“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Who writes stuff like that? Like minor characters in an uninspired episode of The Sopranos, minions of the Governor of New Jersey cut off all but one lane of the George Washington Bridge to New York City, causing misery, frustration and – at least arguably, in one case – death.
Here’s the deal: a bunch of political appointees, headed by Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, ordered the shutdown of the George Washington Bridge purportedly to punish the Mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat, for endorsing Governor Christie’s opponent, also a Democrat.
Their perfidy, shown beyond a reasonable doubt by an e-mail exchange among home computers, has cast a pall over the Presidential hopes of their principal. [And just as a sidelight: can anyone explain to me how the press got hold of e-mails sent from home computers? Had Kelly et al, been characters in my novel, their hard drives would have been turned into exquisite little figurines and buried in some of New Jersey’s fine landfills, and the paper copies would have found a home in post-election bonfires.] And the sixty-four thousand dollar question, adjusted for inflation to one hundred fifty million, is this: did Christie know?
Let me offer a minority report: I think he did not. Christie was cruising to reelection with sixty percent of the vote. He had already been endorsed by fifteen significant Democratic Party politicians. Mayor Sokolich’s embrace would have been of marginal value.
But why would Bridget Kelly, and the other hacks involved in the bridge closing, initiate a criminal scheme without the Governor’s blessing? Because they wanted to be made, and would take advantage of any opportunity to do so.
This makes no sense unless you have been in the profession. Some people bring their intellect to the table. Some bring their profound, specialized knowledge of the most important issues in the campaign. Some bring their relationship with important special interest groups. Some bring their skill, their passion, their understanding of the constituency.
And some of them bring nothing.
They bring nothing – except their willingness to be corrupted. Here is an example: in the City of Washington, DC, the Mayor, Adrian Fenty, sought reelection four years ago. He had been a successful mayor, but he appeared to be an arrogant, obnoxious person, involved in a series of repulsive, petty acts – no-bid contracts for his fraternity brothers; special favors for his kids’ t-ball team, and the like.
Vincent Gray, the well-regarded City Council President, decided to take him on. It soon became apparent that Fenty was in serious trouble. His rallies were sparsely attended and unenthusiastic. Gray, on the other hand, attracted big crowds wherever he went.
Among the (very) minor candidates for Mayor was a braying jackass named Sulaimon Brown. Although Brown had no more chance of being elected Mayor than he had of being elected Pope, he stayed in the race for the apparent sole purpose of bringing ridiculous charges against Fenty – at one point, for example, alleging that the Mayor did not love his own parents.
Brown claims that Gray paid him money to stay in the race, and promised him a job if Gray won. Gray denies it—but when Gray won (big time) Brown ended up with a $110,000-a-year City job. And there is no question that somebody paid Brown $44 K during the campaign.
I don’t think it was Gray. I don’t think that anyone bright enough to be elected Mayor (or to be elected anything) would think it a wise expenditure of funds to pay someone forty-four thousand dollars to accuse an opponent of not loving his mother. But I do think a sufficiently unimpressive political gym rat – in this case, two of them: Howard Brooks and Thomas W. Gore—who wanted to burnish his reputation as someone whose political loyalty and derring-do trumped his duty to the law and his common sense would be happy to carry out this nonsense.
(Gray is also rumored to be involved in more serious matters involving violations of campaign finance laws. I have no opinion of his guilt or innocence in these matters.)
The classic example of this, of course, is Richard Nixon, whose Presidency was broken on the back of a preposterous, fruitless break-in at Democratic Party headquarters. Nixon was about to be given a political gift of incalculable value – George McGovern as his opponent. He had opened the door to China, won rapprochement with the Soviet Union, and the war in Viet Nam was nearing an end. What possible value added would this “third-rate burglary” – his term – bring?
The answer, of course, was none, and Nixon was not responsible for it. Instead, an army of mobster wannabes – the lunatic G. Gordon Liddy, Chuck Colson, who bragged that he would step over his own grandmother for Nixon, the nebbishy Jeb Stuart Magruder – and others engineered the crime and the coverup. Nixon, desperate to disguise the high-stakes crimes he did commit (such as the break-in at the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist), went along with the coverup, and was driven from office.
I could give you a half dozen other examples, but you can easily find them on your own. Working politicians – particularly those like Christie, who aspire to high office – must learn this truism about those who would act in their name: Some are corrupted by circumstances. Some are corrupted through weakness. And some are drawn to corruption, as the sparks are drawn upward.