Last fall over dinner in NYC, a friend asked what I thought of Chris Christie for 2016. I told her that I didn’t think he had the temperament for the White House, because he was, essentially, a bully.
“But during Hurricane Sandy, he seemed like such a leader,” my friend argued.
I agreed. But one performance during a natural disaster doesn’t compensate for a political lifetime.
“But maybe we need a bully in office,” this friend argued. “Bullies get things done.”
I disagreed — because while bullies might “get things done,” they do so at a very high cost.
I’m being reminded of this conversation pretty much daily at the moment as I get emails and blog post responses from Malloy supporters wondering why I, as a “progressive” (with the quotation marks my credentials are even being attacked), would act as a “spoiler,” “kneecapping” a Malloy win by criticizing him, or by even the mere contemplation of support for a third-party candidate with views closer to my own.
The people who write this stuff act as if their newly rebranded candidate “Dan Malloy” is some kind of apolitical unicorn who’s been frolicking around in a fairytale forest for the last four years rather than a sitting governor making political decisions that might have potential electoral consequences. As if he isn’t the same Dannel Malloy who won the 2010 gubernatorial race by the smallest margin in Nutmeg State history (around 6,400 votes) and who owed all of that margin and more to the 26,000 votes he received on the Working Families Party line.
I should know, because one of those votes was mine. Although I was still a registered Democrat back in 2010, I voted for Malloy on the WFP line to express my serious dissatisfaction with him as a candidate, and to ensure that if he won, he knew that owed his victory to that endorsement.
This goes back to the discussion I had with my friend about Christie, about bullies and leadership. Bullies might “get things done” in the short term, thus giving an illusion of leadership and accomplishment, but at what long-term cost?
I recently finished GIVE AND TAKE: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant, the youngest full professor and single highest-rated teacher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. It’s a book that I plan to suggest for our next town read, because it challenges the “Greed is good, I built that” zeitgeist so beloved by Republicans and, sadly, many Democrats.
As Grant observes, “In purely zero-sum situations and win-lose interactions, giving rarely pays off . . . but most of life isn’t zero-sum, and on balance, people who choose giving as their primary reciprocity style end up reaping rewards.”
An election is a win-lose, zero-sum situation. Governing, once one has won the election, however, is not.
As Grant explains, the problem with “takers” — those whose motives are self-serving — is that “they may rise by kissing up, but they often fall by kicking down . . . Research shows that as people gain power, they feel large and in charge: less constrained and freer to express their natural tendencies. As takers gain power, they pay less attention to how they’re perceived by those below and next to them; they feel they’re entitled to pursue self-serving goals and claim as much value as they can. Over time, treating peers and subordinates poorly jeopardizes their relationships and reputations.”
It wasn’t long after that NYC dinner with friends that Chris Christie’s Bridgegate exploded in the headlines.
As the Democrats go to their convention, presumably to re-nominate Malloy as their candidate for governor, they should consider this: at a time where money dominates politics, the one thing citizens have left to us to attempt to level the playing field — in the fact only thing — is our vote. If the candidates from the two major parties are a choice between the devil you know, and the devil you know enough about to not want to vote for (the need to reform Connecticut’s closed primary system to break the two party stranglehold is the topic for another column), then choosing to vote for a third party isn’t being “spoiler.” It’s called exercising one’s constitutional right to vote. If Connecticut Democrats are so worried about losing, perhaps they should think about nominating a more electable candidate.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.