As the scandal surrounding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie expands, the bridge closure and its fallout remain an example of politics as usual in the United States. After subsiding briefly, the “Bridgegate” scandal returned to the headlines after former Port Authority official David Wildstein came forward this week alleging that he possessed evidence that Governor Christie did indeed know about the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. Christie has maintained that he was unaware of the closures and that they were the work of other officials in his administration. Wildstein’s revelations contradict the governor’s statements.
As with many political scandals, the true “offense” is not the act itself, in this case the bridge closures, so much as the timeline of events and the statements made about who knew what and when. Wildstein’s evidence does not suggest that Christie himself ordered the closures. The scheme itself still appears to be the work of former Christie staffer Bridget Ann Kelly. What Wildstein’s evidence suggests is that Christie was aware of the closures at the same time as he was making public statements denying any knowledge. It is this deception that is at the core of the scandal, not who ordered the closures themselves.
This is just one respect in which the bridge closure scandal represents politics as usual in the U.S. The outrage is rarely focused on the actual act itself and often becomes focused on the cover up, the lies, and questions of “who knew?” There is a long tradition of this on both sides of the political spectrum. For example, it was not the break in itself that brought down Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal. It was the paranoid cover up and the lying and misleading by administration officials that forced Nixon out of the White House. Similarly it was not the questionable land dealings or extramarital affairs that brought Bill Clinton to impeachment. It was again the lies, deceptions, and attempts at distraction that made him only the second president to face such a trial.
Governor Christie’s situation, and those noted above to a degree, also illustrate another way in which this remains “politics as usual,” and that is a scandal is only a scandal to the opposition. Democrats in the New Jersey state legislature have convened committees and expanded subpoena powers to investigate the closures. Liberal bloggers and commentators have gleefully proclaimed that this will end any potential Christie presidential campaign in 2016, if not lead to his immediate impeachment as governor.
Republicans however are predictably dismissive, praising Christie for demonstrating leadership by firing the aides responsible and claiming responsibility for the situation after the fact. Conservative bloggers and commentators call the investigation a “witch hunt” and an attempt to preemptively remove Christie from the field prior to the 2016 elections. In both cases, once again the actual events behind the scandal fade into irrelevance and all that remains are the potential political consequences for both major parties.
The final way this scandal can be seen as “politics as usual” is far more cynical. The question must be asked as to whether this situation involving Chris Christie is truly unique. From Christie, to Bob McDonnell, to President Obama himself, accusations of corruption and political revenge have become commonplace in the news. Are these politicians and their associated scandals the exception, or have they become the rule? Is this how politics is done in the U.S. and these are simply the examples that have come to light? Is this how the majority of politicians in the U.S. operate?
These become far more sobering questions that U.S. voters might wish to consider the next time they turn on the news or head to the ballot box. The bridge closure scandal involving Chris Christie may just be another example of politics as usual in America.
Editorial By Christopher V. Spencer