Ten Miles Square

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January 10, 2014 12:11 PM Chris Christie at Canossa

By Michael O'Hare

Hard to see how Christie survives the Fort Lee episode now. In his presser yesterday, we learned that for four months, he was unable to learn anything about the little game his nearest and dearest played with the people in Fort Lee in September, and that when he called everyone into the room weeks ago to tell him if they knew anything about it, he accepted “no’s” without even asking for the email correspondence that came out yesterday, or, apparently, having individual conversations (he’s an ex-US Attorney!) with folks to see if their stories matched. So with all the powers and authority of his office, he managed to be the last person on the planet to know what his people were up to.

A couple of angles on this story worth noting: First, Christie himself has a public record of indifference to cross-Hudson commuters generally, going back three years, so maybe his people were just making reasonable inferences about what would make him happy. Second, the pettiness and pointlessness of the whole exercise. The bridge trick might be a useful signal to other state pols about the cost of crossing the gov, but that only works if it’s widely known that it happened and why! Other than that, it’s striking that no-one made a penny from the whole thing, and I must say, if New Jersey corruption conventions have so completely departed from their historic basic values, things are in a really bad way there.

More interesting, and not emphasized yet in reporting, is his repeated insistence throughout this morning’s damage control that he threw Ms. Kelly under the bus because she lied to him. Not, because she obviously has terrible judgment and a petty vengeful streak, or that her continuation in any office is a clear and present danger to the people of the state: because she lied to him. Personal loyalty is what it’s about for Chris, and there are few more dangerous qualities in a government official than to count your lieutenants’ devotion to your short-term comfort above their ability or motivation to do their jobs. Good pols seek out people to play Nathan to their Uriah moments; bad ones just have a posse of yessers.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Michael O'Hare is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

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