Imagine you have an important choice to make with two possible outcomes: one desirable and one undesirable. If you choose one alternative, there is a 30 percent chance of achieving the desirable outcome. If you choose the other, there is an 80 percent chance of achieving the desirable outcome. This is not a trick. Of course you would choose the option that gives you the 80 percent chance of achieving your goals.
This extremely general thought experiment is not unlike the choice facing Chris Dodd as he decides whether to run for reelection to the U.S. Senate next year. But he nonetheless seems intent on choosing the option that yields a 30 percent chance of success. It doesn’t take an applied mathematics major to realize that he should reconsider.
For this thought experiment to make any sense, the terms must be defined in context. Where are these percentages coming from? What is a “desirable outcome”? For those new to Yale, or the particularly apathetic, who is Chris Dodd? Is there really an applied mathematics major at Yale? Once these questions are answered, Sen. Dodd’s decision should be as obvious as the thought experiment.
Yes, there is an applied mathematics major at Yale. Moving on to the more relevant questions, Chris Dodd is Connecticut’s senior senator. He ran for president in 2008 (well, 2007, really, as he lost to “Uncommitted” in the Iowa caucuses on January 3, 2008, and dropped out that night). He is (as far as we can tell) running for re-election in November 2010.
I am a Democrat. I want the winner of the 2010 election to be a Democrat (for me, this is a “desirable outcome”). I want the senator we elect to promote Barack Obama’s agenda to rebuild the economy, reform health care, revamp our immigration system, combat climate change, and so on. These causes are greater than any one individual, and as long as the Democrat we elect is intelligent and capable, I don’t mind who it is.
Here is the bad news for Chris Dodd: If he runs, he is likely to lose. (My completely intuitive political judgment approximates his chances of winning at about 30 percent.) A recent Quinnipiac poll shows him losing by 9 percentage points to former Republican Rep. Rob Simmons. This is a terrible position for an incumbent.
Now, I really don’t blame Dodd; as the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee during the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. All the criticism he has received as a result of his supposed special treatment by Countrywide on the rates of his mortgage seems to me to be unfair, but it couldn’t look much worse. I like Chris Dodd. I think he has been a good senator and would continue to be a good senator if he were to be re-elected. If he does run, I will do what I can to help his campaign. But at this point, re-election seems unlikely.
If Chris Dodd doesn’t run, that opens the door for very popular Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73. Blumenthal would never challenge Dodd in a primary (nor should he, for an intra-party squabble between two of the most prominent Democrats in the state would do more harm than good), but the reality is that if Dodd doesn’t run and Blumenthal does, the “desirable outcome” of a Democratic senator is much more likely to be achieved (this is where my 80 percent number comes from).
And while Dodd has been a great senator, Blumenthal would by no means be a step down. He lacks Dodd’s experience in financial policy, but he is capable of serving as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow (although a lack of seniority would prevent him from doing so) and has long been an advocate for civil liberties and environmental protection, among other issues. He would be a reliable Democratic vote on all the crucial issues. Most importantly, he could easily beat Rob Simmons.
I have every reason to assume that Sen. Dodd wants what is best for the country and would decide not to run if he believed that another Democrat had a better chance of winning. The numbers indicate that this is indeed the case, but in light of his quixotic presidential campaign, during which he moved to Iowa when everyone could see he had no chance of winning, I worry that he doesn’t realize the trouble he is in.
One way or another, Chris Dodd needs to see that the desirable outcome of a Democratic senator is much more likely to be achieved if the candidate is Richard Blumenthal.
Matthew Ellison is a senior in Branford College.