Veteran political analyst Charlie Cook howls in anguish at the notion that a man like Chris Christie might actually suffer the cruel and unusual punishment of facing consequences for his actions in Bridgegate:
Was this action impeachable? Should Christie be prosecuted? With the myriad problems facing New Jersey (and every other state, for that matter), is getting a last pound of flesh from Christie really the best use of state legislators' time and resources? Is the level of crime, whether of the violent or white-collar nature, so low and insignificant that scandals like this are what state or federal prosecutors should be focused on -- as opposed to murder, rape, mayhem, or fraud? Really?Wait -- we're already talking about "getting a last pound of flesh from Christie"? Let's avoid the fat joke here -- if we're going to use this metaphor, did we even get a first pound yet? What consequences has he suffered? He's not being impeached yet. He's not under indictment yet. He hasn't had to resign. He's lost some aides and he's being investigated -- that's it. He's suffered a few days of public embarrassment, but so what? He's a public figure. "If you can't stand the heat" and all that.
One of the (many) things wrong with politics today is that we attempt to criminalize poor political behavior and, if given half a reason, impeach an elected official, even if he or she is term-limited. I am sure that some creative lawyer can come up with some prosecutable action taken by Christie or his administration, but is that really appropriate here? Isn't this just another manifestation of the scorched-earth nature of American politics today? If you have an opponent on the ropes, don't just knock them out and win the fight; go in for the kill, desecrate the body if you get a chance. Don't hold back! Take the opportunity to get retribution for anything that person may have ever done to wrong you.
This is precisely how we talk about private-sector white-collar crime these days -- yes, if you're a poor person accused of a crime you can suffer serious consequences merely for being accused, but if you're a fat cat on Wall Street and there's significant evidence that you've done real harm, then just being accused is considered punishment enough. (Wall Streeters, it should be noted, are among Christie's biggest fans.)
Shorter Charlie Cook: With great power comes no responsibility.
Meanwhile, over at The Washington Post, we get this lede from Michael Gerson:
There is something inherently absurd about a political scandal resulting from an event that could also have been caused by a stray deer and a truck filled with watermelons.Oh, I see. So if I take Gerson's point to its logical conclusion, does that mean we shouldn't prosecute a guy who burns his ex-wife's house down, killing the wife and their three children, because a fire with the same result could also have been caused by lightning?
But that's not Gerson's main point. His main point is that Bridgegate isn't an outrage -- it's a teachable moment!
Christie's news conference was a model of crisis management. He accepted responsibility without admitting culpability. He apologized while maintaining he was a victim. I can't recall a political figure who has done the scandal drill -- mistakes were made, heads will roll -- any better.(Notice that none of the analogies that occur to Gerson involve how past presidential contenders have done their jobs. That's what's significant about this scandal.)
In the pre-primary primary, this is actually a qualification. Presidential candidates, who are often human beings, have been known to face draft-record controversies, bimbo eruptions, early DUI revelations, drug-use allegations, questions about discreditable pastoral associations and the like. The successful ones share Christie’s talent for crisis containment.
In this case, some of the New Jersey governor's closest advisers have been implicated in an act of nearly irrational vindictiveness and what Christie calls "abject stupidity." It was an abuse of power to punish random people on the roadways who would (if the scheme worked properly) never know the reason. This was the reduction of citizens to ants on a log. It is the political philosophy of a malicious child with a magnifying glass.Yes, that's right -- not only isn't there the slightest possibility that Christie himself bears any responsibility for what happened, but the important thing is whether Team Christie can grow, can learn.
It is honestly hard to imagine that such political operatives would have been capable of carrying Christie to the presidency.... Some in Christie's circle of trust were not worthy of trust. Though he asserts, "I am not a bully," he apparently employed some bullies.
This is the reason that the bridge scandal is more than a test of crisis management; it is now a test of whether Christie can build a political team worthy of his 2016 presidential ambitions (assuming, I think safely, that he has them).
... many Republicans are now closely watching Christie's first reaction to serious adversity. Does it make Team Christie more combative and insular? Or is it taken as a painful but helpful lesson -- producing a presidential campaign in which crackpot schemes of political vengeance are unthinkable?
Yes, some aides were vindictive, but in the way of "a malicious child with a magnifying glass." Can the Christie-ites put away childish things? Isn't that what we really should be concerned about?