Chris Christie and the Curse of Consequentialism

It will be scant consolation to Chris Christie, who probably lost forever any chance of becoming President, but his bi-partisan actions in the wake of Superstorm Sandy provide a perfect example of how a completely ethical and responsible decision can have consequences that cause it to be judged unethical and irresponsible.

Even before Obama won Ohio’s electoral votes, guaranteeing his re-election, analysts were pointing to Christie’s much-photographed stroll with (and hugging of) the President, and the well-timed opportunity it provided to allow Obama to appear both Presidential and willing to co-operate with Republicans, as the tipping point in a close race, breaking Mitt Romney’s momentum and undercutting the argument that only he could “reach across the aisle.” I doubt that Chris and Barack’s New Jersey Adventure was in fact the primary reason Romney lost, but I have no doubt at all that conservatives will blame Christie, among others, for the loss.

They won’t forgive him, either. The narrative will be that just when Obama needed it most, the highly-visible, Romney- endorsing, straight-talking New Jersey Governor threw him a lifeline, praising his leadership and betraying the GOP standard-bearer. Undeniably, this was a gift to Obama’s campaign, but only by happenstance. Working with Obama was Christie’s responsibility and duty to his state, and publicly thanking the President for his assistance was the right thing to do. If Romney had won, nobody would remember it. Because he lost, Christie’s unquestionably ethical act became a “betrayal” and “a mistake.” He officially became a villain to conservatives.

Welcome to the bizarre, illogical and unjust world of consequentialism, Governor. It is a world where moral luck rules over common sense and fairness, and the toxic fallacy that “the end justifies the means” is reinforced by hindsight. We should only  judge the ethical quality of actions by weighing the known factors and considerations that exist at the time those actions are taken, not by taking score after all the results are in, many of which couldn’t have been foreseen and were influenced by random chance.  Consequentialism, however, dictates otherwise, and politics is poisoned with it. As a result, irony rules supreme. Chris Christie took the responsible, courageous, ethical course, and showed by doing so that he is a leader of integrity and skill, as well one worthy of consideration for the highest office in the land. Yet because the Governor’s actions had consequences unrelated to his duties and beyond his control, the same conduct that confirmed his fitness to be President guaranteed that the job will never be his.

Now people are saying that Christie conspired with Sandy to sink the Romney campaign, which is nonsense. He did the right thing. Too many of us, however, can’t get our minds around life’s immutable truth that doing the right thing never guarantees a satisfactory outcome.


Graphic: Real Business

13 thoughts on “Chris Christie and the Curse of Consequentialism

  1. I agree with what you say here.

    Christie could still fit as a Biden-esque VP candidate, with the right Republican nominee. He needs to lose weight, IMO. He simply does not look healthy enough for me to trust him.

    I knew the Republicans would blow their chance to regain the White House if they did not put forward the right woman (yes, a white woman) to run against the black man. But the only Republican woman who seriously sought the nomination was Bachmann, and she clearly wasn’t the right one, nor was Palin. The Republicans defeated themselves by being too conservative in the wrong ways – and now they’re likely to do it again, to the detriment of their top prospects in post-2012 elections.

    I guess I thought too highly of Republicans – silly me, for thinking their party would be ahead of the Democrats in nominating a woman for the top of the ticket. As usual (for now), the Republicans will lag, never out in front, never energizingly audacious. Thus will they lose. (And so will the country, as it squirms ever more alarmingly toward a one-party state.)

    Conservatives can take heart in one fact: their fellow Anne Coulter predicted exactly what happened in the 2012 presidential race, many months ago during the primary debate-a-thon. There’s one I-told-you-so to dangle before Republican party leadership – not some silly, lazy consequentialist bashing of Gov. Christie for standing with President Obama amidst the debris.

  2. I hope Christie doesn’t take too much heat from the Republicans and I hope he can be a symbol of Republican leadership that can work with Obama for the welfare of the nation. Senators and Congressmen should take a note from Christie to show that they can be leaders too, that they can be respectable government officials who focus on and get the job done. They won’t be able to point fingers at Obama come mid-term elections. Obama doesn’t have a re-election agenda anymore. They need to shine with Obama, or it could get very bad for the right.

    (Of course, if Obama doesn’t show leadership and ask for their help, if he doesn’t set forth the agenda of the nation, perhaps they can skate on by as they have in the past.)

  3. Say what you want, Christie’s adoration and fawning over Obama was not necessary. Obama did what he was supposed to do and Christie thanked him. That’s what he was supposed to do. Christie acted like a school child who’d just tasted candy for the first time and “yum-yummed” about it as long as the candy lasted. As far as putting the right woman at the top of the ticket just because she’s a woman makes about as much sense as putting a black man at the top of the ticket, such because he’s a black man. Good grief! Obviously qualifications, background, experience and integrity don’t matter anymore. I, for one, will try to take care of myself physically and emotionally, balance my budget and be as responsible as I can until my funds are depleted. Then I’ll stand in line with my hands out, like the rest of the country will be doing.

    • Good grief! Qualifications, background, experience and integrity have long mattered less than other characteristics (like race, gender or appearance) in their impact on voters’ attraction to candidates. I’m sensitive to someone else seeming to be attempting to out-Eeyore me. I’m not going to stand in line with my hand out. I’m going to LOOT, with vigorous and ruthless force, like the rest of the country.

  4. Yet because the Governor’s actions had consequences unrelated to his duties and beyond his control, the same conduct that confirmed his fitness to be President guaranteed that the job will never be his.

    I don’t think he ever had a real chance of becoming President; he’s just not right-wing enough to win the Republican nomination, and he has a habit of speaking his mind frankly, which is a problem regardless of party.

    However, by showing that his priorities are right – New Jersey first, party second — I think Christie has significantly increased his chances of being re-elected as governor of New Jersey. So in that way, merit does have a reward.

  5. If you think that Christie’s comments had anything OTHER than increasing his chances of being re-elected governor of NJ, and anything other than what was good for Chris Christie, I’d like to sell you some very expensive beachfront property on the Jersey shore.

    • I disagree. I think that Christie is too smart a politician to be unaware of electoral consequences, but I also think he was sincerely distraught about the harm Sandy did, and thankful for Obama’s help. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

      • If he was so smart, he also would have been well aware of the consequences of his actions upon the reelection chances of Obama. It’s possible to be thankful, and recognize the appropriate role of the President, of a President, of ANY President under these circumstances. Without some qualifying phrase, or some recognition that reaffirmed his active and vocal support of the man who asked him to give the keynote speech at Romney’s nomination, we have the obvious implications: that Obama is the one to support. I think the voters read it this way, even if you and Jack didn’t. As a “smart” politician, he was also setting himself up for potential cabinet position, or some other spoils of a possible Obama victory, a classic move that has been used for centuries.

        • No, I think that’s a bridge way too far. He’s smart, but he has integrity. Christy’s #1 duty is to his state, and he had to do exactly what he did, regardless of whether it hurt Romney—especially since it shouldn’t have. Compromise one’s official duties to avoid giving trivial-minded idiots a reason to vote for Obama? Ridiculous. He may have considered it, but rightly ignored it. In law, this is called zealously representing your client, and if the guilty client you zealously represent gets acquitted because the jury is dumb and the prosecutor screwed up, you can’t doubt your values when the guy robs a bank and kills two grandmothers.

          No way he was seeking or expecting any payback from the President. Boy, you really are suspicious.

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