By MARK SHIELDS
There are legitimate reasons why we voters have been a lot more willing to trust the tough job of president to governors — 11 separate times, with Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush — rather than senators, which occurred only once in the 88 years between 1920 and 2008 with John F. Kennedy. Like mayors, governors actually do something. We hold them accountable for the decisions they make about how to spend taxpayer money. They decide through whose neighborhood the new highway will run, and whether to build a state hospital or community college.
Senators, who are only one out of a hundred and accountable for only their own votes, make speeches. A governor, who is one of only one, makes decisions. Senators hold hearings where they provide us with talking points about a master plan for the transportation grid. Governors give us real answers about unfilled highway potholes, the latest tuition hike at our state university or the raging forest fire in our state park. Senators give you position papers on national priorities. Governors, with their state budgets, tell us what’s important, what isn’t and costs.
On Aug. 26, 2011, as Hurricane Irene threatened the vulnerable New Jersey shore, Gov. Chris Christie provided a memorable definition of “governor,” as he spoke directly to the foolish sun worshippers who refused to seek cover: “Get the hell off the beach, and get out. You’re done. It’s 4:30. You’ve maximized your tan. Get in your car and get out.” The no-nonsense directness of his words made you want to cheer.
Now, almost 29 months after that leadership moment, Christie’s words have sadly become less authentic, and the music is gone: “When mistakes are made, I have to own up to them and take the action necessary to remediate them.” Remediate? That’s not how the original Christie talked. “I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.”
Abject stupidity? No. What “was shown here” was nothing less, by the closest and most trusted of Christie’s personal and political intimates, than the cold-blooded, vindictive abuse of power.
For several days in September, during Christie’s triumphant reelection campaign, these governor appointees — reportedly in bare-knuckles retaliation against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee who had refused to endorse Christie’s candidacy — closed the lanes out of Fort Lee leading to the George Washington Bridge.
At least four times, paramedics were unable to reach people needing emergency care, including four injured in a car accident and an unconscious 91-year-old woman, who later succumbed to cardiac arrest. Ordinary Americans missed meetings, interviews and reunions because some bullies from the Christie camp wanted to punish the mayor of a town of 35,000 people.
True, the governor did publicly apologize. True, he did take action by firing (after they were incriminated by their own emails) his deputy chief of staff — the inconveniently named Bridget Anne Kelly — and his closest political adviser. But, in my experience, it is rare for devoted political allies of any candidate to deliberately do something that would not please the candidate, should he or she learn about it. Christie not knowing the character of the people he most trusts and not being curious about what they are doing hardly constitutes a recommendation for higher office.
The George Washington wrongdoing will eventually be a bridge to somewhere when we find out what the governor knew and when he knew it.