It is hard to pick a favorite line from the marathon Chris Christie news conference on the subject of the [political vendetta/traffic study/traffic study that morphed into a political vendetta/political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study] conducted by two of his appointees and a senior aide that closed several lanes of the George Washington Bridge for a few days in September. It was full of memorable moments. Given that it ran approximately twice as long as “Lawrence of Arabia,” with only moderately fewer displays of ego, it would have to be. Among the best:
1) Transforming Traffic Studies.
“I don’t know whether this was a traffic study that then morphed into a political vendetta or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study,” Christie actually said at one point.
“That’s the worst Transformer in history,” quipped Ben Greenman, on Twitter.
The presser went on to develop into an elaborate vendetta against traffic studies or traffic study against vendettas, or whatever the appropriate terminology is. “I don’t know what makes a legitimate traffic study. It’s not my area of expertise. And so I wouldn’t have a nose for that. I just wouldn’t. I don’t know what makes a legitimate traffic study.” No one ever saw the day when Chris Christie would have to stand in front of the people of New Jersey insisting he did not know how traffic studies worked. “I’ve been told that sometimes they’re done live, sometimes they’re done by computer model. I’ve heard that in the professionals who’ve testified for the Port Authority. But you’d have to go to them to ask them what a legitimate traffic study is. I probably wouldn’t know a traffic study if I tripped over it.” Or if hundreds of commuters did.
“I don’t know whether — like I said — I think I answered this before — I don’t know whether this was some type of rogue political operation that morphed into a traffic study or a traffic study that morphed into an additional rogue political — I don’t know.” It’s not just vendettas any more. They could be anything! Your neighbor could be a traffic study!
All Christie knows is that now he is firmly opposed to traffic studies. “Listen. You think I’m suggesting any traffic studies anytime soon?. . . I think I’m out of the traffic study business for certain, never really in it and definitely don’t want to be in it.”
2) Chris Christie Has A Lot of Feelings
Midway through the presser you would be forgiven for wondering if Christie thought the whole point of this exercise was that we were worried about him and wanted to know how he was feeling.
“I am a very sad person,” he informed us. Then: “I’m sad. I’m sad. That’s the predominant emotion I feel right now is sadness, sadness that I was betrayed by a member of my staff, sadness that I had people who I entrusted with important jobs who acted completely inappropriately, sad that that’s led the people of New Jersey to have less confidence in the people that I’ve selected. The emotion that I’ve been displaying in private is sad.”
Then, just to drive it home. “I don’t know what the stages of grief are in exact order, but I know anger gets there at some point. I’m sure I’ll have that too. But the fact is right now I’m sad.”
How sad was he? “I am a very sad person today. That’s the emotion I feel. A person close to me betrayed me, a person who I counted on and trusted for five years betrayed me. A person who I gave a high government office to betrayed me. I probably will get angry at some point, but I got to tell you the truth. I’m sad. I’m a sad guy standing here today, and very disappointed. And that’s the overriding emotion. Someone asked me that before. That’s the overriding emotion.”
What kind of a day is it for you? “It’s a sad day for me. And I’m doing what I’m obligated to do under this job, because it’s the right thing to do, and I’m doing it. But it doesn’t make me angry at the moment. It just makes me sad.”
They say the key to an apology is making a lot of “I” statements, but I think he may have overdone it a little. By the time he was done, I almost wanted to apologize to him.
3) Who Are Any of These People?
Another emergent theme of the press conference was that Christie was more sinned against than sinning, and that some of the people involved (cough, David Wildstein, uncough) who claimed to be friends from his school days were total losers whom he did not remember at all.
Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, whose traffic was disrupted, was a small fry on whom he would never have wasted this kind of effort. In fact, he couldn’t even have picked Mayor Sokolich out of a lineup. “I mean, I don’t know this guy. Like I said, I may have met him in a greeting line or in a — in a big Bergen County event or at a town hall meeting or something. But I’m telling you, like, until yesterday when I saw his picture on TV, I wouldn’t have — I — if he walked in the room, I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out. So that’s not to diminish him in any way.” Sure. Of course not.
This was clearly the sort of remark designed to make Mayor Sokolich feel great about himself. Before the conference was over, word surfaced that Mayor Sokolich was urging Christie not to make the trip up to Fort Lee to apologize, saying it would be needlessly disruptive. “What was that whole schpiel?” the mayor seemed to think. “It looked a lot less like apologizing and a lot more like talking and talking and saying how sad you are about something that was in no way your fault, except in the sense that you, as governor, are always responsible for everything that happens in the state. If that is what an apology from Chris Christie looks like, I will pass.”
It’s hard to blame him.