The pre-eminent example of leaders undermined by staffers is called Watergate. It brought down a president. Richard Nixon had no knowledge or role in the decision to break in to the Democratic Party headquarters in Washington.
The whiplash in the wake of this event which was a mishmash of lies and cover-ups that he tacitly endorsed put a lot of people in jail and the president in a kind of exile in California.
What has happened to Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Chris Christie in New Jersey falls into the category of staff over-reaching and serious stupidity as well. Or so it seems. So far neither incident threatens the two incumbent governors’ status. Better yet there does not seem to be any attempt to cover up and no one seems to be telling punishable lies about the events that are drawing so much press attention.
What has resulted, however, is a kind of diminishment.
A shadow has been cast on the governors’ iconic status.
The stories about the troubles their staffs (who hired these people anyway?) have caused have appeared on the front page of the New York Times and the questions about what happened and why and when are evidently going to be brought up whenever and wherever they appear to talk about the things they would prefer to talk about.
We are not talking about impeachable offenses here. More like nagging annoyances.
Governor Walker wants to talk about what he has done to create jobs and to cut taxes. He doesn’t mention, because he doesn’t have to mention, what he did to slay the public employee union dragons even though that is what has made him famous beyond the borders of his home state.
What he doesn’t want to talk about is how close the actions of his close-in staff came to the behavior that became a scandal that put legislative leaders in jail and out of public office forever not so very long ago. It became known as The Caucus Scandal.
John Dean said he told the president that there was a cancer on the presidency. There is more like a wart on the Walker governorship. Not fatal. But it does show.
The side effect that is immediate is how this blemish plays out in the campaigns of the governor and his likely opponent in 2014.
The e-mails were released almost simultaneously with the kind of pervasive ad hominem ads that are so popular with the campaign advisors. The ads which were paid for by undisclosed donors and attacked Mary Burke for multiple sins and shortcomings.
The suggestion that the attacker should clean up his own house first is bound to come to mind.
The governor’s immediate reaction has been to clam up. This merely whets the appetite for information and expands the suspicion of nefariousness as the Nixon administration learned to its sorrow some 40 years ago.
A more recent example of a failure of this “This too shall pass” response was the scandal that engulfed the legislative leaders in the early part of this century. It didn’t go away. One legislative leader went to jail another went into political limbo.
How this will play into the campaign of 2014 depends on the interaction of a lot of people in a lot of places and how they deal with their problems and opportunities.
Only two things seem to be certain. 1.) There will not be an indictment. 2.) The questions that the emails evoke will not go away.
Office: Common Cause Wisconsin
Issues: More Democracy Reforms