Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) no longer cares about making sense.
He hit the absurdist stage of what seems to be his Nixonian demise on Friday evening, after a letter from the lawyer for former associate David Wildstein said the governor knew about the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge as they were happening became public.
Christie’s office issued a statement that said the letter confirmed what the governor had previously said — though he clearly had insisted that he wasn’t aware of the “traffic study” until “after the whole thing was over.” The governor then attended Howard Stern’s birthday party, where he was cheered, and a Super Bowl ceremony in Times Square, where he was booed.
Those public appearances were followed by an email to Politico in which Christie’s office went after David Wildstein, noting “risible juvenilia” — including the former blogger being “publicly accused by his high-school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.” It went on to describe Christie’s long-time associate as a “contentious” “political animal” who “frightened people.”
You may wonder, then, why the governor hired Wildstein to be his “eyes, ears” inside the Port Authority, as one of the linked articles in the email notes — except that being a “contentious” “political animal” who “frightened people” is kind of how Chris Christie became a frontrunner for the Republican nomination.
Remember: Wildstein is a guy Christie referred to as “a tireless advocate for New Jersey’s interests at the Port Authority” — less than seven weeks ago.
Christie must crush his former associate now because his political future depends on maintaining the stance that he had “no involvement, knowledge or understanding of the real motives behind David Wildstein’s scheme to close the lanes on the George Washington Bridge,” at least until emails damning his staff were released on January 10. Obviously the governor assumes his ex-pal may testify otherwise.
But the bridge scandal also cracked a veil of fear that seems to have cloaked an effort by the governor’s office to use aid awarded by Congress for Superstorm Sandy relief as a political piggy bank to help his re-election.
Accusations by Mayor Dawn Zimmer (D-Hoboken) found relief for her city, which was reportedly 80 percent underwater during the storm, held hostage because she resisted developments favored by the governor’s office seem substantiated by new emails. Meanwhile in New Brunswick, a town that suffered little damage but did have a Democratic mayor who endorsed Christie, funds went to build an apartment tower.
“Furthermore, relief funds have been extremely hard to account for because Christie vetoed a bill that would have created a single website to track Sandy funding and contract information,” wrote Brian Murphy, a former intimate of all the key players in the Bridgegate scandal.
Great need went unmet as the relief effort literally became a commercial for the governor’s re-election. This is the scandal that should concern us most.
Last summer, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) attacked Christie as the “the king of bacon talking about bacon.” He accused the governor of having a “gimme, gimme, gimme” attitude when it came to fighting for Sandy relief. Christie’s office rightly pointed out that New Jersey, unlike Kentucky, is a donor state that contributes more to the federal government than it takes in.
Now, half a year later, Paul seems to have a point. New Jersey needed the aid, but the governor’s “gimme” attitude should not have been rewarded. Chris Christie shouldn’t have been trusted with Sandy funds any more than George W. Bush should have been trusted with a budget surplus.
The case against government spending is always easy to make when it’s “them” getting the money, which is why politicians have a sacred duty to make sure disaster relief go to those most in need.
With the demise of Christie appearing inevitable, Rand Paul is the only 2016 GOP frontrunner with enough political talent to expand the party. He prides himself on appealing to the center on issues like government surveillance and the drug war while veering further to the right than Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) on gutting government help for families and the social safety net. And the junior senator from Kentucky is further to the right than Chris Christie — who has continually defunded Planned Parenthood — when it comes a woman’s right to choose, even in cases of rape of incest.
Rand Paul — like his father Ron, from whom he inherited his political brand and presidential campaign-in-waiting — believes in getting rid of FEMA and letting local governments handle disaster relief, because that worked so well with Katrina.
The Pauls’ solutions always send things back to the local level, which is a clever way to say you want to cut them. The senator recently said unemployment insurance does a “disservice” to those who have been out of work for months. Clearly he feels the same way about people who’ve suffered a disaster or have survived until retirement.
Libertarians believe that people will inevitably exploit their government checks, but unfettered businesses will bring great fairness to the land. They believe this even though we have proof that corporations feed on the most vulnerable by saddling them with fees and loans until the entire economic system is on the verge of collapse.
Christie may be guilty of selfishly manipulating government funds in private. But we know he did this in public when he killed a rail tunnel to New York City that had been planned for years in just a few weeks. This created more traffic for his constituents while keeping land values low, but it freed up $1.8 billion for the Port Authority to use on projects more politically convenient to the governor.
He did it again when he wasted millions on an unnecessary special election just to avoid being on the same ballot as now-Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), another move Rand Paul criticized.
Chris Christie risked his political career by using his office to help him win higher office. And he may pay the cost for that. But he also risked the faith in government, which provides the crucial help that no other institution can or will provide when it’s most needed. This provides cynics with proof that government should not be trusted.
And for that, we all pay.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr