There was a time when I might have believed Chris Christie’s denials. I guess it’s still possible that he’s telling the truth, but I rather doubt it. I learned a lot about someone not telling the truth on July 22, 2013. That happened to be the day when Milwaukee Brewer’s slugger and former Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun was nailed by Major League Baseball for using performing enhancing drugs. He accepted a suspension for the rest of the season. But how could this man be lying? Just look at him in this two-minute video:
Like Braun, Christie seemed to be so innocent in his initial denials. Yes, he was a tough guy, but he had a fundamental “goodness” that excluded blatant lying when it came to governing. His marathon statement and press conference on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 may have convinced me of a certain degree of innocence. But the lesson I learned from Ryan Braun kept me from buying Christie’s so-called “come-clean” words.
As so often is the case in politics, when something goes wrong, we tend to have a very limited view of why it happened and what could be done to prevent it from reoccurring. Christie is embroiled in a crisis of largely unexplained traffic jams at the western end of the George Washington Bridge in Ft. Lee, NJ last September. The GW Bridge is the busiest one in the world. According to CNN:
Christie and his staff originally blamed the closures and the traffic delays on a mishandled traffic study, something he reiterated at his news conference.
He said he didn’t know if it was “a traffic study that morphed into a political vendetta or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study.”
The incident inconvenienced motorists, but also affected public safety, Fort Lee officials said.
The emergency services chief in the town referred to one case in a letter to the mayor obtained by CNN involving paramedics who were delayed in reaching an elderly woman who had suffered a heart attack. She was reached by an ambulance but later died. Further details of the woman’s death haven’t been released.
In his news conference on Thursday, January 9, 2014, Governor Christie insisted that he did not know that his top aides were involved in creating the traffic jams until e-mails among them were published by the Bergen Record. This is the basis of him saying that he did not tell any lies. What he dare not say was that he was competent in managing the entire situation. And clearly, he managed it poorly.
Imagine that you are the governor of a state in which a seemingly unexplained traffic jam continues beyond four days. Commuters, public safety vehicles, travelers, and students were essentially frozen in place. Millions of dollars of productivity was lost and tempers predictably flared.
An immediate response can be that Governor Christie was incompetent because he literally did not know what was happening in the offices next to his. Assuming that he was telling the truth, and under the circumstances that’s quite a leap, he was concerned about what had happened in Ft. Lee, but he didn’t exhibit any of the determination and attention to detail that he presumably did when eleven months before he responded to Hurricane Sandy, which struck the Jersey shore. He failed to contact Mayor Mark Sokolich of Ft. Lee to cooperate in finding out what happened and what could be done to remedy the problem. He clearly did not tell his top aides to clear their desks of other pressing needs and make clearing the traffic jam their top priority. Had he done so, he may have found out about the complicity in September rather than January.
Coupled with the disdain that many of us have for Governor Christie, it’s possible that some empathy for him would be in order. Does he not have a set of jobs that are simply impossible for one person to do? He is governor of the nation’s 11th most populous state. He is chairman of the Republican Governors Conference. He is presumably a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. The time commitments on him make it nearly impossible to be the kind of attentive father to his children that he wants to be.
Let’s face it, if all that he did was his “day job” as governor of New Jersey and meet his family commitments, he would be a very busy man. If his ideas had not been focused on gaining political support from fellow governors, he would have had more time. Had he not been strategizing a presidential run and taking frequent trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, he would have had more time. Perhaps then, doing the obvious in Ft. Lee would have been on his radar screen.
Through most of 2013, President Barack Obama was definitely “on the job.” But when it comes to management of something as large as the federal government, even he couldn’t properly oversee everything. The web site for the Affordable Care Act was riddled with holes when it opened for business on October 1. The president was busy with a number of issues, including the government shut-down forced upon us by Republicans, and impending government default because the debt ceiling was not raised, and trying to gain more control over perhaps the most complicated agency ever created in Washington, the NSA.
Other countries, such as Germany and the United Kingdom, have campaigning for political offices compacted in short periods of time, such as six weeks. If the United States would move more in this direction, we would have far more attentive elected officials who are simultaneously running for office more effective in their day jobs than we do now.
Let’s face it, Chris Christie screwed up. But we, the public, did not do him any favors by making governing and politicking an ineffective combination. Let’s do our part as we expect more of elected officials such as Governor Christie, including telling the truth.