OK, so New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may be a bully with a taste for revenge. Still, yelling at people and having a staff that inflicts traffic jams on political opponents is small potatoes. To earn a place in the hall of fame of mean-spirited, vengeful politicians, Christie will need to up his game to match these title-holders.
1. John Adams. Thanks to David McCullough's revisionist biography, the second U.S. president has gotten a makeover. That's a feat: Adams was famous for his pettiness, paranoia and pomposity. As vice president, he often paraded around with a sword at his waist; his detractors, poking fun at his significant girth, called him “His Rotundity.” As president and nominal leader of the Federalist Party, he proved remarkably thin-skinned, bridling at political attacks in opposition newspapers.
His wife plotted revenge, calling for legislation “enabling the President to seize suspisious (sic) persons, and their papers.” The nation's first power couple got their wish with the “Alien and Sedition Acts.”
“Let the vipers cease to hiss,” Abigail Adams declared. Her husband and his political allies used the legislation to prosecute political enemies, shut hostile newspapers and deport or imprison foreign-born political detractors.
Adams may not have directed these prosecutions, but he happily endorsed them, no matter how petty. When a congressman from Vermont named Matthew Lyon ridiculed the president's “unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp,” a Federalist judge handed down a four-month sentence in prison. A mass movement to pardon Lyon failed to move Adams, who replied that “penitence must precede pardon.”
2. Bobby Kennedy. In martyrdom, RFK has deservedly acquired a halo, and he certainly could be generous, idealistic and magnanimous. But he also relished intimidating people and enjoyed a fight.
His reputation for fierceness was such that he once joked: “People say I am ruthless. I am not ruthless. And if I find the man who is calling me ruthless, I shall destroy him.”