Living for the attaboy

David Simon is a successful screenwriter of political dramas and in a blog post he writes what I too have felt all along, that even under the remote chance that New Jersey governor Chris Christie did not explicitly and personally order the closing of the lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September, thus massively tying up traffic for four days right at the beginning of the school year, now that we know that its was deliberately ordered by his close political aides as an act of retribution for whatever reason, the nature of the political relationships within the coterie of people close to major political figures strongly suggests that Christie would have been informed immediately afterwards, thus making a lie of his claim that he did not know anything about this until the story of the emails broke on Wednesday.

Simon says:

He knew.

We can say this now with certainty if we ask ourselves one basic question about human nature: What good does it do a political operative to screw over the opposition if you can’t then tell your boss about it? Where is the joy for any lickspittle hack in the office hierarchy if he or she can’t pull off a dirty trick against a political adversary, then walk down the hall and tell the boss just how well you did on his behalf? What would be the point?

If Mr. Christie didn’t order this mayhem himself, then he knew because the aides who achieved this carnage on his behalf were so successful in doing so that they could not have possibly held their silence. Not over the course of four long days of maintaining the traffic snarl in Fort Lee. All of us who have worked in an office, who have experienced institutional hierarchy, who have seen the wages of unthinking loyalty to the boss — we know this much. The same kind of people who would embark on such an action would not be able to do anything but run right down the hall to tell the governor how they had delivered pain to his political enemy. They would then wait on their attaboy. People of that ilk live for the attaboy. Like cats with a fresh-caught mouse, they were bringing home a prize. And there’s no joy for any housecat if the prize can’t be displayed to the master of the house.

I think Simon is absolutely right in his reading of human nature of the kind of ambitious aides who strive to rise by doing favors for their bosses. This is exactly how they behave.

This story has also revealed the increasing tendency of public figures to use private email accounts even for official business in order to circumvent the public records laws and thus keep their official communications private. For example, a lot of interest has focused on the identity of the person who emailed that he/she was ‘smiling’ at the thought of the chaos caused by the traffic jams. The person’s name was redacted because it is suspected that the email was from a private account.

It is part of the belief that we private individuals should have no expectation of privacy from the government but that the workings of government should be completely opaque to us, which is the complete reversal of how things should be.


  1. Dean Gilbert says

    This is why I completely subscribe to the idea of radical transparency as suggested by David Brin in many posts and writings.

  2. Matt G says

    I have read a handful of apologists complaining that this is just about a trumped up “traffic jam”. When you dig just a hair’s breadth below the surface, you see all of what this involves: vindictiveness, abuse of power, a callous disregard for the welfare of others (including children), smearing of the people who were doing the right thing (namely Foye, a Democrat appointed to the Port Authority), obstruction of justice, not to mention dishonesty at every step along the way. I’m sure this list could be greatly expanded. These people are suppose to be public servants, but it appears serving the public is the furthest thing from their minds. Many of these people are overpaid cronies of Christie. As the saying goes, a Republicans campaign on the theme that government doesn’t work, and then spend four years proving it. Unfortunately, this sort of stunt is right out of the Republican playbook. Remember the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth? Disgraceful.

  3. machintelligence says

    From one of the comments on the Gawker article: “I bet NSA knows!”
    Also keep in mind that one “Oh Shit!” cancels a ton of attaboys.

  4. Al Dente says

    I agree with David Simon and Mano, there’s no way Christie’s assistant chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, wouldn’t tell the boss about what she had done. Christie, who enjoys bullying people, would have patted her on the head for screwing over a mayor who didn’t endorse him. All the people stuck in traffic jams were just collateral damage.

  5. Al Dente says

    Rachel Maddow has an alternative to the retaliation against Ft. Lee’s mayor. She argues that both the governor and the mayor didn’t see the endorsement as a big deal. What was a big deal was the Democrat-controlled state senate refusing to approve Christie’s appointments to the state supreme court. The president of the New Jersey Senate happens to be the state senator from Ft. Lee.

    Regardless, I find it difficult to believe that the governor didn’t know what members of his staff were doing. Especially when the New York co-chair of the Port Authority made an appeal to Christie personally to “fix the problem.” All Christie had to do was tell Wildstein to fix the problem and the problem would be fixed. Instead the problem continued for four days because Christie didn’t talk to his people at the Port Authority. Why didn’t Christie talk to Wildstein? I’d be willing to bet large amounts of money that Christie wanted the problem to continue.

    Christie said at his press conference that he specifically didn’t talk to Kelly to ask her why she’d sent the email to Wildstein. My guess is that Christie didn’t need to talk to Kelly, he already knew why she sent the email and that the email had his pre-approval.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *