What kind of politician is Chris Christie? If you buy Christie's explanation at a news conference Thursday, the New Jersey governor is a victim. He is the victim of a scheming, lying aide and a scheming, lying old high school friend he appointed to the Port Authority. And because the investigations are just getting started, he may learn of other scheming, lying members of his administration who have driven this poor man's reputation into a ditch.
Christie insisted that he knew nothing of a vindictive plan to shut a couple lanes of traffic in Fort Lee, N.J., near the George Washington Bridge to punish a mayor who declined to support the governor in the recent election.
"I am who I am, but I am not a bully," Christie implored.
Do you believe that? Time will tell as more is uncovered.
Either way, it is instructive to note that even at this political low point, Christie spent more time bemoaning how he was lied to than empathizing with the thousands of New Jersey and New York residents harmed by this petty plot. The bridge is a major artery connecting people to jobs and routing all sorts of commerce -- not to mention its role for life-saving ambulances that were delayed by the traffic gridlock.
Christie has fired his deputy chief of staff and his former campaign manager, both people who would have been important players in his expected bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
The deputy chief had sent an email "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." The Port Authority appointee replied, "Got it," and shut down the lanes. In subsequent emails, the two banter with a not-yet-identified third person about how the lane closures would discomfit New Jerseyans who had voted for Christie's Democratic opponent. The mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat, had declined to endorse Christie as governor. That's the leading theory for why his town was singled out for this treatment. For now, let's take the governor at his word that he had no idea what his inner circle of aides was doing. "What did I do wrong to have these folks think it was OK to lie to me?" he implored, rhetorically, at his presser.
Glad you asked, governor.
There is nothing new under the sun about retaliatory pettiness. It's common enough in politics, in the workplace and elsewhere.
An effective political executive ought to know what qualities to look for in his or her staff, including a baseline sense of morality and duty, and that executive should model those qualities as well. Power corrupts, as we all know, and it does so all the more quickly in an administration whose leader lacks self-control. As the questions were first raised about the lane closings last September, Christie sarcastically brushed the contention aside. He even joked that he had personally laid the cones closing two lanes of traffic. Yet the truth came out -- some of it, anyway -- thanks to checks and balances we Americans have to inquire into such baloney. A subpoena drew out the incriminating emails and texts. And while they are astonishing in what they say, the underlying reality is all too familiar.
Reporters who cover government officials for any length of time can bend your ear with titillating accounts of politicos and their testiness. They all have their peccadilloes, their small-minded grudges and peeves, their subjects that may not be mentioned.
It can be easy to conclude that we are governed by coddled and temperamental ignoramuses who won't lift a finger for the common good unless there's something in it for them. The phenomenon has spawned its own literary genre. Books such as "Double Down," Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's insider tattle on the 2012 presidential campaigns, are always dependable sellers.
It's fun to read about until you realize where the line gets crossed.
Governing has consequences. It's not just about you, governor, and your career and your ambitions and your style. It's about people who need their government to work -- people who, if their government doesn't hold its duties in sacred trust, could die in an ambulance in a traffic jam.
So did Christie's brash persona breed the disregard for the general public necessary to carry out the dirty tricks in Fort Lee? Or is he the wounded naif he claims to be? Neither explanation redounds to his credit, nor indicates his worthiness to serve in a higher office.
Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Email, email@example.com.
By MARY SANCHEZ