Says

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MERRIAM-WEBSTER nails cronyism as “partiality to cronies especially as evidenced in the appointment of political hangers-on to office without regard to their qualifications.” Furthermore, M-W defines a crony as “a close friend of long standing, a friend of someone powerful (such as a politician) who is unfairly given special treatment or favors.”

Oh, I get it. Like proposing one’s personal pilot to head the $16 billion, 47,000-person Federal Aviation Administration.

Or choosing one’s personal doctor to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs, in charge of the federal government’s second-largest department (after the Department of Defense). The VA operates more than 1700 health facilities, aiding 9 million military veterans.

What about selecting a person of no experience with, nor, indeed, any attendance at, a public school as Secretary of Education. Admittedly, there were political contributions here and there.

And what about appointing a family wedding planner to oversee billions of federal dollars at the New York and New Jersey office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development?

Indeed, this particular appointee’s background included organizing golf tournaments as well as a short stay at a less important gig at HUD prior to being trusted with those federal billions in New York and New Jersey.

Not defined by M-W, there’s also petty cronyism: one’s ex-bodyguard landing a plum consulting job advising the Republican National Committee on its 2020 convention. We can consider this petty in that, thus far, the crony has earned only $75,000.

It’s not that cronyism is anything new. President Warren G. Harding had his “Ohio Gang,” which in a spirit of national inclusiveness even had some non-Ohioans among its scoundrels. Wikipedia cites the Teapot Dome Scandal and various Department of Justice malfeasances among their hanky-pankies. Or is that hankies-panky?

Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1865-1923, 29th president of the United States, 1921–1923. Cited at Presidential History Blog, Harding’s father is attributed as saying, “It was a good thing Warren wasn’t a woman or he would always be in a family way.”

Concerning etymology, M-W cites a relatively recent appearance of the word “cronyism,” 1840. By contrast, it dates “crony” to 1646. M-W says the word’s etymology likely traces from the Greek χροηιοσ, chronios, “long lasting,” referring to the “friend of long standing” idea. Chronios, in turn, comes from the Greek χρόνος, chronos, “time,” whence comes “chronograph” as a recorder of the concept.

The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, two volumes, Oxford University Press, 1971.

The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary says crony was “found first after 1660 as vox academics, i.e., a term of university or college slang: an intimate friend or associate, a ‘chum.’ ”

Jonathan Swift, 1667–1745, Anglo-Irish satirist, poet, cleric, and political pamphleteer. Gulliver’s Travels, 1726, was his major work.

Jonathan Swift offered a pithy comment on cronies in his poem, Elegy on Partridge. This particular Partridge was British almanac maker and astrologer John Partridge, about whom Swift satirically predicted an “infallible death” to be revealed on All Fools Day, April 1, 1708. Swift wrote, “Not one of all his crony Stars/To pay their duty at his herse!”

Indeed, a few of today’s cronies have already jumped ship—or were pushed. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018


  1. carmacarcounselor
    April 11, 2018

    Seems I remember a certain FEMA official, Michael D. Brown, long time friend of George W. Bush, whose credentials for running the disaster relief for Hurricane Katrina included such related experience as leading the investigation of abuse of Arabian horses.

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