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