I’m not much of a gambler, but I recently went to the casino and played blackjack. The dealer had a six showing, and as I thought of my next move, a seasoned player could tell I was a rookie. He turned to me and said, “Always stay when the dealer has a 6. Sometimes you have to win with your hand, and other times you have to win with the dealer’s hand.”
The six is known as a “bust” card. The logic behind this is that when the dealer shows a 6, you always “stay” and let the dealer’s cards play out. More often than not, they will bust.
Things are calming down in Ferguson, Mo., following the death of Michael Brown. The pundits and politicos will dissect the saga. As the 2014 midterms come to an end (kicking off the 2016 cycle) nobody will be more critiqued than Gov. Jay Nixon.
From the start of the Ferguson riots, political critics accused Nixon of being “AWOL” or “MIA.” They issued political demands and ultimatums on national television. If you know Nixon, then you could predict he would react to those demands with his signature style: Jay’s way.
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This style has driven impatient, over-demanding, St. Louis Democratic politicians and Missouri Republicans crazy since the early 1990s.
Nixon has a long, dysfunctional history with many political leaders in St. Louis. It seems they never learn that you can’t push him with political ultimatums and threats.
The governor was not perfect in the Ferguson saga. He probably took longer than he should have to arrive in St. Louis.
But the truth is there was no political “winning” for Nixon with the cards dealt to him. Ferguson police continue to be a textbook public relations disaster. Most of the St. Louis politicians on national television issuing demands are rarely (if ever) pleased. Trust me, they hold onto grudges longer than my Greek grandmother.
Add to all that, the national media was on a feeding frenzy. You had looters from other cities mixed together with hundreds of angry, young protesters taking to the streets with zero allegiance to any St. Louis political faction or organization. These were not winning cards.
Jay Nixon didn’t miss his moment. He is a calculated, behind-the-scenes kind of leader. In the midst of a nationally televised criminal investigation and legal case, he was the only player at the table who has argued before the Supreme Court. He’s been elected statewide in Missouri since 1992.
He is the only politician in Missouri’s swing state history to win the governor’s office by close to 20 points.
Nixon knows his cards. He knew there was no victory in playing to the 24-hour news pundits. He knew hashing out St. Louis political demands on national television is no way to lead. He knew there is the possibility that no matter how unpopular, the officer may have acted in self-defense. He also knew no decision by him or any other politician (no matter how good it sounds) could fully heal the wounds both sides of this ugly Ferguson nightmare are feeling.
Instead of playing the quick hand, Nixon chose to play the smarter, and less attractive, neutral hand. It was Nixon’s political moment to choose in front of the world, and he boldly “stayed,” letting the Ferguson situation play itself out. Sometimes that’s the only way you win.
Chris Moreno, director of recruiting and development for an exterior restoration contractor, is a political adviser who previously worked for Gov. Jay Nixon and the Democratic Party.