Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Speaking of Revenge

“Don’t get mad, get even” is a political maxim handed down over generations. Governor Chris Christie and the Bridgegate scandal suggest a slightly amended maxim – “Don’t get mad, get even – and don’t get caught.”


Forced by the sensibilities of our day to deny any credit for the massive, multi-day traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, Christie now faces investigations to find out whether he was really the mastermind behind the plot to get even with the non-compliant mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey.

As pundits yack about whether the episode/scandal will damage Christie’s presidential aspirations, the New York Times pondered about the rewards of revenge.

The essence of the Times assessment is that revenge-seekers feel temporary satisfaction, but often face long-term humiliation, sometimes endured in a penal institution. (Think of Vice President Dick Cheney top aide Scooter Libby, who outed a CIA operative to “punish” her husband, a critical former U.S. ambassador, then wound up in prison until he was pardoned by President George W. Bush.)

The Times notes revenge-seeking isn’t reserved to politics. Businessmen indulge in the same blood sport, often with whistleblowers or union activists as their targets.


Getting even is familiar enough that it serves as the plot trigger for the popular HBO series House of Cards. Spurned for a coveted Cabinet appointment in a new presidential administration. Congressman Frank Underwood unleashes a twisted scheme to embarrass the people he hails as friends.

Game theorists interviewed by the Times suggest that the lynchpin of revenge is spinning a web that is only visible to the target. One expert called it “observable, but not verifiable” retaliation.

This has the same quality of logic as someone planning the perfect murder. You not only have to outthink the cops, but elude being captured by a security camera, caught via an email or found out by a DNA test. And that doesn’t include bloggers and random people taking totally random pictures on their iPhones.

Getting caught is a lot more likely that not getting caught, which makes revenge-taking a questionable strategy. At a minimum, it would appear to take a lot more energy and forethought than just moving on.

No one may have cared – and some may have even admired – if Christie would have stopped meeting or taking phone calls from the politically recalcitrant Fort Lee mayor, which apparently is what Christie and his staff did do. That would have put the heat on the mayor without obviously injuring anyone else, at least directly. Pundits and critics would have called that simple political payback. No fuss. No media frenzy. No criminal investigations. No damaged presidential campaign fender.

So who dreamed up the traffic jam and who concluded it was a great idea? More important, how could something like this unfold without the knowledge of the man in charge of all fingered perpetrators so far? Is this plot too unimaginable for the Desperate Politicians of New Jersey?

Reputation has it Christie runs a tight ship. Apparently there are some big holes in the ship or else Christie is that 1 in a million who can get even and not get caught. At least not yet.

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