By Nick DAngelo
For weeks, Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.) has been pummeled by the press for his alleged involvement in the George Washington Bridge lane closings as a twisted game of revenge against a local mayor who would not endorse his reelection. After a few days of congested streets, maybe opponents will think twice next time.
Aptly named “Bridgegate” — a term that is neither original nor creative — the Christie saga joins the Pantheon of other scandals with the appropriately titled suffixes. From Watergate to Troopergate to Lewinskygate, each has left a mark on the reputations of those otherwise well respected leaders. Although I’ve never understood the fascination with scandals, or the “-gate” suffix that is mandated to label them (The Watergate was the name of a hotel after all — and still is). And as Governor Christie continues to flirt with presidential aspirations, you can be sure this bout of revenge will have its own.
Most have looked to crucify the New Jersey governor. If his top aides are involved then he must have known about it. Yeah — we are all supposed to believe that one, but, then again, President Barack Obama supposedly had no clue top officials in his administration were unfairly monitoring conservative groups. For the record, I’d bet money that both men are guilty.
Still others have defended Christie. Even if he was guilty, wrote the National Review, this is how the game is played. “Do you think Rahm Emanuel hasn’t played games with which streets get plowed first after a snow storm?” Jonah Goldberg asked, “Do you think that the Cuomos have issued every business permit and license on a first-come, first-serve basis?”
Psychologists writing for the Harvard Business Review didn’t defend Christie, but noted that the “psychology of payback” explains the governor’s actions. It is a natural response to rejection after all. “There have been, among the under-appreciated drivers of human misery, the three Rs of payback: retaliation, redirected aggression and revenge.” And because Christie felt belittled and “victimized” by not being endorsed by the Fort Lee mayor, he had to act out.
But whether this is the way politics works or a basic tenet of human psychology is an almost meaningless distinction. Simply put, this is not the way elected officials — from either party — should behave. That’s the true political scandal: we citizens continue to accept the strong-arming and the bullying.
Chris Christie isn’t any more of a victim than Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon. Each of these men, and many more like them, were elected to do a job. These meaningless acts of revenge supposedly wedded to politics are hardly part of that job description. What is even more disturbing is that all of these men were exceptional leaders. Whether it was historic breakthroughs in foreign policy, prosecuting corporate villains or giving hope back to middle class families, they each performed their duty — until they became too confident.
However, contrary to newfound popular belief “Bridgegate” won’t change Christie’s chances at the nomination in 2016. His standing in New Jersey and national polls has hardly budged and more people view him as a leader than a bully. In fact, it may even balance the election: Hillary Clinton will almost certainly be forced to defend her role in the Benghazi terrorist attacks, a scandal-in-the-making.
The world will go on and not much will change. But that does not make it right.
Some may accuse me of being too young to know better, an idyllic observer who views the world through rose-colored glasses, but regardless, I expect more. And you should too.
Surprisingly, we may all take some comfort in the words of Richard Nixon. The 37th president once remarked, “Only three men in America understand the use of power. I do. John Connally does. And, I guess Nelson does.” Well, Nixon resigned in disgrace, Connally declared bankruptcy, and Nelson Rockefeller was rejected for his party’s presidential nomination three times. Nixon was wrong: they couldn’t have understood it all that well.