Saturday, February 15, 2014

End Game

We are entering a new phase of Christiegate. For now, at least, the multitude of scandals involving the New Jersey Governor is no longer dominating the news cycles. New Jersey reporters and legislators are appearing less frequently on the 24-hour news circuit.

So what’s next? How does this all end? Here are a few scenarios.

Scenario 1: Christie is forced to resign or is impeached.

In 1973, when President Nixon famously stated, “I am not a crook,” most people knew he was lying. But it took a smoking gun, the release of his taped conversations, to accelerate Nixon’s premature departure. Nixon’s fate was sealed when members of his own party realized he was a liability to them.

In Christie’s case, there will be no smoking gun. No single event that will cause a groundswell of action to force Christie from office. Like the fictional Frank Underwood, Christie is too smart to leave an unambiguous trail of evidence that would tie him to any of his corrupt actions. Like Underwood, Christie has no compunction to lay the blame on his subordinate loyalists and snooker the public to believe he was not involved. (Spoiler non-alert: I have not finished watching Season 2 of House of Cards, so if something does happen to Underwood, please don’t comment on it!)

Let’s not forget that Christie was re-elected by an overwhelming majority. Sure, the Democrats failed to support their candidate and the media (back then) was enamored by Christie’s style. But the vote is what it is, and the people of New Jersey (or at least those who bothered to vote) have spoken. Impeachment is a serious deal, and should not be used just because the leader’s policies are detrimental and harmful. Criminal activity must be proven before impeachment occurs.

Unless there is a smoking gun, the legislature will never muster the Republican votes in the Senate that are required to remove Christie. And Christie’s ego is too big to cause him to resign under pressure, no matter how ineffective he becomes as governor.

Scenario 2: Christie serves out the rest of his term.

Even if Christie’s 2016 presidential ambitions are put on the back burner, there’s always 2020 and beyond. Christie’s ego, ambition, and intelligence will not allow him to do a Sarah Palin and resign the governorship on his own accord.  So to avoid precluding a run for higher office, Christie will continue as governor through 2017 when his term ends. He’ll continue governing in a manner that will please primary voters in Iowa and South Carolina, at the expense of the poor and middle class in New Jersey. Education will suffer as he collects IOUs from the education-industrial complex. His taxpayer-funded self-promotions will continue with his Orwellian view of the “improvements” in the Garden State. By the end of his term, and in the subsequent years, his malfeasance on Sandy and the Bridge will be forgotten by all but the most partisan of us. He will be gracious and regal as his Democratic successor is inaugurated in 2017 and with the complicity of the media (who will have moved on to the next big story) he’ll go out as the elder statesman of New Jersey – well positioned for a future run as President, an appointment as US Attorney General, an oil lobbyist, or some other high-profile job.

Scenario 3: Christie runs for President in 2016

Christiegate may have legs in New Jersey, but not nationwide. With his recent erratic and irrational actions over the debt ceiling, Ted Cruz has angered the Republican establishment and diminished his chances for 2016. That leaves Christie and Rand Paul as the top contenders. Christie may decide to reach for the brass ring this time around, knowing that his party is starting to shun the crazies, and there may be a tougher competition for the nomination in 2020.

His likely opponent will be Hillary Clinton. While both parties will be well-funded, Christie will be able to call on the unlimited resources of his Koch Brothers allies and their ilk. Clinton will be attacked by the misogynists the same way that the racists have attacked Obama. And Fox News will amplify those attacks and distort Clinton’s record. There’s a path here by which Christie can win and become President. God help us.

Monday, February 3, 2014

This is not Schadenfreude

In describing Chris Christie’s fall from grace, many journalists have asserted that those of us who have sensed Christie’s incompetence and dubious ethical conduct from Day One are basking in the glow of schadenfreude. Not me.

I take no joy in Christie’s trials and tribulations. To me, he’s just another George W Bush political hack who got lucky and leveraged electoral victories first against an unpopular and charismatically-challenged incumbent and later against a challenger who was abandoned by her own party.

I take no joy in the fact that his presidential ambitions have gone down the toilet. The Republicans will end up nominating someone else in 2016, most likely someone even worse than Christie, and that is bad for the Republicans and bad for America.

I take no joy in the fact that aside from his personal failings, the damage that he’s done to New Jersey will take more years to undo than the eight (or possibly fewer) years that he will have occupied the Governor’s office. We’ve lost the momentum in rebuilding our infrastructure, are behind the rest of the nation in restoring some modicum of equity to the middle class, our business climate rankings have plummeted, and no progress has been made on an equitable tax system. Our environment has suffered under Christie, making future remediation more difficult and expensive.

I take no joy in the fact that this so-called corruption buster has become the epitome of the stereotypical New Jersey corrupt political boss. I take no joy that my beloved state continues to be the butt of jokes for late-night comedians.

I take no joy in the fact that our electoral system and our electorate is flawed, opting for “style” over substance, favors over ethics, and the continued influence of big money over the best interests of the average citizen.

Chris Christie will never be President. If he is unable to complete his term as Governor, his future will not be bleak. He’ll become a high-paid talking head on Fox “News”, or a high-paid lobbyist, or a high-paid investment advisor on Wall Street.

So there’s no joy in my mind about the unfolding downfall of an egotistical fraud. Let’s close this sordid chapter in New Jersey history and use it as a lesson to improve things as we move forward.