Friday, January 10, 2014

The Problem with Chris Christie

It should come as no surprise that I'm not a big fan of Chris Christie.  Christie received accolades for bipartisanship based upon his unequivocal praise of Barack Obama's handling of the Superstorm Sandy aftermath, just before the 2012 election, and it was likely in part due to that praise that the election wasn't close. So I suppose I have to be grateful, somewhat, that unlike most Republican officeholders he was at least honest about Obama.

And I think a lot of the criticism Christie has endured has focused upon his weight problem.  It's a good thing that the people of New Jersey didn't hold that against him, and I have found a lot of the references to it, even in the mainstream press, to be almost unspeakably cruel.  His weight is not and should never be the issue.

But I do not like him.  His tenure as governor of New Jersey has been marked by a fairly extreme agenda.  For example, shortly after taking office, he turned down billions in federal funding for a new tunnel under the Hudson River from New Jersey to Manhattan--one that is sorely needed because of the number of people who work in Manhattan but who cannot afford to live there--to satisfy the extreme anti-spending wing of his party.

Policy disagreements aside, however, he must never be the President.  In fact, the latest episode has shown he really is not fit to hold public office of any type.

A lot of the criticisms of politicians are valid.  Many if not most of them are vain; they are interested primarily in accumulating power; they always have an eye on the next higher office; they are focused on retaining office; more than a few of them are subject to graft and other forms of corruption; and almost all of them will say anything, irrespective of the truth, in pursuit of their goals.

But if there is one characteristic that all* American politicians share, regardless of any disagreements they may have about how to do it, it is that they are all motivated to serve their constituencies.  Rare is the politician who does not care, even a little bit, about the people who sent him to be their representative.  Politicians may be indifferent to the harm caused by the policies they advocate, and they may focus on serving a subset of their constituency, but they do generally care about doing right by the public.

* - Well, almost all, apparently.  Until this episode, I had never heard of one doing something quite like this.

It is clear, at this point, that Chris Christie, acting through a trusted adviser, ordered the implementation of a bogus "traffic study" on the George Washington Bridge that was designed to create horrible traffic gridlock in Fort Lee, a New York suburb that lies on the New Jersey end of that structure.  His motivation appears to be retaliation.  I doubt that it was to retaliate against the (Democratic) mayor of Fort Lee for failing to endorse (Republican) Christie for re-election as governor, though that is the story we've been given.

I really don't care about the specifics of his motivation.  The simple fact is that in order to accomplish his political goal, without any benefit to anyone other than him, Chris Christie caused several days of extra trouble for his constituents.

And I don't believe his apology or his explanation, despite the fulsome praise he received from the talking heads for giving his apology and his explanation while withstanding a nearly two-hour press conference on the subject.  The reality is that it is entirely within his demonstrated character to do what he claims he had no idea was being done.  Don't believe me?  Just Google "Chris Christie screaming at teacher" to read the story.

I have often joked about the incompetence of what the late Arkansas Gazette humor columnist Richard Allin referred to as the City of Little Rock's office of traffic light oiling, timing, and lens acquisition.** I have been fortunate to live and drive in larger cities that somehow manage to keep traffic moving by applying engineering principles.  The Maryland Department of Transportation is probably the best I've ever seen at it; they spent lots and lots of time getting it right because poorly timed traffic costs everybody money with no benefit to anyone.  Charlotte never seemed to get it quite right, and Little Rock is on an even higher plateau of incompetence.  But incompetence at that task is simply a question of priorities, not malice.

** - I'm sure that I don't have that exactly right, but if I dig into the far recesses of my memory, I can definitely make out Allin commenting on the antics of one "Radiance Wuppertal," a city official dedicated to ensuring that every vehicle stopped at every traffic signal.  She is apparently still at work after all these years. 

Christie's actions go much further.  This involved direct damage, to the benefit of no one, to people who are simply trying to get to and from work to put food on the table, to put a roof over their family's heads, to put clothes on their backs, and to pay the very taxes that pay Chris Christie's salary.

As Americans we can disagree about just about everything, but I would hope that all of us can agree that a politician who is capable of pulling a stunt like Chris Christie pulled is unfit for political office of any type.  We've got enough problems without electing a bully who would hurt people just to prove a point.

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