Jewish World Review Jan 13, 2014/ 12 Shevat, 5774
New Jersey narcissist
By Dana Milbank
“I’m a very loyal guy.”
“I am not a focus-group-tested, blow-dried candidate.”
“I’ve worked for the last 12 years in public life developing a reputation for honesty.”
“I’ve engendered the sense and feeling among the people closest to me that we’re a family.”
“I’m a person who cares deeply about doing my job well.”
“I’m incredibly loyal to my people.”
“I was the class president and athlete.”
And this was all in the process of saying what he had done wrong in the George Washington Bridge fiasco that threatens to upend his presidential hopes. Christie apologized profusely — but not for anything he did. “I’m telling you: I had nothing to do with this,” he pleaded. Instead, he blamed bad people who lied to him, taking advantage of his trusting and honorable nature.
Even in disgrace, the New Jersey governor — and the nominal front-runner for the 2016 GOP nomination — managed to turn his nationally televised news conference into a forum on the virtues of his favorite subject: himself.
Use of the word “I”: 692 times.
When Christie delivered the keynote address at the 2012 nomination, the criticism was that he spoke more of himself than of the nominee, Mitt Romney. Now we see that even in adversity, Christie regards himself as the hero.
This tendency is what is likeliest to doom Christie’s presidential hopes — more than the details of “Bridge-gate” or the question of whether he is a bully. Christie’s greatest obstacles are his own self-regard and his blindness to the possibility that he might have erred.
Narcissism is the dominant theme in American politics today, and the man Christie would succeed in the Oval Office appears to suffer from an acute sense of his own righteousness. But Christie takes worship of self to a whole new level.
The governor said he fired Bridget Anne Kelly, the aide at the center of the scandal, “because she lied to me” — not because she ordered up a traffic jam that ensnarled thousands to exact retribution on a political foe.
Christie spoke of the scandal in terms of what it meant — to him: “I am a very sad person today. . . . I probably will get angry at some point, but I got to tell you the truth. I’m sad. I’m a sad guy standing here today.”
Christie accepted responsibility, but only in the technical sense: “I have 65,000 people working for me every day. And I cannot know what each one of them is doing at every minute. But that doesn’t matter; I’m ultimately responsible for what they do.”
Christie invoked the Nixonian “mistakes were made” formulation, but they were not made by him. “There’s no way that anybody would think that I know about everything that’s going on, not only in every agency of government at all times, but also every independent authority,” he reasoned.
The excuses flowed as if in their own HOV lane. “I was blindsided yesterday morning. . . . That was the first time I knew about this. . . . I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning, or its execution. . . . I was told this was a traffic study. . . . Why would I believe that anybody would not be telling the truth? . . . I delegate enormous authority to my staff. . . . Mayor Sokolich was never on my radar screen. . . . I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a lineup. . . . Sometimes, despite the best background checks, you know, despite the best interviews, despite your best instincts, sometimes people are a mistake hire. . . . I probably wouldn’t know a traffic study if I tripped over it.”
Christie went so far as to disown the friend he appointed to the Port Authority: “David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school.”
The closest Christie came to self-awareness was when he told CNN’s John King that he asked himself “what did I do wrong to have these folks think it was okay to lie to me?”
The answer: not much, if anything.
“I think the history of this administration shows that we have hired outstanding people with great ethical standards who have done their jobs extraordinarily well,” Christie said, and, “I claimed to have the best government I could possibly make,” and, “I’m just trying to be a safe and careful steward of the public trust.”
This certainty of his own infallibility will be more of an impediment to Christie than any lane closures in Fort Lee.
Earlier this month, when bipartisanship was still in the air, Reid told Bloomberg’s Al Hunt that he wouldn’t campaign against McConnell, who is facing a difficult reelection. “I’m a traditionalist here, and that isn’t anything I’ve ever done and will not do,” Reid said.
That was a bit disingenuous, because Reid had already hosted a fundraiser in Las Vegas for McConnell’s Democratic opponent, and Reid’s political action committee had already given her money. The candidate, Alison Lundergan Grimes, would probably be hurt politically by appearing with Reid, anyway.
But in calling himself a traditionalist, Reid was arguing against the mafia culture that has gripped the Senate since 2004, when Bill Frist, then the Republican leader, went to South Dakota to campaign, successfully, for the defeat of then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle. The DSCC, under Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, retaliated by running TV ads targeting McConnell in 2008. In 2012, the NRSC, run by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, raised money to try to defeat Reid in Nevada. The political committees are under the de facto control of the majority or minority leader, and several senators have used the chairmanships as steppingstones to leadership.
When they aren’t ordering hits on each other, the senators use the committees to taunt each other. Monday morning, the Republican committee issued a statement saying: “Harry Reid will tell you he’s not concerned about losing the majority — hell, Reid will say just about anything on most days, but his actions speak louder than his words.” Wednesday, the Republican group declared: “Vulnerable incumbent Senate Democrats — from Kay Hagan to Jeff Merkley, Mary Landrieu to Mark Pryor, Jeanne Shaheen to Mark Begich all lied to their constituents.”
When your day starts with trash talk from people who are trying to kill you politically, is it any wonder things quickly devolve?
Reid, on the Senate floor this week, accused Republicans of “hostage-taking” and ridiculed McConnell for delaying what the GOP leader called “non-essential” confirmations: “Does the Republican leader consider the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security — the individual tasked with protecting us from terrorist attacks — ‘non-essential’?”
McConnell, in turn, told reporters he “can’t imagine” Republicans would agree to increase the debt limit without more spending restrictions. And he delivered a broadside against Reid for stripping Republicans’ right to filibuster nominees: “As we end the year, it’s a tragedy the way the Senate is being run into the ground by basically one person. . . . It’s going to be hard to get the Senate back to normal.”
But he’s wrong there. Going to the mattresses is the new normal.
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