No one can know the strengths and weaknesses of an elected official as well as his close aides. The official, unintentionally, reveals a great deal about himself when he chooses those aides. It is also the relatively smaller things that are most telling about character. How do the official and his aides react not to moments of crisis but to the routine disappointments inherent in life? How does he routinely use power? What level of empathy do the official and his aides demonstrate in day-to-day life? Does he and do his aides care about all the citizens or only their political supporters?
Today will be famous among political junkies as the day that Governor Chris Christie’s campaign for the presidential nomination blew itself up. The suicide bomb was delivered by Christie’s staff and it was a variant on the same bomb that Mitt Romney triggered to destroy his campaign for the presidency. Putting aside Romney’s vile dismissal of 47% of Americans as supposed freeloaders who take no personal responsibility, his most shameful and revealing phrase was “my job is not to worry about those people.” The job of an elected official, of course, is to worry about all the people regardless of whom they voted for in an election or were even old enough to vote in the election. An official who cannot get that most basic aspect of their job statement correct without hesitation is unfit for any position. He is profoundly anti-American and he cannot honor any oath of office he takes. Romney made clear that he flunked this most basic test.
Christie’s staff has made clear that it flunked the same test. His entire group of aides flunked it after they had seen the disastrous results of Romney’s failure. Recall the remedial humaneness training that the Republican “autopsies” of the 2012 election-cycle recommended? Christie and his team missed the memo, missed the class on empathy, and channeled their inner Mittnasty to lash out at the people of their own state through an act of domestic terrorism. They did not set out to kill and maim, but they did deliberately try to make the lives of tens of thousands of people miserable and they succeeded in doing so. They did so in a manner so reckless that they put lives at risk and may have killed people.
“‘Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,’ Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly wrote in an email on Aug. 13.
‘Got it,’ replied David Wildstein, who was then one of Christie’s top aides at the Port Authority, which is run jointly by New York and New Jersey.”
The story is so revealing because Christie was not fighting for his political life and no one wronged him in any fashion. Christie wanted to win re-election by an even larger margin and believed that getting the endorsement of an obscure Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, New Jersey, might pick him up a few additional votes. The mayor ultimately did not endorse Christie, but he was not even a minor leader of the politically hopeless effort to elect Christie’s Democratic opponent. Nevertheless, Christie’s staff decided to make an object lesson of Sokolich’s defiance of Christie’s entreaties. They did so by causing massive delays on the George Washington Bridge near Fort Lee, the most heavily used in America. If you missed the logical gap between the last two sentences – the “therefore” we decided to make tens of thousands of peoples’ lives miserable – you are not alone.
It was the gleeful misuse of government power to attack their fellow-citizens and the ethics-free, bigoted, screw people who don’t vote for us attitude of Christie’s lieutenants – followed by their pathetic lies trying to cover-up their depravity that will make their efforts infamous for a generation. People will debate for many years which line made infamous by Christie’s staff is their favorite phrase. The direct analog to Romney’s pronouncement that his job was to ignore the interests of 47% of all Americans is this exchange between David Wildstein, a close friend of Christie who was then one of his top aides at the Port Authority, and Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Christie. Sokolich, who had not been informed of the lane closings for the bridge, began the series of exchanges among Christie’s aides when he texted Bill Baroni, the governor’s top appointee at the Port Authority, asking for “help” because the lane closings were making children on buses late to school.:
“I feel badly about the kids,” [Widstein] texted.
“They are the children of Buono voters,” [Kelly] said, referring to Mr. Christie’s Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono, who was trailing consistently in the polls and lost by a wide margin.
Not that it should matter, but the area of New Jersey harmed primarily by Christie’s staffs’ domestic terror campaign is home predominately to people who voted for Christie. The goal of Christie’s staff was not to harm them, but rather to harm them so that they would be sufficiently enraged to blame their plight on their local Democratic mayor and vote him out of office as a warning to anyone who might have the temerity to fail to support Christie. This represented a more radical application of the Romney doctrine – we must be willing to use our governmental power to harm even our supporters if doing so will aid our ability to crush our political opponents.
Christie’s Orwellian Staff
Christie’s staff had read George Orwell, so one of their themes is torturing the English language. When Wildstein says “I feel badly about the kids” he does so in a context that proves he does not. The context of the remarks I just quoted above was this exchange:
“‘Is it wrong that I am smiling?’ Mr. Wildstein texted Ms. Kelly.
‘No,’ she texted back.”
Wildstein did not feel badly about the kids. He was “smiling” about all the pain his act of domestic terror was inflicting. He deliberately timed the bridge lane closures for the first day of Fort Lee’s school year to maximize the trauma to kids that would be trapped on busses for hours. If you have to ask whether it is wrong for smiling because you are making kids’ lives miserable you are a miserable failure as a human being. If you work with people that answer your question with the word “no” then you are working in the perfect environment for you to do the opposite of Lincoln’s pleas that we always remember that “we are not enemies, but friends” and for you to reject his advice that we should listen to “the better angels of our nature.” Christienauts cultivate the worst demons of their nature – praising those that smile at the prospect of causing pain to children.
This next exchange tortures the English language in so many ways that it should have arisen from a site of the Spanish Inquisition.
“‘The New York side gave Fort Lee back all three lanes this morning. We are appropriately going nuts,’ Mr. Wildstein wrote to Ms. Kelly. ‘Samson helping us to retaliate.’
‘What??’ she emailed back.
‘Yes, unreal. Fixed now,’ he emailed.”
The context for this exchange is that the New York officials with the Port Authority promptly tried to limit the damage done by the Christies. The result was that the Christie administration was – (in) “appropriately” – “going nuts” because it was enraged that its plan to terrorize tens of thousands of New Jersey citizens would fail. The Christie administration was enraged that a sister-state had promptly, on its own initiative, acted successfully to help the people of New Jersey. The Christie administration scrambled to act immediately to “retaliate” against a friendly act for the sole purpose of harming the people of New Jersey in the hopes that they would fall for the administration’s spin and blame the Democratic mayor rather than the Christie administration for their suffering. The person who led this immediate “retaliat[ion]” was David Samson, Christie’s close political ally that he installed as Chairman of the Port Authority. Christie’s people were so removed from reality and so deeply invested in pulling off ChristieNacht that they purported to find New York’s friendly aid to New Jersey “unreal” and so crazed as to require double question marks – “What??”
In Christieland: “appropriate” means inappropriate, “retaliate” means harming people who have just helped you, “fixed” means ruined, and rational, helpful actions by public officials are so mystifying that they are considered “unreal.” Even more revealing – the top aides all understand each other when they torture the English language. None of them can understand New York helping New Jersey, but all of them understand the need to “retaliate” immediately against New York’s perfidious good-neighbor practices. None of Christie’s aides have even the battered remnants of a moral compass. They literally cannot comprehend the New York public servants serving the New York and New Jersey public – “What??”
Public safety and domestic terrorism through political hacks
I am sure that Wildstein did not set out to kill people, but when he deliberately created massive traffic jams he inherently created a grave risk than emergency vehicles could not get through.
The Huffington Post column explains some of these risks.
“A month later Wildstein did indeed create the traffic problems that Christie’s office requested. He closed down two of Fort Lee’s access lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge, the busiest bridge in the country. The closures came on Sept. 9, the first day of school in Fort Lee, leading to massive traffic jams as bridge traffic backed up into local streets. As a result, police and emergency vehicles were delayed in responding to reports of a missing child and a cardiac arrest.”
If Wildstein did not kill people through his traffic jams he was exceptionally lucky. Had there been a major fire emergency he could have caused the deaths of scores of people. He isn’t a conventional domestic terrorist, but he could easily have caused more deaths than a conventional terrorist.
Professionals who deal with traffic safety spend their lives trying to minimize these risks. Christie’s aides are so depraved that they sought to maximize the risk that the people of New Jersey would be maimed and killed. We have to stop making it acceptable to put political hacks in charge of jobs like this. Appointing hacks to the Port Authority and similar jobs is not a practice limited to Republicans, though I have never heard of prior Republicans or Democrats appointed to the Port Authority deliberately putting lives at risk.
And, surprise, ChristieNacht was an act of bigotry
No, I don’t mean an act of bigotry against Democrats. Wildstein’s explanation of why his bridge lane closures would harm Sokolich politically included this attempted insult.
“Wildstein also predicted political problems for Sokolich over the issue, writing in a Sept. 18 email, ‘It will be a tough November for this little Serbian.’
Sokolich said that for the record, he is Croatian.”
Serbs, Croats – what’s the big difference? It was just a gratuitous ethnic insult by a political hack trying to impress the Governor with his willingness to misuse political power to harm anyone who refused to lick Christie’s boots. Bigots aren’t terribly good at accurate ethnic identification (consider the repeated attacks on Sikhs by anti-Muslim domestic terrorists). If you work for Christie you also learn to despise people who are “little” (as in “little Serbian”), as opposed to “big” as in Christie.