I don't normally watch the Sunday talk shows... but how could I not this week? All Christie, all the time.
The big question the punditocracy seems to care about now is "What did Christie know and when did he know it?" That's fine, to a point -- but it's also a problem. Because it sets a default position for Christie, and every other politician, that I find dangerous:
In this point of view, if something unseemly happens on a political leader's watch, and there's no evidence that the leader was directly involved, it reflects on their character, their judgement, and their prospects for advancement. But it also absolves them from responsibility.
I'm watching David Gregory on Meet The Press, and he's saying, right at the beginning of the show and in the most serious of tones, that we must understand that there's no "smoking gun" linking Christie directly to Bridgegate. His panel all nod their heads in agreement: it wouldn't be right, apparently, to sanction Christie if he didn't have direct knowledge of the plot.
Well, why the hell not?
Have we now reached the point where it's normal to expect a politician to create plausible deniability? Where we simply accept that it's fine when their staffs act like maniacs, so long as when they get caught those staff members get fired? Where we can only assess "character" and "judgement," but we can't demand accountability, when a scandal unfolds on a leader's watch?
A massive traffic jam was created for four days, endangering lives, for political retribution: this is now a fact. And the incident, perpetrated by Chris Christie's closest advisors, happened on his watch: this is also a fact. Does it really matter whether the governor had direct knowledge of the affair? It happened, and it happened for the worst of reasons; isn't that enough?
Or do we want a government where politicians set up Nixionian buffer zones around themselves to create plausible deniability for everything they do? Wouldn't it be better for a politician to know that he or she will always be held accountable, even if they didn't have direct knowledge of malfeasance? Wouldn't that force them to become vigilant about what their staffs were up to? Wouldn't that give them pause when appointing their top aides? Wouldn't they be more inclined to make those choices based on integrity and competency, rather than political favoritism?
I know this could be taken to absurd extremes: I'm not saying Christie or any other politician should be responsible for every decision, no matter how far down the food chain it gets made. But when your top people are up to shenanigans, you should be held to account. Firing them and then putting on a show press conference where you claim "I didn't know!" shouldn't be your only atonement.
And, yes, this is a bipartisan issue. I keep hearing conservatives making an equivalency between Bridgegate and Benghazi. I won't pretend I know enough about the latter to make a judgement, but if the president's top staff broke the law -- and it's increasingly looking like Christie's staff did just that -- he should be held to account.
We have got to stop letting politicians get away with this idea that they are only accountable for their staff's actions if they are directly involved. If a politician is not willing to accept that level of responsibility, he or she should not hold high office.