During my brief winter break hiatus from published sass and snark, one governor teed up the scandal of the year (all eight days of it). N.J. Gov. Chris Christie fired a top aide after allegations regarding unnecessary and politically motivated lane closures on the heavily congested George Washington Bridge. Unfortunately for Christie, the media is paying far too much attention to this scandal.
According to a Washington Post article from Jan. 8, Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, exchanged emails with David Wildstein, a Port Authority official. These emails hinted at unnecessary lane closures that came just after Mark Sokolich, Fort Lee, N.J.’s mayor, failed to endorse Christie in his 2013 reelection campaign. The closed bridge links Sokolich’s Fort Lee with New York City and sees around 280,000 vehicles a day, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s website.
This scandal has only gained traction as the story has developed. On Tuesday, Christie delivered a state-of-the-state address to the New Jersey legislature. He dedicated the first 150 words of the 4200-word speech to the scandal. After that, he moved onto actual governing topics, like unemployment, education and the rare, endangered idea of bipartisanship. Christie made the right move with his speech. He addressed the elephant in the room (cue fat joke), and then moved on to what matters: governing.
Frankly all this hullabaloo is getting blown out of proportion. I understand that Christie’s aides (and maybe even Christie himself) made a bone-headed call. Nothing makes New Jersey commuters angrier than an extra dose of traffic during rush hour. Especially when they haven’t had their daily caffeine injections. The only difference between Christie and just about every other politician in America is that he got caught. I know. I’ve watched House of Cards. I’m pretty much a certified political expert.
Christie was only playing the game that every politician is taught from his or her first term on Pawnee City Council. If the media wants to be upset with Christie, then they need to show the same amount of outrage with the entire political system. It seems silly to me that a week of politics-as-usual is sensationalized four months later while the broken system is simply ignored.
“But Sara,” you may say, “There are so many flaws in the current political system! Which one are you talking about?” Well, dear reader, it’s fairly simple. The current system rewards politicians based on their results, rather than on the process they took to achieve said results. It’d be like my calculus professor giving me a 100 percent on my final because I got all the answers right without putting down any of the work. He might assume that I worked hard and knew how to do all of the problems, when in reality I cheated off the awkward nerd with the math puns who sits next to me. While this system works for me in the short run, it won’t be very helpful when my math skills are put to an actual test. The same is true for politicians.
As a more-than-left-leaning liberal, I am hesitant to support someone on the other side of the aisle. However, I think Chris Christie is one of the most politically savvy and honest politicians (oxymoron) on the national stage today. When I listen to him speak, I don’t feel like someone is trying to pull one over on me. There’s not the typical sliminess that comes with political jargon and euphemisms. He genuinely seems like the next-door neighbor who gets what I’m saying and honestly tries to help.
However, this bridge crisis has brought all of that into question. Christie’s biggest political asset is his charisma and trustworthiness. He should know better than to get caught doing something this petty and stupid. It undermines everything that has made him popular. What makes matters worse for the governor is that rather than covering South Sudan or Obamacare, the media is choosing to bring a magnifying glass down on Christie’s administration. For his own political future, he should hope they don’t find anything else.
My point with writing this article is threefold. First, the media shouldn’t be paying this much attention to a state nicknamed the Armpit of America. Real governing should always take precedent. Second, Christie should not have gotten involved (or at least caught) in this kind of public relations nightmare. It’s below a man with presidential ambitions. Finally, we need to stop focusing on the individual shortcomings of politicians and take a look at the system as a whole. You can’t blame a guy for operating within the rules he was taught. We need to reexamine the system that instilled those teachings. Chris Christie may not be solution to everyone’s problems, but he shouldn’t be this week’s scapegoat either.
Sara Ryan is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences studying political science and math. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.