The Revealing Lifecycles of Politicians
Watching politics is sometimes like watching the kings and would-be kings in Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies—on the throne, on the way to the throne, looking behind them, scheming and warding off rivals or overcoming them. These past few days we’ve had a chance to see the human, unbending, self-repeating political process unfold right in front of us. In Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe was formally anointed, if you will, as governor amid the usual ruffles and flourishes and speeches, congratulations and plans brewing in the background, his political future ahead of him, unblemished as yet by scandals or defeat.
In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie, a Republican with very big and real presidential ambitions, only recently re-elected in a landslide, found himself mired in a scandal apparently sparked by misdeeds by some of his top aides, the kind of thing that, from a distance looks both arrogant and stupid, but threatens his plans for higher office. The Christie presidential bandwagon has hit a pothole, or, better yet, is stuck in traffic.
In Washington, Mayor Vincent Gray made it official with his re-election kickoff event in front of mostly supporters, an event markedly different from that of his first campaign. These days the mayor remains burdened by the investigative cloud hanging over his 2010 campaign. Four of his campaign aides have been convicted of felonies in connection with the scandal. It is a difficult and ironic time for Gray, and for the city, for that matter, as he embarks on a campaign which seems to be based on putting the past behind him at a time when neither his opponents—of which there are many—or the media, or even the Attorney General may allow him to do that. While he may want to put the past behind him and run on his record and the future, many D.C. residents want to know what happened in 2010.
Both Gray and Christie once stood where McAuliffe stood for the first time Saturday — triumphant, with the campaign behind them, an era of duty and achievement ahead of them, a moment that all elected officials can enjoy, with no guarantees of what the future will bring.
Almost immediately after his inauguration, Gray became entangled in reports of the possibly illegal doings of his campaign heads and of a shadow campaign run by businessman Jeffrey Thompson which allegedly helped finance the Gray campaign. That shadow has dogged Gray until this day. President Obama, after a convincing re-election win and a promising inauguration, has been hit by a scandals, including the NSA wiretap revelations, the horrible rollout of the Obamacare website and the Republican-led shutdown of the federal government.
Christie’s bridge scandal has as yet not been linked directly to him, but it brought up anew Christie’s alleged reputation for the use of the bully pulpit with the accent on bully. In the aftermath, Christie has shown a side he’s displayed before—the victim side, the land populated by ME, as if the damage of huge traffic jams was merely a nuisance that got in the way of the more serious blows of his betrayal by friends. He apologized, and then apologized some more to the Democratic mayor of Ft. Lee, who was apparently being punished by Christie staff for not endorsing him in his re-election bid. Gray, too, has apologized, but in a way that appears not to have satisfied the media, toward whom he’s getting edgy, not always a smart thing to do. The media has been frustrated by a lack of answers on what Gray knew about the misdeeds in his 2010 campaign, and Gray is frustrated and apparently angered by the repeated questions from the media about them. But in an ethically challenged political atmosphere, it’s bound to happen again and again. The media will ask, his opponents will insinuate and make an issue of it. Perhaps nothing more will happen. But apologies, of course, don’t answer questions so he can look forward to a rough campaign.
That too is part of a politician’s life. McAuliffe got a taste of it during a generally combative election campaign against Ken Cuccinelli, the naturally abrasive Virginia Tea Party darling. McAuliffe gave as bad as he got and he won, but being governor—just ask Bob McDonnell—is part living in the mansion, part living in the media bubble.
You look at McAuliffe now, and it’s a refreshing sight, the face of a happy man, reaching across the aisle, eager to DO something. The future looks bright, tomorrow, tomorrow. It’s the face of Bill Clinton who, with Hilary Clinton, was in the audience in Richmond. It’s the face of Marion Barry, who was once called Mayor for Life. The recent contretemps between Gray and members of the press have a familiar feel to them, too and the mess in Jersey has its fathers and grandfathers in every state and city of the union.
In politics, sometimes it’s not just how elected kings feel and former elected kings feel. Sometimes it’s more like “the thrill of victory, followed by the agony of real life, the media and scandal.”