09 January 2014

Traffic Scandal Reflects Poorly On Christie

Political aides to Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie conspired with people that the Governor had appointed to a board responsible for the George Washington Bridge between New York City and New Jersey, to create massive traffic jams in September of 2009.  They did so for the purpose of politically damaging the Democratic Mayor on the New Jersey side whom they also ethnically slurred in the recently revealed e-mails that catch them doing so red handed.  It was a pure case of illegal and malicious infliction of mayhem on the general public for no reason other than narrow partisan gain in a particular election.  Tactics like these don't even have the barest pretense of good faith or legitimacy - they have no place in any legitimate political process.

Christie himself claims not to have know that this was being done for his benefit.  This is a case where his denial is plausible, whether or not it is true.  But, that doesn't mean that this incident should mar the public's opinion of him.

In any bureaucracy as large as the state or federal government, no chief executive can personally know even 1% of what is being done by his subordinates.  But, this is tolerable when a chief executive is a good one, because he is a good judge of the character of the people who names to be his subordinates, because he creates a good institutional culture that discourages misconduct, and because if he is capable of creating a good institutional culture he is informed of the important events going on in his organization.  Indirect managers, like Governors or Presidents, govern mostly by appointing good people to act on their behalf and creating a climate where they feel a need and desire to behave.

In this case, Christie fails all three litmus tests of a good indirect manager who is up to the task of being a chief executive of a large bureaucracy.  He appointed dishonest and unethical people to be his aides and board appointees.  He created an institutional culture in which this misconduct was considered acceptable practice.  And, he wasn't in the loop well enough to know what his own people were doing on his watch for his benefit.

Men like that don't deserve to continue to hold public offices of this kind.

It is also no surprise that this happened in a Republican administration.  At this moment in political history, Republicans feel far less guilt about resorting to dirty political tricks that hurt the general public than Democrats do, as they have demonstrated repeatedly at both the state and federal levels.  Compare Scott Gessler's blatant misconduct and big lies about voter fraud during his tenure as Colorado Secretary of State, the efforts of Republicans in Texas to disenfranchise large numbers of Democratic voters for no legitimate reason, and the willingness of Congressional Republicans to force a long shutdown of the federal government, to risk a default on the federal debt, and their willingness to use unemployment benefits for millions of Americans in dire need for vague tactical ends.  And, don't forget the Republican Governor of Maine, Paul LePage whose past three years have exemplified ugly, incivil, and frankly hateful racist and sexist politics.* Indeed, this Nixonian attitude towards the political process has been part and parcel of the Republican party playbook for a long time.

* As the link above explains, LePage managed to win office only as a result of an election law fail, and fluky circumstances:
Republicans are the smallest of Maine’s electoral blocks (28 percent of registered voters) after independents (37 percent) and Democrats (32 percent). But LePage had the luxury in 2010 of running against not just one independent but three. He won the election with 38 percent of the vote and a 1.7 percentage point margin over independent Eliot Cutler. . . . polls show him to be one of the country’s most unpopular governors—one recent one gave him a 54 percent disapproval rating. The fact that in 2012 Maine voters returned Democrats to power in both chambers of the state legislature only increases the sense of foreboding in conservative circles here.

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