Christie under fire
Unsurprisingly, having treated the New Jersey bridge scandal to about 44 times as much coverage as they gave the IRS scandal – in just two days! - the media can’t get enough of Bridgegate. Scandal frenzy is all about intensity. The fabled Low Information Voters don’t hear any news that is not shouted repeatedly. They take cues based on the volume of news coverage over a shot period of time, rapidly losing interest in background noise from stories that meander along with modest coverage for long stretches of time. The old Beltway wisdom said there was nothing worse than dragging a scandal out and dying from a thousand cuts, but Team Obama always knew that wasn’t true, especially when they could count on the support of the media to keep their dirty laundry buried. What kills a politician is the kind of intense coverage burst that migrates a scandal from the news envelope into popular culture.
So now we’ve got the aftershocks from the initial nuclear blast of Bridgegate, as the talking heads mutter about What It All Means, and how it’s still Really, Really Bad even if there’s never a smoking-gun document that ties Governor Christie directly into the heinous deeds of his underlings, because of course the chief executive of an Administration sets the tone that everyone else follows. It’s mighty peculiar that his chief of staff, and other top officials, thought the Governor would be pleased or amused with closing a few bridge lanes to create bad traffic in Fort Lee to punish the mayor, isn’t it? What kind of shop is Chris Christie running, to create an atmosphere where someone like Lois Lerner would think it was a good idea to use the power of the IRS to persecute his political opponents? And how about the unprecedented, historic number of meetings between IRS bigwigs and Christie during the last election cycle? Is it really believable to insist there was no coordination going on there? Is it really plausible that IRS officials never told Christie anything about their nefarious program of discrimination against conservative groups during all those meetings?
Whoops, sorry, wrong scandal. We must not mention the absurdly biased media treatment of Obama scandals while burning Chris Christie at the stake. You are strictly instructed to forget how every Obama scandal ends with a press conference, but Republican scandals begin there. MSNBC host Mika Brezinski was clumsy enough to put the imperative in exactly those words, hectoring a guest who dared to mention the differences between the way Christie and Obama handle accusations of incompetence and abuse of power by declaring any mention of President Benghazi to be “flailing for some sort of distraction.” She curtly added, “It’s Chris Christie. It’s New Jersey. Stick to the story.”
Because God forbid we should bring up the cosmically obvious way our hard-charging “Get Christie” press turned into tail-wagging lapdogs and troubled itself with no intense follow-up questions, or talk of the terrible atmosphere of abuse created by the chief executive, on the numerous occasions when abuse-of-power scandals rocked the Obama Administration. No, all Team Obama needed to do was point at low-level rogue employees in the State Department, or the Cincinnati office of the IRS, or the Department of Health and Human Services, or the Arizona field offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms – rogues everywhere, swarming below the decks of our $3.6 trillion ship of state like a pirate boarding party, and nobody ever trooped out to the ninth hole to interrupt President Obama’s latest round of golf with the terrible news. President Obama was even more angry and frustrated than the (surviving) victims of these scandals to learn that someone fed his beloved super-government after midnight and turned his legion of cuddly bureaucrats into a swarm of gremlins.
The media’s cool with that, but they’ll never stop digging to convict a Republican Governor of the crime they know in their hearts he committed. Obama and Christie both said exactly the same thing about how they’ve got thousands of employees, and can’t possibly monitor the daily activities of everyone, so they have to delegate authority. One of those executives was able to satisfy nearly 100 percent of the media with that excuse, while the other satisfied virtually none of them. It’s all captured beautifully by this editorial cartoon:
A new taking point bandied about by media apologists is that Bridgegate has “legs” because it’s so petty, so simple, so easily understood. The Obama scandals were all super-complicated, but this one features a large number of innocent Christie constituents stuck in traffic because his subordinates wanted to make life miserable for a mayor who refused to endorse the Governor for re-election. Why, this story sells itself, without any help from reporters and pundits at all!
What a load of malarkey. There’s nothing complicated about the core of the Fast and Furious, Benghazi, or IRS scandals. The only reason they seem complicated is that Obama’s minions and media allies worked hard to avoid explaining them in simple terms. There are ways to explain each Obama scandal in a single sentence that would get the blood of Low Information Voters boiling, but the media was very careful to avoid speaking or writing those single sentences, assaulting anyone who did utter them as wild-eyed extremists. We were told it was bitterly unfair, and probably racist, to engage in precisely the sort of dark speculation the media is now selling by the jar from its “Get Christie” medicine wagons.
As Fox News reports, there’s now talk of impeachment floating around in New Jersey. We’re not there yet, the local Democrats hasten to assure us, but we can reasonably discuss how the unfolding scandal might lead to such measures. Try having that discussion with respect to any Obama scandal, and see how the media treats you.
New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the legislative panel probing the closures, cast doubt on the governor’s claims in an interview with Fox News. “It’s hard to believe in the middle of a gubernatorial election that the governor didn’t have a conversation with somebody on his senior staff about a big problem in Fort Lee,” he said.
Further, Wisniewski charged that Christie “created the atmosphere that allowed this to start … and to be covered up.”
State Democrats are now considering new subpoenas as part of the closure probe. In a separate interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Wisniewski was asked about the possibility of impeachment.
“The Assembly has the ability to do articles of impeachment,” he said, suggesting that would be an option if it turns out Christie was involved in a cover-up. However, Wisniewski added: “We’re way ahead of that, though.”
Congressional Democrats, in the person of ranking House Oversight Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland, also say they might get involved. That’s drop-dead funny if you’ve caught any of the circus acts Cummings routinely stages when Obama scandals make their way into the House Oversight chambers. If there’s ever a Christie hearing, Oversight Republicans should print out transcripts of Cummings’ hysterical nonsense and read it right back into his face.
But oversight is not supposed to be a political game, is it? One major lesson to take from the contrasts between Obama scandals and Christie’s troubles is that if accountability is now entirely a function of media outrage, and the media only gets outraged at Republicans, then it’s dangerous to vote a Democrat into any executive position. We want the press to go after abusive and corrupt officials with barracuda intensity, and if they only treat Republicans that way, then people interested in responsible government must vote straight Republican. The carefully-monitored use of power by people you disagree with is far less dangerous than the unrestrained abuse of power by people you agree with.
Does that sound cynical? It’s a cynicism I’m happy to direct at Republicans as well as Democrats. I love the idea of voting for honest candidates who relish the opportunity to walk barefoot across hot media coals, relishing every drop of scrutiny because they have nothing to hide, and don’t plan on abandoning us to the cruel appetites of bureaucratic machines they don’t even pretend to control. But unless some candidates like that step forward in the news few elections, I’ll settle for candidates who live in perpetual fear of the media hounds braying outside their doors.
Maybe it’s also cynical to observe that Governor Christie’s defenders are overreaching, too, but it seems frankly ludicrous to claim that his masterful handling of the scandal will turn it into a net plus. I don’t even think it’s accurate to treat the whole mess as a net plus for conservatism in general, because (a) conservatives weren’t that happy with Christie to begin with, and (b) the opportunity to revisit the media’s delicate handling of Obama scandals is valuable. Sure, it’s fun to watch the biased media stomp its baby feet and insist that it doesn’t want to talk about how it didn’t want to talk about the IRS outrage, but meanwhile a barge full of bad Obama news is quietly sinking beneath the storm-tossed Sea of News: the ongoing failure of ObamaCare, a panic-inducing jobs report, his former Secretary of Defense accusing him of playing political games with the lives of American troops, the supposedly “decimated” al-Qaeda reaching the heights of power and influence on Barack Obama’s watch… here’s me being cynical again, but I don’t think there’s any chance the media will actually be shamed into covering Obama scandals more vigorously, and meanwhile they’d much rather talk about bridge lanes in New Jersey than what’s going on with the Obama Administration right now.
Christie has thus far handled this scandal exactly the way pundits always say an executive should. It remains to be seen if he can minimize the damage to himself, let alone judo-flip the whole affair into a positive entry on his future political resume. Even if we’ve seen the end of it, and there are no further revelations, I would not underestimate the lingering sense of resentment that might resurface in whatever election Christie stands for next, and of course the media is not going to dismiss anything about Bridgegate as “old news” unworthy of discussion in 2016. (On the other hand, they’re going to insist that every Hillary Clinton scandal, from Benghazi back through her own little adventures in abusing power to punish political opponents, is ancient history that should remain safely entombed.)
Most absurd was Karl Rove claiming that Governor Christie’s “handling of this being straightforward, taking action, probably gives him some street cred with Tea Party Republicans,” who will supposedly be thrilled by the inspiring spectacle of a leader who “steps up and takes responsibility.”
When Tea Party folks look for someone to measure the “street cred” of a candidate, they’re not going to check in with Karl Rove, who is notoriously hostile to their movement. His comments make it clear he doesn’t understand that movement at all, because the defining characteristic of Tea Party activists is their opposition to irresponsible, abusive government. The sight of a tough-talking take-no-prisoners buck-stops-here “leader” explaining that his staff lied to him, on the rare occasion that he bothered to ask them about traffic snarls in Fort Lee, only validates the Tea Party critique. They vote for people who will tear down governments like that, not people who promise to manage them more carefully. The Tea Party worries about the machine, not its current pilot.
Ironically, it looks like there might be some more hell coming Christie’s way… and it stems, not from his staff rampaging across the Jersey end of the George Washington Bridge, but his management during the alleged “success” of his bipartisan Obama-hugging moment of triumph, Super Storm Sandy recovery. CNN reports:
In the new probe, federal auditors will examine New Jersey’s use of $25 million in Sandy relief funds for a marketing campaign to promote tourism at the Jersey Shore after Sandy decimated the state’s coastline in late 2012, New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone told CNN
In an August letter, Pallone asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development inspector general to look into how Christie chose to spend the marketing money approved by the department.
Neither the governor’s office nor the inspector general’s office has replied to CNN’s request for comment on the investigation.
Pallone wrote that he was concerned about the bidding process for the firm awarded the marketing plan; the winning firm is charging the state about $2 million more than the next lowest bidder. The winning $4.7 million bid featured Christie and his family in the advertisements while the losing $2.5 million proposal did not feature the Christies.
On Sunday, Pallone told CNN that the inspector general conducted a preliminary review of the spending and concluded that there was enough evidence to launch a full-scale investigation into the state’s use of federal funds. The audit will take several months, and the findings will be issued in an official report, he said.
Pallone, a 27-year veteran of the House and vocal Christie critic, said this is not about politics.
“This was money that could have directly been used for Sandy recovery. And, as you know, many of my constituents still haven’t gotten the money that is owed them to rebuild their homes or raise their homes or to help,” he told CNN.
Let’s see if the media insists on ignoring the Super Storm Sandy story until the full results of the investigation are in, as they insisted no Obama scandal could be discussed until protracted investigations wrapped up – which invariably happened after the 2012 election.