Christie And The Garden State Packed With Broken Heroes

by , Jan 15, 2014, 1:30 PM
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"Mistakes were clearly made." That’s how New Jersey Governor Chris Christie opened his State of the State address Tuesday, deftly getting right to the heart of the so-called Bridgegate mess that has attracted wall-to-wall coverage lately.

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.

31 comments on "Christie And The Garden State Packed With Broken Heroes".

  1. Hedda Schupak from Hedda Schupak
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 2:05 p.m.
    Still not convinced Christie is a moderate. My gut says he's a wolf in sheep's clothing; or, rather, a teabagger in moderate clothing.
  2. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 2:13 p.m.
    So much back and forth on this subject. I have to think that, had this happened in some Midwestern or Southern state, and was talked and written about this much by their local media, we'd look at them with bemusement and consider them to be such rubes.
  3. Jodi Bornstein from None
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 2:18 p.m.
    Excellent column and I agree that Christie had to have known beforehand. How long till one of the fired underlings tells the real story?
  4. dave alpert from pmd
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 2:22 p.m.
    Barbara - a lot of great stuff in this column! But the most insightful was the phrase "psychological slips." Because yes - there is no other explanation for his need for revenge other than some psychological dysfunction. As you said, he knew he was going to win by a landslide so what difference would one more endorsement make? That was not the issue. The issue is - he is an angry, angry man and that anger will manifest wherever he is. Trenton or Washington, DC. Be afraid America. Be very afraid.
  5. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 2:34 p.m.
    ew Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie is more of a leader than a bully, voters say 54 - 40 percent today, one of his lowest "bully" scores since the Quinnipiac University poll first asked the question June 17, 2010. Gov. Christie gets positive marks on key characteristics: Voters say 51 - 41 percent that he is honest and trustworthy; 74 - 23 percent that he is a strong leader and 55 - 41 percent that he cares about their needs and problems. New Jersey voters approve 55 - 38 percent of the job Gov. Christie is doing, down from his all-time high 74 - 22 percent February 20, 2013. Women approve 55 - 37 percent while men approve 54 - 39 percent. Approval among Democrats drops from 56 - 38 percent last February to a negative 36 - 55 percent today. For now, the public doesn't think this was Christie's call. Some 93 percent of all New Jersey voters have read or heard something about the controversy surrounding the September traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge. Voters in that group say 66 - 22 that the governor did not personally order the traffic jam. Even Democrats say 53 - 32 percent that Christie was not involved. Someone pointed out that diverting those traffic lanes made life hell for commuters in Fort Lee in New Jersey… but made life easier for folks from other parts of New Jersey. Maybe some folks feel the lane diversion wasn't such a bad thing. ANGER IS A TERRIBLE THING IN A POL, BUT AT THIS POINT WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? NOT MUCH TO THE VOTERS OF NEW JERSEY. MAYBE CHRISTIE COULD BE NAMED AMBASSADOR. TO LIBYA...HEARD THE SPOT'S OPEN
  6. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 3:14 p.m.
    and, by the way, Christie has a daughter named "Bridget."
  7. George Parker from Parker Consultants
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 3:40 p.m.
    Barbara... Not to be nasty... But, you did finish with the "Fat man singing" quote... As part of his preparations for his future job as POTUS, didn't he have a "belly-band" operation last year in an effort to be less Taft like? In which case, why does he look bigger than ever. Is this a reflection of his low will power and fortitude? Will he be able to deal with the BIG problems. Unlike the new mayor of NYC, will he be eating pizza with a shovel. Can he get through the turnstiles at the GWB. These are important questions the customers of the Bad-A-Bing social club would like answered. Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker
  8. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 3:55 p.m.
    ha! Well he did have the lap band operation last year, and it looks like he's lost about 40 pounds-- less than one would expect, given that he went into his whole "just got back from the gym, and was getting into the shower" info overload at the press conference.
  9. Tony Nino from PADV Pasadena Advertising
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 4 p.m.
    With all due respect, it is not the seriousness of the situation that is at issue, but the silliness. Respectfully submitted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKHV0LLvhXM Who's the Boss?
  10. Cece Forrester from tbd
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 7:24 p.m.
    I think you think you dismissed the IRS scandal as not being real, but I didn't see on what basis you did so. (Notice I'm not yelling.)
  11. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 7:31 p.m.
    THE IRS scandal was real enough to have the IRS director in dc take the fifth; real enough so Tea Party organizers (picture community organizers if you will) have had the time and expense of audits and have had their speech abridged; and real enough that the phony scandal has produced, I guess, phony reforms to prevent the phony scandal from never happening again
  12. Ruth Thomas from Second helping
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 9:05 p.m.
    you perfectly summed it ...totally agree ..that is all
  13. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 9:32 p.m.
    The money appropriated for the area to bring back visitors to the Sandy struck area was used to promote Christie himself with his family for $2 million more than other creative that didn't include the Christies. It was nauseating to watch the volume of spots. You would have thought the deep pockets of the Kroches was pouring in and now we find it was tax payer money. It's not just Bridgegate, it is what else is found.
  14. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting
    commented on: January 15, 2014 at 10:33 p.m.
    Christie's re-election was a qualified landslide since his opponent was far from formidable.
  15. Dorothea Marcus from Weichert Realtors
    commented on: January 16, 2014 at 1:40 a.m.
    Thanks for the link to the Jimmy Fallon/Springsteen song. Can't wait for Fallon to take over Tonight show. I think the outrage over Bridgegate is because it strikes a nerve: corruption as depicted in American Hustle, with politicians taking bribes, or infidelity scandals, don't affect people the same way as having ordinary citizens being victimized.
  16. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER
    commented on: January 16, 2014 at 8:34 a.m.
    of course the funny thing about "you won't have dick nixon to kick around anymore" is that he made that statement after losing california gubernatorial to pat brown....so there was a lot of kicking still to come....christie's landslide was shocking because new jersey is so overwhelmingly democrat...they haven't had a gop senator since 1978 (clifford case) and only a few times let a governor slip through (usually because the previous dem administration was corrupt or incompetent or both)
  17. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: January 16, 2014 at 10:22 a.m.
    Good point, DM. Really, how malicious is it to cause delays for innocent kids getting to school and people getting to hospitals? Right. They are the children/parents of Barbara Buono voters. Btw, the thing that killed me about the email is that the guy said "I feel badly" rather than "I feel bad."
  18. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER
    commented on: January 16, 2014 at 10:54 a.m.
    Jim Geraghty--bright light from NR writes:How Pop Culture Is Attempting to Rapidly Redefine Chris Christie This week Bruce Springsteen appeared on Jimmy Fallon's show to sing a song mocking "Chris Christie's New Jersey Traffic Jam." John Podhoretz notes Chris Christie is now being redefined in the public's eye through culture, not politics: On Tuesday night, Jimmy Fallon teamed with Bruce Springsteen on an immensely clever "Born to Run" takeoff that will probably have 50 million YouTube hits by the time the 2016 election rolls around. "They shut down the tollbooths of glory 'cause we didn't endorse Chris Christie," Fallon sang, while Springsteen complained he needed to go to the bathroom but couldn't because he was caught up in "Governor Chris Christie's Fort Lee, New Jersey, Traffic Jam." Yes, Springsteen is a leftist, and yes, this is a classic mainstream-media hit on a Republican. But to use a term beloved to Internet marketers, the idea behind the video is "sticky." It will persist . . . Christie and Sarah Palin have very little in common, to put it mildly, but the moment in 2008 that Palin became the gleeful object of belittling late-night satire, she went from being a raw political talent Democrats deeply feared to a comic wellspring from which they drank deeply. The boss notes that Christie shouldn't be that surprised by the betrayal: Memo to Chris Christie: They hate you. If you don't know who "they" are, you haven't been watching the news or reading the papers. Usually, it takes winning the GOP presidential nomination for a Republican media darling to experience such an onslaught of gleefully negative press coverage. John McCain was the straight-talking maverick right up until the moment he effectively clinched the nomination in 2008 — immediately triggering a thinly sourced New York Times report insinuating an affair with a lobbyist. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has gotten his disillusioning out of the way early, if he needed it. An occupational hazard of a certain kind of Republican is wanting to be loved by the wrong people. If the past week hasn't cured Christie of that tendency, nothing will. Had Jon Huntsman ever amounted to any threat to Obama, he would have gotten the same treatment, too. A figure earns the title as "the media's favorite Republican" by 1) validating liberal Democrat arguments and 2) not presenting any real threat to their agenda.
  19. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: January 16, 2014 at 11:04 a.m.
    Tom-- Do you think that if this bridge traffic thing hadn't happened everyone would be gleefully singing snarky things about Chris Christie? This is not a gratuitous media pile on. He brought this on himself. Democrats voted for him!
  20. William Hoelzel from JWB Associates
    commented on: January 16, 2014 at 5:21 p.m.
    "Mistakes were clearly made." What is that supposed to mean -- that Christie wanted them to tie up traffic on a different bridge, but they got it wrong and tied up the GWB? New punchline for the old joke: how can you tell when a politician is lying? When he uses the passive voice!
  21. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER
    commented on: January 16, 2014 at 5:49 p.m.
    He only brought this on himself if he had the idea for the lane closings or approved the lane closings. Then he deserves to have it brought on him. As it was, were it not for the lane closings, we'd still be on bully and fat...waiting for something, anything to come along. Like the financing for "stronger than the storm commercials," let's say. The question: did Christie order the lane closings. Yes or no. Did he approve the lane closings? Yes or no. Leading to hello or goodbye at this point. Paula Jones, National Guard, Reverend Wright...not withstanding.
  22. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER
    commented on: January 17, 2014 at 9:15 a.m.
    Christie did fire people over this. Why is it that in the Obama administration, there are never consequences for any scandal. No one has been fired over Benghazi. No one has been fired over the IRS targeting the president’s critics. No one has been fired over the Obamacare roll out. What does it take to get fired in Obama world? Ultimate responsibility for the IRS scandal lies with the president. He’s the one who, back in 2010, openly declared “We’re gonna punish our enemies, and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.” Someone at the IRS took the president seriously, and decided to use the coercive power of one of the most feared institutions in government to “punish” Obama’s enemies — just like the president asked.
  23. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2013ac.com network
    commented on: January 17, 2014 at 6:31 p.m.
    TM: Not that this will matter to you, but when Obama said "We're gonna punish our enemies, and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us", he was taking about foreign policy and not domestic politics. Big difference, and an oversight that seriously dilutes your position.
  24. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER
    commented on: January 18, 2014 at 9:22 a.m.
    It does matter to me, Mr. Lantz. Matters to me so much that I will tell you (gently) that the speech was not on foreign policy unless you consider immigration and his audience (Latinos) to be a foreign policy group. This was a political speech to a political audience listened to and read by politicos. Now the stretch is taking that clear drawing of a red line to the offices of the Cincinnati tax auditors directed by the woman who took the fifth and then took her pension (taxable).
  25. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER
    commented on: January 19, 2014 at 9:14 a.m.
    Come to think of it, Christie fired Bret Schundler a few years ago for a big screwup managing something or other. Sibelius wouldn't have lasted five minutes after HHS blew the intro of the affordable health care act.
  26. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2013ac.com network
    commented on: January 19, 2014 at 4:58 p.m.
    Yes, life would be a lot easier if those accused of wrong-doing, and their defenders, could simply point at someone else and say, "I should get away with it because they got away with it!" Then everyone could leave the sandbox and go in for milk and cookies and a nap.
  27. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER
    commented on: January 21, 2014 at 11:30 a.m.
    EXCEPT my point was that who should be fired, should be fired. Those who should be investigated and prosecuted should be investigated and prosecuted. One can, in government, stonewall or shit-can. So getting back to Christie, he got rid of Schundler for screwing up and he dump his staffers for the bridge fiasco. And the only question re: Christie is: did he initiate the lane closures? And if not, did he seek to cover up the deeds of people who worked for him? But by the time he runs for President, it will be an issue like the fake "outsourcing" issue was for Romney. I.e. Christie killed someone in New Jersey because he didn't like the Mayor of Fort Lee. I can see the commercial now. As you know foreign outsourcing is something the Obama administration would never condone except for The Affordable Care Act, recently re-named Pelosi-Care
  28. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2013ac.com network
    commented on: January 22, 2014 at 4:41 p.m.
    Tom: Can't you contain this issue to the point, which is Christie, without equating it with someone else? He either knew, and possibly initiated the incident, or he was ignorant of what his closest in command were doing. Either way, his executive skills - especially as an elected official - are shown to be lacking. Comparing that to what others have or haven't done has no bearing on the issue being discussed.
  29. Tom Scharre from The Hunch Fund
    commented on: January 23, 2014 at 6:25 p.m.
    I think Mr. Messner raises some legitimate issues -- and comparing the response/nonresponse to other scandals by other administrations does not strike me as being 'off-point'. I suspect the same folks who ask why are you bringing up the IRS, or Benghazi, or whatever, have been invoking W. as an all-purpose scapegoat. "It's Bush's fault."..."Bush was worse."..."Bush did it, too."...etc. It's been going on for over 5 years now & still seems to have a great deal of "bearing on the issue being discussed."
  30. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER
    commented on: January 24, 2014 at 2:31 p.m.
    SO, Mr. Lantz, if you go back to me previous comment, just delete everything from "but by the time etc." Then it is about the issue being discussed. SO THE AD in 2016 will be HOW MANY PEOPLE DIED FROM THE BRIDGE CLOSINGS? WE'LL NEVER KNOW.
  31. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: January 28, 2014 at 4:57 p.m.
    A late entry, but can anyone explain why Christie's droogies would think that clogging up bridge traffic for four days would reflect badly on the Mayor of Fort Lee? Everyone knows he doesn't control the bridge.

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