I have been looking for a word or a phrase to aptly and concisely describe the behavior of the New Jersey officials behind the shutting down of the lanes to the George Washington Bridge with the consequential traffic jam at the Fort Lee end.
Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and now a Republican Party activist and apologist, of all people, came up with an appropriate phrase on last Sunday's "Meet the Press" television show. He said it was "beyond stupid."
Bridget Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who sent the politically ill-fated email to initiate the "traffic problem at Fort Lee" to David Widstein, a political friend of Christie's and former executive at the Port Authority which operates this bridge, who acted on that message are intelligent people.
So far, with the exception of this bridge closing, no other wacky antics have been reported about both their political careers. Why would two apparently intelligent individuals with successful careers in political jobs become involved in something "beyond stupid?"
A number of years ago, when I first began my career in state politics as a state representative, the late Dennis Duffin, a veteran state representative from Lee, told me this story about one of his colleagues in the House of Representatives. He said this individual was an intelligent, common sense and competent lawmaker except during election time. A time, according to Duffin, when strange behavior occurred involving that lawmaker and his staff.
One example, recounted by Duffin, was an incident that took place in a re-election campaign by this representative who had run unopposed many times. This time he had an opponent. In that election, this individual's chief of office staff was caught filing documents with fraudulent notarized signatures in what could also be described as a "beyond stupid," stunt in an attempt to remove the opponent's name from the ballot.
According to Duffin, no evidence was found that linked this action directly to the representative who easily won re-election while his staffer was fired. Duffin's point was to introduce me to the political culture of electioneering in the major leagues of politics on the state and federal level.
The ambition of the politician in Duffin's story was to hold onto his office, which he came to consider as his seat to be held by him as long as he wished and his staff knew this. And to this end measures, in their view, had to be taken to sabotage any effort by opponents to run against him. I think it is fair to say that Gov. Christie's political ambition is to use his current position as a stepping stone to the presidency.
His obvious game plan is to create an aura of electability on a national level by showing he had bipartisan electoral support from members and elected officials from both major political parties. His administration also promoted the perception that there would be political consequences for those politicians who refused to play his political game. And to this end measures had to be taken to produce attention-grabbing support for Christie in New Jersey from politicians of all stripes and his staff knew this.
The support of all Democratic mayors in New Jersey would have given a lot of credence to Christie's electability claim in a presidential election. But he and his staff fell short of that goal, and one or the other of them reacted with the bridge closing.
In my opinion, it does not matter whether the politician in Duffin's story and Christie ordered their staff to take the action in question, or whether they knew that their staff was taking such action. The important thing is the perpetuation of a political culture by these two politicians that any means necessary should be taken to foster their political ambitions. It is a culture that as exemplified by these two incidents causes bizarre things to happen. Just imagine what might occur on an international level or a domestic level if Christie, as the president, did not get his way.
What "beyond stupid" things would an administration made up of staffers who think like him do? This bridge-closing episode, engineered by one of his former deputy chiefs of staff and his close friends in offices he appointed them to in the government agency running the bridge, on its face should be sufficient to knock him out for consideration as a presidential nominee.
The focus of this bridge closing story should not be whether Christie can survive politically to become the Republican Party presidential nominee. Frankly, I agree with a political commentator on a television talk show, who recently said that Christie did not have a chance for the nomination. He said that Christie's embrace of President Obama in photo-ops over federal support for New Jersey's big storm damage caused him to lose whatever support he had from right-wing and Tea Party voters who now control that party's nomination process.
The focus of the story should be to rid politics of politicians who perpetuate the culture exemplified by the bridge closing.
Putting an end to Christie's quest for the presidency now, by the voters in polls and otherwise would be a good start.
Robert "Frank" Jakubowicz is a regular political contributor.