I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Normalizing "Plausible Deniability"

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.


Giuseppe said...

Bridget Anne Kelly was Deputy Chief of Staff for Christie. He selected her and made her Deputy Chief of Staff, not an insignificant position. A supposedly hands on governor was totally clueless about what was going on? Huh? Christie threw Kelly under the subway car, I wonder when she will start "singing" to defend herself? Christie hand picked the other clowns who were part of this fiasco, I can't believe they will remain silent under the threat of prosecution. I can't wait for the tell-all books to be hitting the streets in summer or fall.

Unknown said...

I wonder if any of these people will "sing". It is such a sickness the adoration these people have for this man. Plus I have no doubt they will end up in some cushy private sector jobs that the "boss" set up for them for falling on their swords--so to speak.

I really wish for a different outcome to all of this as I LOATHE Christy, but I fear that this will all blow over unless we can find something that shows Chisty lied when he said he knew nothing.

Duke said...

G and J, agreed. But I'm also saying that, in the end, it doesn't matter if Kelly and the others rat Christie out. He's responsible, even in the unlikely event he didn't know directly. He should pay the price, no matter what they say.

JanetM said...

Christie himself said in his press conference that he was wondering what he did wrong to allow this betrayal (which in itself speaks to his full-blown narcissism ). Why didn't anyone there suggest to him that "what he did wrong" was to create an atmosphere that not only condoned, but encouraged, vengeance, deceit, retribution, grandstanding, racial slurs, and a sense of grandiosity in his inner circle? The media are such incompetents.

Dave said...

Absolutely not buying that Ms Kelly was the heavy, yet news reports repeat Christie's tall tales and say she "ordered" the lanes closed.

Unknown said...

Just as us teachers are held accountable for the actions of our students and their results on assessments, he needs to be held accountable for his actions as well. The thought that he may get away from this makes me shudder when I think about what type of statement that makes about our society.

Mrs. King's music students said...

Christie is a one trick pony and an NJ attorney (pardon my French). We'll never pin a lie to him because his unfettered access to tax dollars allows him to pay his goons now on condition they take the falls for him later.

However, I think patterns will emerge and they will be very convincing. For example, his appointed supt in Camden made a statement at Convocation in September to the effect that the responsibility for his decisions lay with him and only him, blah blah blah something else, and Chris Christie did not make me say this. Not one word to motivate buy-in for a fabulous plan to turn Camden Schools around. He sounded like he was reading a script prepared by lawyers that had nothing to do with his audience.