The Unshocking Christie Scandal
Who is surprised that New Jersey politicians play hardball?

Governor Christie takes questions on the Bridgegate scandal.


Jonah Goldberg

Editor’s Note: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox.

Dear Reader (Including those of you reading this while ensnared in a traffic study),

I don’t know how long this G-File will be as I am on a plane from Tampa with a low battery. Every percentage point it drops rings in my ears like the countdown from 24. The pressure is making me sweat like Chris Christie reading the Bergen County Record.

The Christie scandal is an odd thing. Outside the peculiar context of Christie’s presidential ambitions, the idea that this should be front-page news across the country is somewhat baffling. Quick: Show of hands. Who is surprised that New Jersey politicians play hardball with other New Jersey politicians at the expense of voters and taxpayers?


Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize it would be that many of you. Okay, just out of curiosity, for those of you who are legitimately shocked, I’d like to ask some control questions. Are you also shocked that bears use our national forests for toilets? Are you shocked that dogs lick their nether regions without much concern about who might be watching? Does it blow your mind that the pope is Catholic? When you smash your thumb with a ball peen hammer are you taken off guard by the throbbing pain?

I see.

Now I am not condoning or even trying to minimize the significance of “Bridgegate” — an idiotic term by the way. What these bozos did was bozoriffic. But come on. Do you think Rahm Emanuel hasn’t played games with which streets get plowed first after a snow storm? Do you think that the Cuomos have issued every business permit and license on a first-come, first-serve basis? Wait you do? Oh man, that is adorable. Bless your heart.

Like pretty much everyone else, I think that if Christie is lying about being out of the loop, he’s done for. Fair or not, he set the standard by which he wants people to judge him. I grew tired of his constant boasting of his straight-talking a long time ago. But he’s the self-declared exemplar of straight-talking. (I like the straight talk, mind you. I just don’t like all the allegedly straight talk about his straight talking. It’s a bit like Christie’s odd way of being arrogant about how humble he is. Just give me the straight talk; don’t give me a lot of hot air about how straight the straight talk is, ya get me? I love it when my waiter brings a great steak. But when he hangs around selling me on each morsel as it goes into my mouth, it really creeps me out. “Great steak, huh!? Man, you are lucky to be eating that. Take another bite. I bet it’s even better.”)

Also, I’m not a huge fan of career politicians talking about how they’re not really politicians. It’s like a salesman insisting he’s not like any other salesman. Maybe that’s true in some ways (maybe he has three nipples and a neon orange unibrow; what do I know?) but at the end of the day he’s still trying to make a sale which means — tah dah! — he’s a salesman. Christie’s claim to be above politics-as-usual always struck me as incredibly hackneyed and forced. He’s the governor of frick’n New Jersey. Being above politics there is about as possible as cleaning out a stable by hand without getting your white gloves dirty. The fact that voters want to hear that stuff doesn’t make it true. It makes it pandering.

Anyway, Christie set the standard for his straight talking. He set the standard of being better than petty politics. And, yesterday, he laid down a marker for what he knew and didn’t know. If that marker is proven phony, it will profoundly undermine the criteria by which he asks voters to judge him. And that wound will be entirely self-inflicted.

Upside Down and Backwards
But come on! You have to wonder how some of the folks in the media can look at themselves in the mirror. The three network news shows have devoted orders of magnitude more coverage to a story about closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge than they have to the IRS scandal. I know this is not a new insight, but WHAT THE HELL!?

The sheer passion the New York Times-MSNBC mob is bringing to a partial road closure is a wonder to behold. What about the children! The chiiiiillllldrennnn!!!!!

But using the IRS to harass political opponents — one of the charges in the articles of impeachment for Richard Nixon — well, that’s complicated. The president didn’t know. The government is so vast. I had a flat tire! A flood! Locusts! It wasn’t his fault! Besides Chris Christie joked about putting down the cones himself! The cones, man! The cones!

But forget about the IRS scandal. Obama’s whole shtick is to pretend that he’s above politics while being rankly political about everything, including his stated desire to “punish our enemies.” By comparison, Chris Christie looks like Diogenes and Cincinnatus rolled into one. From inauguration day forward, this whole crew has behaved like Chicago goons dressed in Olympian garb, and the press has fallen for it. 

We don’t need to recycle the whole sordid history of the sequester and the shutdown to remember that this White House sincerely, deliberately, and with malice aforethought sought to make things as painful as possible for millions of Americans. Traffic cones on the George Washington Bridge are a stain on the honor of New Jersey. (Stop laughing!) But deliberately pulling air-traffic controllers to screw with millions of people is just fine? Shafting World War II vets and vacationing families at National Parks is something only crazy right-wingers on Twitter would have a problem with? And keep in mind, it is at least plausible Christie didn’t know what his staff was doing. It is entirely implausible that the president didn’t know about the WWII memorial closure, after the news appeared in the president’s daily briefing (a.k.a. the New York Times).

I’d say I just don’t get it, but I do get it. For the mainstream media, skepticism comes naturally when a Republican is in the crosshairs. It comes reluctantly, slowly, and painfully — if at all — when it’s a Democrat.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie faced the press on Thursday in a marathon session as the fallout from the “Bridgegate” scandal continued to engulf his administration. Here’s a look at the early blistering newspaper covers and the first round of Photoshop mockery.
The nearby New York press was particularly brutal on Christie.
MEME WATCH: The Photoshop commentariat shifted into high gear on the Bridgegate scandal, playing on some long-standing criticisms (personal and political) of the New Jersey governor.
A concise summary of Christie's press-conference assertions.
A minor sidebar to the scandal erupted when Buzzfeed writer Andrew Kaczynski dubbed the #BridgeGhazi hashtag the best on the Internet. Critics quickly pounced on what they saw as a tasteless comparison to the Benghazi attack.
Updated: Jan. 09, 2014