Bridges are metaphors. In the 90s, Bill Clinton juxtaposed Bob Dole’s “bridge to the past” with his vision for a “bridge to the future.” They’re also easily understandable as scandals. Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ career was effectively ended by scandals, including his support of a “bridge to nowhere.”
This is why New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ought to be greatly concerned about emails which reveal that a top aide conspired with Port Authority executives to intentionally shut down lanes to the George Washington Bridge as an attempted payback for a political enemy.
For a governor who’s entire raison d’être is based on putting New Jersey citizens first (even if it means throwing the GOP presidential nominee under the bus right before the election), this strikes at the heart of his argument for higher office.
The fact that this was a superfluous use of power and revenge (ostensibly against a mayor who didn’t endorse Christie) makes it perhaps even more disturbing. As Will Rahn notes, “A central weirdness of Watergate was that there was zero threat of McGovern win. Christie team’s Ft. Lee payback [was] similarly pointless.”
If you haven’t read the emails, this is via The Bergen Record (NorthJersey.com):
“’Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,’ Bridget Anne Kelly, one of three deputies on Christie’s senior staff, wrote to David Wildstein, a top Christie executive at the Port Authority, on Aug. 13, about three weeks before the closures. Wildstein, the official who ordered the closures and who resigned last month amid the escalating scandal, wrote back: ‘Got it.’”
An obvious problem for Christie is that people can easily understand traffic congestion — this isn’t Teapot Dome scandal. Gridlock (another unfortunate metaphor!) directly impacts average people (Christie’s team didn’t go after a politician, he went after the very citizens he represents.)
Traffic is a huge deal, especially for those living in places like New Jersey. It wastes people’s time every day, preventing them from seeing their families and doing their work. The notion that a politician would intentionally subject them to it — for political purposes — will stick in many a craw.
To be sure, it’s entirely possible that Christie didn’t order this — and wasn’t aware of it. Again, though, the problem is that he hasn’t had a lot of sympathy for other leaders who were out of the loop on things, or didn’t demonstrate terrific leadership at one time or another. Additionally, as The Record notes, “Christie has previously said that no one in his staff or campaign was involved in the lane closings, and he has dismissed questions about political retribution by joking that he moved the traffic cones himself.”
This incident, of course, also reinforces his “bully” brand — an image that works for him in small doses, but could quickly become a liability when incidents like this reinforce the downside of autocratic tendencies.
It’s not impossible for Christie to move past this, but the key here is to take this utterly seriously. To some, this story might seem like a small thing. And maybe it will blow over. But there is potential here for this scandal to plague him for a long, long time. He had better take it seriously.