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Chris Christie operatives may have been vying to be Sopranos

Christie attempts to apologize to Fort Lee residents
Christie attempts to apologize to Fort Lee residents
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

On Thursday, January 9, 2013, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie came out to apologize to New Jersey citizens, and the nation, regarding the fact that some of his top aides, his operatives, “stupidly” and “deceitfully” closed down some lanes on the busy George Washington Bridge last September. It has been reported that these operatives had the lanes closed as payback for a Democrat Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s refusal to endorse Governor Christie.

The first, read on the matter is that these aides had a malevolent desire to get even with Mayor Sokolich for failing to endorse their boss, Governor Chris Christie. This read also dictates, however ostensibly, that if it’s possible that Governor Christie did not order such an action, he created a climate in the office that dictated that such acts of retribution were their modus operandi for those in his office.

According to ABC News, Governor Christie claims:

That he never personally asked for such an endorsement from Sokolich,” a Democrat, and Christie added that “until I saw his picture last night on television, I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a line-up.

“I don’t remember ever meeting Mayor Sokolich,” Christie said at Thursday’s news conference. “Certainly, I never did in that context,” he said, referring to the rumored request for an endorsement.

(Christie did seek to clarify: “I’m sure I met him at some point at an event in Bergen County.”){1}

Some have called Governor Christie’s near two hour mea culpa, and Q and A session that followed, brilliant. These people have stated that Christie brilliantly hit every bullet point that a politician needs to hit, if they hope to redeem themselves after a such a possible scandal. He apologized to the people of New Jersey, the state legislators, and he personally apologized to the Mayor of Fort Lee. He also fired all of those that he believed had involvement in the situation. It was perfect, these people have said, and the reason that he spent so much time answering questions was to leave no questions, and no doubt out there. It was as complete a mea culpa as we’ve received from a major politician in a long time, these people have said.

Some have argued that the mea culpa may have been a little too complete. Chris Christie may have been too exact, and that that may come back to bite him if future revelations come out that contradict anything Christie said. The tricky thing about such revelations is that they may not completely refute what is said, but they can provide a chink in the armor you’ve created for yourself. These revelations, also, might not be completely honest or factual, but when you lay such a complete and exact mea culpa, with no wiggle room, you leave yourself vulnerable to any controversial ingredients that could added, by your enemies, to the pie.

Perhaps Christie should’ve obfuscated a little. Maybe he should’ve played the game better. He wouldn’t have wanted to be dishonest, conventional wisdom would tell you, but he probably shouldn’t have been so honest either. He didn’t play the word games well, according to these people, and this is surprising considering that he spent twenty years in various legal positions throughout his life.

Having spent the entirety of his career in New Jersey, Christie also should’ve known that politics is a mean game, and it pays to leave a little space for any gotcha games that his enemies may have lying in wait for him. He’s an extremely popular governor, after all, and a top-tier presidential candidate in waiting. It’s also New Jersey, the purported home of mean political games, and The Sopranos. Time will tell, these experts say, whether Christie did himself more harm than good. It could spell the end of an otherwise promising political future.

As for a characterization of Christie’s top aides, the most brilliant read on the matter comes, as usual, from the column of Peggy Noonan:

There's a twist on this you can see in the Christie story. You read the emails and texts his operatives were sending, and you realize: This is TV dialogue. It's movie dialogue. They get everything off the screen, not real life, and they're imitating the sound of tough guys.

“Those emails and texts, they were “Sopranos” dialogue. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” is pure Tony Soprano. “Got it” is pure Silvio. “I feel bad about the kids,” is druggy Christopher, or maybe Adriana. “They're the children of Buono voters” is Paulie Walnuts, in all his aggression and stupidity.

“Christie operatives are not the only ones in politics who talk this way. And they all do it not because they're really tough but because they think that's how people like them—rock-‘em sock-‘em operatives—would talk. They don't have the brains, heart or judgment of people who've lived a life because they haven’t all lived a life. They're 30 or 40 and came of age in a media-saturated country. They saw it all on TV. They saw it on a screen.

“They sometimes forget they're not in a TV show about callous operatives who never get caught. They're in life, where actually you can get caught.”

Peggy Noonan also offers some advice for politicians dealing with operatives:

Know who they are, and help them mature. If you don't, they'll do goofy things, bad things, and they'll not only hurt us. They'll hurt you.” {2}

Is it possible that this huge scandal involves malevolent aides seeking fierce retribution against a mayor of a city in New Jersey, and it is possible that Christie either inadvertently, or directly ordered this retribution, but it could also be something as silly and stupid, as a bunch of people trying to communicate, and act, like TV stars. As top political experts suggest, only time will tell.

The job of even a top political aide cannot be as exciting, or dramatic, as depicted on TV. There may be moments when it is, but those moments are probably too few and far between. It's not as dramatic as we think it is, and it's probably not as dramatic as those in these positions thought it was going to be when they signed up for them. These top aides surely learned the facts of the matter at some point in their career, but when they started interacting with fellow aides, they probably engaged in a mutual facade that leant their roles a little more prominence, and drama, than they had in reality. It could've been—without giving conscious thought to the matter—an illusion shared by fellow aides, and other influential sorts in New Jersey, and those illusions were probably propped up in their internal communications, that contained a dramatic TV lingo.

It seems impossible to believe. These were top aides, and that means that they had some tenure serving government officials, or at least decorated resumes that proved their bona fides to a top government official. How could they fall prey to such a juvenile conceit? Or, if they weren't among the best and brightest of their local pool of talent, then it speaks to that leader that chose them.

I'm guessing that they were among the best and the brightest, and that their intentions were not as malevolent as the elements of the story suggest. We don't know as of this date, one day after Christie's January 9 press conference, all of the details, but I'm guessing that Peggy Noonan's thesis that these top aides wanted to sound like TV people is a lot closer to truth. I'm guessing that they got together with people in their inner circle and began thinking of themselves as characters on a TV show, and that they all started treating each other in this fashion, because it made these otherwise boring people, with otherwise pedantic jobs, begin to think they had a little Hollywood style panache. They probably all started using TV lingo in what they considered their inner-sanctum, until they started acting in this manner, impulsively, and without regard for the consequences it could have on their life, or all the other lives that they affected.


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