Chris Christie has in the past famously criticized Snooki and the other stars of “Jersey Shore” for reflecting badly on the state. But who’d have thought that lane closures on a bridge could become such an object of national fascination that an assemblyman from Sayreville, N.J. could precede Robert Gates as a guest on “Face The Nation”?
For all of those yelling overkill, and countering with Benghazi and the IRS scandal, I submit that those are false equivalencies and that it’s not the fault of the “liberal media.”
Christie himself is such a complicated, indefatigable, yet plain-spoken figure (and a smart, mean, lively talker) that he’s irresistible to cover. And in holding a two-hour press conference last week, he let flow a torrent of words that can be analyzed forever. That day, he outlasted -- and yes, was stronger than -- the press.
Indeed, now we have allegations that Christie hogged the “Stronger than the Storm” commercials illegally while he was campaigning. I thought those spots were actually effective, although I wondered how the media budget seemed to rival GEICO’s.
Yup, Bridgegate is the gift that keeps on giving -- a combination of a Verdi opera, “The Sopranos,” “Boardwalk Empire,” and “All the President’s Men.”
Of course, tales of corruption are timeless, and speak to the darker side in all of us. That’s probably why many of this season’s successful movies -- “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “American Hustle,” to name two -- cover similar territory, focusing on those acting illegally in pursuit of the American dream. (And if Jeremy Renner, who plays a baby-faced, pompadour-ed mayor of Camden in “American Hustle,” had managed to capture Chris Christie’s slightly Philly-inflected Jersey accent, he would have made for a much more authentic-sounding movie.)
But back to yesterday’s speech. Christie’s opening line reminded me of a mash-up of two of President Nixon’s most famous phrases in response to scandals in his administration: the ever-passive voiced “mistakes were made” (used by many politicians since) and “Let me make this perfectly clear..."
Unlike Nixon, Christie might just stonewall himself out of this mess, on a “last chance power drive.” (No column about a New Jersey politician can be complete without at least one quote from Bruce Springsteen. Here’s Jimmy Fallon’s hilarious take on Bridgegate, including an appearance by Bruce himself.)
Indeed, despite all the damaging coverage, Christie is still seen as a leader and presidential frontrunner because he is one of the few moderate Republicans around. He was reelected in a landslide in an otherwise blue state. In so doing, he appealed to women, Hispanics, and even some Democrats.
That’s why this whole lane closure payback bitch-slap thing seems so bizarrely petty and unnecessary. Christie won by a margin of 60%. But history pivots on just such odd little psychological slips. Nixon, too, was reelected in a landslide, but was so paranoid during the campaign that he approved the Watergate move. That’s how a “third-rate burglary” escalated to a Presidential resignation.
Outwardly, Nixon’s and Christie’s styles couldn’t be more different. But as the governor rambled on during his two-hour “I am not a bully!” pulpit, he took on the same self-pitying, victimized tone that Nixon was known for from his Checkers speech, on through “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”
Christie’s talk was so much about his own sad, hurt self that when the governor mentioned his wife, Mary Pat, I half-expected him to say that she wore a good Republican cloth coat. (In all the coverage, no one has mentioned his self-serving speech at the Republican convention, in which his mistake was that he took the time to pat himself on the back and barely mentioned Romney. It was a big failure. )
Now, to be um, perfectly clear, I will come right out and say that I think Christie knew about the plan beforehand. It boggles the mind that traffic on the busiest corridor between New Jersey and New York City could have been bottled up for four full days without the governor being aware of what, or why, that was happening. But he might not have put anything in writing or left any other tracks, so he’d have plausible deniability.
Certainly, his defenders say he is now being accountable and firing those responsible -- more than Obama has done for any of his administration’s mistakes.
But it also strains credulity to think that the aptly named Bridget Kelly, whom Christie fired without questioning, “blindsided” him, as the New York Post put it. It’s clear from her email that she was giving the go-ahead to a scheme that had already been discussed and orchestrated. It’s a case of the banality of following orders, and the big guy sets the tone.
Also, if the mission worked so well, screwing up traffic as royally as intended (and Port Authority cops were instructed to tell outraged commuters to “call the mayor” of Fort Lee), wouldn’t someone have wanted to gloat with the big Boss about how well it was working?
Kelly reported to the chief of staff, who is pending as Christie’s nominee to be attorney general. If he does take the office of attorney general, he will have to investigate himself and the man who appointed him (something that could happen only in my home state).
No one’s going to get an EZ pass here. There’s blood on the tracks (sorry), but at the same time, Christie has at least one more act left in him. And I am assiduously not making the joke about the fat man (or lady) singing.