WASHINGTON -- Why is it there is always a sameness in political scandal? No one ever seems to profit from history. Take the governor of New Jersey, a state where political hardball is notorious.
The recent best hope for the Republican presidential nomination, Gov. Chris Christie, who can’t seem to keep his weight in check despite tying off his stomach or some such business, has proven to millions of potential supporters that his appetite for confrontation and bombast may be equal to his gastronomical urges. The punitive actions of his trusted aides against a minor political figure of the opposite party have landed him in the soup, which despite the distance still remaining before a national election, may eventually drown him.
Did he know ahead of time about the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge that caused a four-day nightmare for the citizens of Fort Lee, N.J., that this was the work of his friends in his behalf? Despite his fervent denials, there always will be doubt and with that a lingering concern about whether he is the kind of guy who might actually support this kind of absurd act of vengeful irresponsibility.
The Watergate-inspired question, “What did he know, and when did he know it?” is not likely to go away, considering at least two investigations and the possibility of both civil and criminal litigation.
Woe is me to the GOP establishment that saw him as a possible 2016 standard bearer of moderation against the radical right. The party’s mainliners can’t seem to catch a break.
This juvenile action against Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor for not endorsing the governor before his landslide election last fall is in the worst traditions of the “don’t get mad, get even” philosophy. History is replete with examples of the disastrous impact of a ricocheting bullet fired under those circumstances.
To be trite, what goes around comes around. Shades of Richard Nixon and the dirty tricks gang that once plotted to set up a floating whorehouse off Collins Avenue in Miami to blackmail delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed on this one, but not others.
It would have been much better for Christie way back there in September of last year when the closings took place if he had paid attention to what was quickly becoming the world’s largest traffic jam on the New Jersey side of the world’s most highly trafficked bridge. Someone of his supposed political acumen and perception must have been aware of the coming sound of doom.
When the press inquiries began to emerge about an alleged “study” no one could or would answer, an announcement by him to look into the matter might have backed up his later denials of knowledge or involvement, made them much easier to believe. Instead, he did what any number of predecessors in high office did under the circumstances: He shrugged it all off as an attempt to diminish his standing as the putative frontrunner in the Republican presidential scramble just now building.
Even if that were true (I’m not saying it wasn’t to some degree because frontrunners are always forced to play dodge ball) a public statement would have gone a long way to softening the blow to his standing when the emails linking his top aides to the whole affair began to emerge recently
Live and (not) learn
Once again, that lesson never seems to be impressed on most politicians. Only Dwight Eisenhower followed the edicts of an Army lifetime where “just don’t get caught” is the first rule. He wasted no time in dismissing his most trusted aide, Sherman Adams, before Adams’ indiscretions brought down the White House.
Had Nixon, Ike’s vice president, followed that example and cleaned out the Committee for the Reelection of the President two days after Watergate, the crisis might have been averted. Harry Truman, on the other hand, refused to do in his cronies when they strayed and it tarnished his image.
There always is an element of arrogance in these matters. The principal in high places somehow seems to believe the myth that his own importance and position will protect him, forcing him later to desperately issue personal apologies for the alleged lies and failings of subordinates.
So Christie sent them to the political guillotine and pleaded for forgiveness. Good luck on that, Tiny.
Dan Thomasson, a longtime Washington journalist and former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers, can be reached at email@example.com.