Chris Christie. [Shakes head.] What a disappointment. He purports to want to play in the big leagues, and yet:
“Is he really ready for prime time?” wonders journalism professor and scandal-culture expert Mark Feldstein. Can he truly be ready for a nationally ambitious operation if his aides are thinking so small? “If he’s not willing to be thinking of unauthorized wiretaps . . .”
Exactly so. This is precisely the issue we need to be talking about. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is frequently mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016, but recent actions reportedly linked to the Christie administration are —
“I mean, it was just a dumb thing to do,” says George Hayduke, author of more than a dozen revenge-themed books, including “Make ’Em Pay” and “Up Yours.” “If someone had come to me for advice and said, hey, you’re the revenge guy,” Hayduke would have advised them, “That’s just dumb.” (Hayduke is a pseudonym. Hayduke refuses to give his real name. Hayduke’s publisher mysteriously refers to him simply as “Hayduke.” Hayduke’s real name comes up in a reverse telephone search of a man in Florida).
Backing up to Christie.
Or not, rather, because we’re all stuck in traffic.
In September 2013, residents of Fort Lee, N.J., found themselves ensnared in a pavement prison of Brobdingnagian proportions when several access lanes to the George Washington Bridge to New York were closed — stranding school buses on the first day of school and trapping commuters for hours. Ambulance service was reportedly delayed, and one woman transported that evening later died.
Residents were told that the jam was due to a traffic study. Actually, according to e-mail records published Wednesday by a New Jersey newspaper, the jam was due to the orders of Christie’s staff — an apparent retaliatory measure for the town’s mayor not supporting Christie’s reelection. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly wrote to a Christie official at Port Authority of New York and new Jersey.
The governor has not been implicated in the e-mails or traffic plan. On Wednesday, he issued a statement saying he had no knowledge of them and was “outraged” and “saddened” to have been misled by his staff.
In the grand scheme of diabolical political paybacks, how does this vision stack up?
Take FDR, Feldstein says. During World War II, after the Chicago Tribune published news of broken Japanese codes, President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to order troops to take over the newspaper’s building. (He was eventually talked down from this martial plot.) The publisher was an old nemesis from prep school.
Take President Richard M. Nixon — always with Nixon — who tried to get the IRS to conduct field audits against people he perceived as political foes in the early, pre-Watergate 1970s. “It was really a matter of trying to destroy people personally” by using the governmental means available, says Joseph Cummins, the author of dirty tricks encyclopedia “Anything for a Vote.” “That was the way Nixon felt about things.”
Back in the 1870s, federal civil servants would be threatened with job loss if they didn’t donate portions of their salaries to the campaigns of the sitting president.
“Usually, you try to keep your fingerprints off,” Feldstein says. “You gin up another candidate to run against [your enemy] or write a kiss-and-tell book or . . . you change the appropriations on their committee.” The Fort Lee road closure, he says, “is really not visionary enough or subtle enough.”
“Now, I don’t know Governor Christie, but I don’t like any of them. Politicians. None.” says Hayduke, who announces that he generally likes to refer to elected officials as “Beltway bowel movements.” Still, he cannot believe that Christie had any knowledge of the plot, because “I cannot conceivably think of someone who would be stupid enough” to issue that order.
Hayduke has standards: on the nature of revenge, on who deserves it, on how it should be doled out. “I’m a bully buster, not a bully,” he says. What should happen now, he suggests, is that the aides responsible for the closure should be put in dunking chairs off the George Washington Bridge. “Just let people, as they drive by, punch buttons to dunk them in the river,” he suggests.
“This is very crude,” Cummins says of the road closures. “I’m sure there are all sorts of revenge tales, but [politicians] are much more careful about not letting you see these things.”
Cummins breaks off.
“My wife is telling me to be careful,” he says. “She says to make sure we have all of our property taxes paid up” before continuing with this conversation.
Cummins lives in Maplewood. New Jersey.