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Bridgegate: What Kind of Political Culture Has Christie Created?

Marc Jampole
January 10, 2014
by Marc Jampole george-washington-bridge copyWe should give New Jersey Governor Chris Christie the benefit of the doubt and assume that he told the absolute truth: that he did not know members of his staff ordered the closing of a lane leading onto the George Washington Bridge as political retribution; that when he asked about the lane closing, two members of his staff lied to him. In his “mea culpa” news conference, Chris Christies sounded as sincere and honest as a human can appear. But he also spoke with cunning and extreme care. Throughout the news conference, the governor carefully parsed words and redirected questions — all with his refreshing brand of straight-talk — to avoid the topic of whether he practices political retribution. His focus was solely on the sheer stupidity of the action and the fact that people lied to him. He berated himself for creating an organizational culture in which staff members thought they could lie to him. He never addressed his role in creating a culture in which retribution was condoned and encouraged. When asked specifically about retribution against the Ft. Lee mayor, he did not speak about retribution but about the fact that he hardly knew the man. He did not deny he practiced retribution, instead suggesting that you only commit dirty tricks on someone who you know. True enough, but it slides right over the question of whether Christie believes in dirty tricks. Christie’s avoidance of the retribution issue reminds me of Anthony Weiner’s comments about his sexting when he first announced he was running for mayor. He said that there might be other instances revealed, but he did so in passing and parenthetically, almost hypothetically, so that it was completely ignored at the time. Weiner was deceptive in his honesty, just as Christie is. I might even say that Christie “pulled a Weiner,” but the image is just too grotesque. The news media passed over the Weiner comment, which led to their collective shock when the next scandal involving Weiner’s electronic sexual practices popped up. The efforts of Democrats to place the media focus on Christie’s culture of retribution is having only limited success, at least at this point. Like-what-youre-readingThat someone in an organization would think that it was just business as usual to create a safety hazard and mess with the lives of tens of thousands of people is, as the Latins liked to say, res ipsa loquitur, a thing that proves itself. Either it was Christie’s habit to condone retribution or two key staff members he had known for years had somehow managed to hide a rare and malevolent stupidity from their boss and everyone else. Christie doesn’t strike me as socially or politically dense. His past in what many journalists are calling “rough and tumble” Morris county politics and known scandals involving others close to Christie build the case that the politics of retribution thrived in his administration. Bridgegate will not sink Christie’s hopes for national office. No one seriously thinks that a man this poised and clever would approve shutting down access to the most traveled bridge in the world for trivial revenge. But the news media will now go on an aggressive hunt to find other instances of Christie or his cronies using dirty tricks for political purposes. Other scandals will emerge — and while it’s very possible that none will approach the notoriety of Bridgegate, the accumulation of these past tits and tats may very well sink Christie. Or they may enhance his status among Republicans, who seem to like dirty tricks and political pranks. It was a Republican, after all, Andrew Breitbart, who did fascist-style video editing to make it appear as if a minor Obama Administration official had uttered racist comments. And another Republican pretended to be a pimp and asked staff at multiple ACORN offices for help getting government loans until he found someone who appeared — on the video — to take him seriously. What, if not a dirty trick, was the swift-boat smearing of decorated war hero John Kerry? And the pain Christie officials inflicted on commuters for four relatively balmy September days is nothing compared to the suffering resulting from the dirty trick of getting Iran to keep the American hostages until after the 1980 presidential election in return for surreptitiously supplying it with weapons. Come to think of it, Bridgegate may have raised Christie’s esteem in the eyes of many Republican political operatives and elected officials. It confirms that he has the “cojones” to do what it takes. Sincerely. Marc Jampole, a member of our editorial board, is a poet and writer who runs Jampole Communications, a public relations and communications firm in Pittsburgh. He blogs several times a week at OpEdge.