New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is outraged that his minions closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge in order to cause problems in the city of one of his political enemies. That’s what he’s saying right now, and we all know that a politician wouldn’t lie.
I’d like to remind you that this is nothing but politics as usual. Whether Christie knew about it or not — and I’m betting he did — this is just the way the game of politics is played.
Christie is facing political heat because of disclosure by the Bergen Record that his underlings — including a man who went to high school with him — participated in a plan to cause traffic problems for Fort Lee, N.J., purely because of political differences with the city’s mayor. The newspaper obtained a cache of emails and text messages exchanged between the various people involved in the plan.
On Aug. 13, Bridget Anne Kelly, who is one of three deputy chiefs of staff for Christie, sent an email to David Wildstein, who is considered Christie’s “eyes and ears at the Port Authority.” In that message, Kelly said, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein clearly understood the message, as he simply responded with, “Got it.” Wildstein is a longtime political operative in New Jersey and went to high school with Christie.
On a subsequent morning, the Port Authority closed certain lanes on the George Washington Bridge without announcement or explanation during morning rush-hour for four days.
In a text message, Wildstein mentioned that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich had been leaving messages complaining about school buses having trouble getting through. The unidentified person who responded to that text message wrote, “Is it wrong that I’m smiling?” To which Wildstein replied, “No.”
The other person responded to say, “I feel badly about the kids. I guess.” Wildstein reminded the other person what truly matters in politics: “They are the children of Buono voters,” he said, referring to Democrat Barbara Buono, who was running against Christie for governor at the time.
You can read many more details if you’re interested in the story, but the details aren’t really the point to me. It’s certainly a terrible and petty thing for Christie’s staffers to do. (And although it’s possible she would have died anyway, a Fort Lee woman died while waiting for medical help that was delayed by the closing, so that blood might even be on their hands.)
As you hear more about the story, the focus is going to be about whether this is going to derail Christie’s political ambitions. Some people will rush to say that this is typical of Christie, while Christie and his team will make the case that he knew nothing about it and is outraged. It’s going to be turned into political theater by people who are jockeying for position in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries.
The underlying assumption, though, is that this was some anomaly. The question on the minds of people will be whether to blame Christie for this obviously rare example of overzealous politicization of government services.
But if there’s anyone who doesn’t believe that this is typical — by politicians of both parties — in places all over the country, I’ll be happy to sell you the George Washington Bridge.
Anyone who doesn’t already assume that politicians punish cities and communities for supporting the “wrong” party or candidate is very naive. Politicians pay off to their constituents and ignore (or punish) their opponents’ constituents all the time. The only surprising thing about this case is that these folks were stupid enough to put it into writing in a way it could be proven at a later date.
Government doesn’t work the way you were taught in civics class. We don’t have battles of ideas in which informed voters choose between benevolent candidates to see who will win office for the privilege of sacrificing his talents by spending time in office in order to serve the public.
Politicians are after money and power. They will use any means at their disposal to fight the enemy. If you think the fighting between Bloods and Crips is intense, you don’t know what it’s like between Team Red and Team Blue.
There really are some people who are in politics for the “right reasons,” at least as defined by the civics class fairy tale. But even those who are in the game for the right reason can tend to let their competitive natures overtake them, to the point that they’re willing to do anything to win.
Not everyone in politics is like that. But there are enough of them that very ugly things happen on a regular basis. I know because I’ve been part of some of them on a very small scale.
The real point here has nothing to do with whether Christie knew about this or whether it hurts his chances for the 2016 GOP nomination. The real point is that we have a messed-up political system that gives power to narcissistic children, who then abuse the people they’re supposed to be serving.
The system is corrupt and broken. The fault lies at the very heart of how a majoritarian political system works. The solution isn’t ending Christie’s career or firing some of his aides.
The answer is getting rid of the state — which spawns the corruption and evil because of the incentive involved. Focusing on Christie with the belief that this is unusual is incredibly naive.
The system is broken. The coercive state needs to die.