Thursday, January 16, 2014

Chris Christie and the George Washington Bridge

The current saga in New Jersey politics continues to drawn national attention, and may well be there for many months ahead. Heads are shaking, but how they are shaking at the moment seems more tied to one’s political leanings. Many Republicans are standing to the side quietly while a good number of others are saying it is much to do about nothing and that what a large number of Democrats see abuse of power is not so and there is not need for the matter investigated fully.


Those who claim that it is much to do about nothing remind me of those who rallied around Nixon saying that Watergate was not a big deal. If there is wonton abuse of power for political payback by any elected official or those associated with that official, the light needs to be put on it.  Questions must be raised and wrong doing rooted out if the citizens of the nation are to have trust in their political leaders. Therefore, yes an investigation needs to take place. Christie should understand this full well for as the US AG for NJ he took on vigorously high profile corruption cases of elected officials. While I hope it is aggressive I hope that it is balanced.


Since meeting him two and half years ago I've follow Chris Christie with some interest. He is charismatic, a confronter and speaks his mind. While clearly he is pompous and egoistical, those are common characteristics of those who run for the higher offices in the nation. They have triple doses of self-confidence, pride and narcissism. They are quick to talk about themselves, slow to give credit to others as well as slow to accept blame. The question is the degree to which their egos get the better of them.

If bridge closure is an isolated matter, there will be no other stories about abuse of power. If on the other hand political payback be punishing the citizens of a community has happened, they will likely now come to the surface and have legs.


A significant part of running for and being in a high office is a strong measure of image projection. It is not uncommon to project one image when something else may well be the reality. Christie has projected himself as a man in control of his team, and the one who makes decisive clear decisions and that he is well aware of everything that each member of his inner team is doing and that there is little that they do without him being involved. Is that image with little content? In the coming weeks and months we will see if the image was a front with little behind it or if he is truly aware of everything and his team merely carries out his stated or implied wishes.  Out of keeping with the image he has projected, his press conference seems to suggest otherwise. 


What bothers me the most is the grounds of Christie's rage and disappointment in various members of his team. It seems that much of his anger is more rooted to his team lying to him than in the wrongness of creating the traffic nightmare. Yes, one should be angry about being lied to, but the greater rage should be over the act of shutting down the bridge as a way of sending a political message.

There was an apology to those harmed, but the apology seems to be a secondary issue to him, a minor matter worthy of a quick word to be given and then move one. Lack of rage over the closure also undermines his apology. Christie had an opportune moment to identify with the average citizen, to be the people's governor, to cry out on behalf the people their and his anger over the bridge closure. Instead he focused upon his own pain over being lied to. No great anger on behalf of the people and a subsequent apology to the people who were harmed was given, and that he doesn't seem to understand this is most bothersome.

Let's put this into perspective of a similar event during his governorship. When a scheduling issue created hours and hours of delays on a Sunday at another NJ bridge two and half years ago, Christie’s office pressed the officials to travel to various venues to apologize to the affected communities. One wonders what the inconsistency signifies. Does the silence not speak to how the matter is being emotionally viewed and understood by Governor Christie? I think it does.

While he says he wants to get to the bottom of the matter, if his apology and rage is setting the baseline, I fear that what he may well do is to carefully select a handful of people to investigate the matter for him. They may not be independent as portrayed, or be have probative depth which would result in a highly flawed report that portrays Christie as the victim and written in manner that helps give him cover and move towards his ultimate goal, the White House.


We need Governors and Presidents who get more angry over abuse of power, and injustices against the average citizen more than personal insults felt by him/her as the result of the real or imagined actions of others, including her/his team. We need leaders who feel and speak our disappointment and rage because it is theirs too.


For many years Christie has portrayed himself as a straight-shooter, a politician who feels the fears, joys, concerns, loves and desires of the average citizen. He has done a good job of giving this impression. I fear the bridge story and how he has handled it indicates that that image is not accurate. Instead I fear he has created an atmosphere in his administration where closing down those lanes and intimidation is acceptable practice. The hardball political payback and bullying, old fashioned politics are more the reality. He is evidencing what I came to revolt about Nixon, a crafted fa├žade masking a questionable character. And if so, this is not a man we need in the White House or as a Governor, or even a Senator or Congressman.