Friday, January 10, 2014


Paul Begala at
Christie's choice: Be seen as a crook or a schnook?

... When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie channeled his inner Tricky Dick and declared, "I am not a bully," he did himself no favors.

To be fair, Christie faced a dilemma: Either admit to creating a climate of bullying, intimidation and political payback that led to the George Washington Bridge scandal, or claim that his staff and appointees disrupted traffic on the world's busiest bridge as political punishment without his knowledge. In the business we call it a choice between being a crook or a schnook.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Gov. Schnook.

A schnook, for those who don't speak Yiddish, is a dupe. A fool. A patsy. A schnook is a victim, and Chris Christie is not convincing playing the victim....
The reality is that it's often easier to survive political scandals by brazening them out and playing to your own strengths than by making a logical case for why you're not guilty.

Christie approached this as if he were facing a jury and wanted their acquittal rather than their approval. That's now how you do it. Make them like you, or remind them why they liked you in the past, and it might not matter whether you're guilty.

How did Ronald Reagan survive Iran-contra? By being the Reagan so many people liked -- a slightly befuddled old grandfather who seemed as if he wouldn't hurt a fly. Remember this preposterous passage from his Iran-contra speech?
A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.
Perfect. Pure Reagan. How could that sweet old sitcom grampa have done anything bad?

And how did Ollie North bury Iran-contra? Not by persuading people that he was innocent, but by being the cocksure embodiment of the military culture whose congressional testimony was Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men ("And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives") six years before that movie came out.

What about Bill Clinton in Monicagate? We look back on "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky" as a shameless, shameful moment, but it helped save Clinton's career, because it was the Clinton we'd voted for twice -- a guy with real moral weaknesses, yes, but a guy who could compellingly talk about what was right. The contrite, whipped-dog speech Clinton gave after his grand jury testimony was far more truthful -- and came off far worse.

Or let's talk about Wayne LaPierre. When I heard that Governor Christie was holding a press conference yesterday, I thought, Why not wait? That worked for LaPierre after Newtown. For days after the massacre, gun control advocates snickered that the NRA had gone silent, as if the gunners couldn't possibly defend themselves under the circumstances. Then LaPierre went nuclear. It worked -- he rallied his base with rage rather than contrition.

That's what might have worked for Christie -- he could have waited till Monday, allowed the wingnut media to steer the story from "Christie administration engages in pathological vendetta" to "Why are we obsessing over this and not how awful Obama is?" Then he could have done a minimal mea culpa and started going after enemies. (Maybe he could have focused on Rachel Maddow for her rather convincing theory that this was payback to the Democratic president majority leader of the state senate, a Fort Lee resident, after Democrats put up resistance to Christie's thuggish tactics on judicial appointments.)

At this moment, Christie needs to give his fans more of the pleasure they take from his innate Christie-ness. Yesterday he didn't. When he was being lauded by Fox for yelling at teachers, he believed his own press clippings. More recently, though, when he was being praised by the centrist press for being a lovable, huggable bipartisan, he believed that. Apparently he still believes it. The other public persona -- which is obviously his private persona as well -- worked a hell of a lot better for him.

(Begala via Memeorandum.)


Victor said...

Christie seems like a likable guy if you're a family member, friend, or part of his political team - but outside of that environment, and particularly in the political world, he's a thug and a bully.

And yeah, sometimes it's better, especially for the Reich-Wingers, to let the inner thug and a bully out, because that's what they like.
They love COMPETENT thugs and bullies - and some Democratic-leaning people do too - empathetic, pleading, bobo's... uhm... not so much.

Besides the examples you sited, Steve, don' forget George W. Bush, who was able to Compassionate-Conservative-Dunce it out for 8 years.

Glennis said...

I watched the presser with someone who is in a job where he has to think about being in such a situation himself. His take? Christie talked too much, ran his mouth and didn't stick to whatever message he should have been sticking to.

Knight of Nothing said...

What do you think of the theory that Maddow floated last night?

Victor said...

It sounds perfectly feasible to me!
Christie's a nasty and vindictive piece of work, and a thug and a bully, at heart.

Steve M. said...

Well, I thought it was plausible, but it's being denied by the senate president -- and as some commenters pointed out, why did the emails talk about punishing the "little Serbian," clearly a reference to the (Croatian-American) mayor?

Knight of Nothing said...

The messages I looked at did indeed refer to the Serbian, but from my reading, it looked like they referred to him only after he started pleading for help. Those messages could have been Kelly, Wildstein, et. al. simply enjoying some collateral schadenfreude at the mayor's expense. I could be completely wrong, or maybe I missed something. I do agree with Maddow on this point, though: the motive for the lane closures, whatever it was, is important to getting to the bottom of it. And screwing the mayor doesn't seem like a strong enough motive. But I suppose you never know with a giant-chip-on-the-shoulder bully like Christie.

Unknown said...

Christie likes the Tony Soprano comparisons. Yesterday, he was the drug-addled Tony. Too many Xanax.
The base prefers the pit-bull Tony.