Pol­i­tics ain’t bean­bag

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Clos­ing sev­eral lanes of traf­fic on the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge to “pun­ish” the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., was bone­headed, the sort of idea a ju­nior aide sug­gests to catch the eye of the boss. Gov. Chris Christie’s crit­ics, who hadn’t been able to lay a glove on the Te­flon gov­er­nor, fi­nally had some­thing to bat­ter him about the head and shoul­ders with.

Mr. Christie han­dled him­self well in a press con­fer­ence last week, fir­ing those he claimed were re­spon­si­ble, apol­o­giz­ing for what had hap­pened and mak­ing a cred­i­ble case that he knew noth­ing about it un­til he read about it in the news­pa­pers. If he was telling the truth — and it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that he has de­lib­er­ately set him­self up for a mon­u­men­tal fall — the scan­dal will be but a bump in the road to­ward the White House.

“Bridge­gate,” as the “wits” are call­ing it, isn’t in the same league with the Beng­hazi cover-up, the use of the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice to in­tim­i­date or pun­ish the pres­i­dent’s op­po­nents, or the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s ha­rass­ment of his press crit­ics, and it cer­tainly isn’t within a mile of Water­gate, the model would-be word­smiths in­voke ev­ery time there’s a scan­dal big­ger than an un­paid park­ing ticket. But you wouldn’t have known that from the at­ten­tion this one got on Sun­day’s “news” shows. They all fo­cused on the gov­er­nor’s in­volve­ment, such as it may be, and its im­pact, if any, on his fu­ture. Only af­ter milk­ing it for the last ounce of blue john, they turned to more im­por­tant topics, like for­mer Sec­re­tary of De­fense Robert M. Gates’ scorn for Pres­i­dent Obama’s Afghanistan pol­icy and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s ma­lin­ger­ing in an hour of cri­sis.

Hav­ing weath­ered all that, Mr. Christie might have breathed a sigh of relief, fig­ur­ing he could go back to be­ing gov­er­nor. But the Demo­cratic politi­cians and dozens of re­porters are vet­ting his ev­ery word to catch him in a lie, a fib, a stretcher, a mis­state­ment or any dis­crep­ancy to en­able them to cry “Gotcha!”

He’s fair game, and even un­fair game, and his crit­ics will be un­re­lent­ing. The feds have be­gun an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials invit­ing ev­ery­one back to the Jersey shore af­ter Hur­ri­cane Sandy, fea­tur­ing who else but him­self (he is the gov­er­nor, af­ter all) that cost $25 mil­lion, paid by the tax­pay­ers (who would ben­e­fit, af­ter all). Of course he would ben­e­fit, too, since he was run­ning for re-elec­tion, but a tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial star­ring the gov­er­nor was cal­cu­lated to at­tract more tourists to the Jersey shore than one fea­tur­ing a clerk from Ne­wark or even a mayor of Fort Lee. Politi­cians, be­ing politi­cians, are al­ways on the scout to be the first at road kill. Sen. Rand Paul, who doesn’t like Mr. Christie, any­way, and wants to be pres­i­dent him­self, was part of the pile-on.

Mr. Paul had raised the is­sue last fall, call­ing the ads “of­fen­sive.” The Christie ad­min­is­tra­tion is ac­cused of choos­ing a high bid­der to make the tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial. A los­ing bid­der had pro­posed a se­ries of com­mer­cials fea­tur­ing some­one other than the gov­er­nor, and there were ques­tions about who had ties to whom. But the gov­er­nor’s aides said Mon­day that the White House ap­proved the com­mer­cials, and the story threat­ened to spi­ral into a lot of “he said, they said, she said.”

Pol­i­tics ain’t bean­bag, as Mr. Doo­ley fa­mously said. It’s ac­tu­ally a blood sport, and no­body plays with a hel­met. No­body is likely to re­mem­ber a fum­ble for very long, to stretch the foot­ball metaphor to the break­ing point, but Mr. Christie might use­fully sleep with the foot­ball for a few nights. Many old coaches have used that as a teach­ing tool. Some swear it works.

The gov­er­nor will prob­a­bly es­cape ac­tual dam­age, but he is be­ing brought down to earth, per­haps for his own good, to be seen hence­forth as just another ta­lented politi­cian rather than a leader who tran­scends pol­i­tics and party. We’ve never had one of those, by the way.

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