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Will Christie Learn From His Searing Political Experience?

The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, in writing about “Bridgegate”–the stunningly inappropriate, petty, and stupid political retribution by top aides of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie against the mayor and citizens of Fort Lee–provides a reasonable and balanced assessment of Christie’s press conference last week.

“If everything the governor said stacks up, he’ll wind up diminished but the story will fade,” according to Noonan. “If it doesn’t—if there are new revelations or questions that cast him in a dark light—he’ll be finished as a national figure.” But there’s no question that “his uphill fight for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 just got uphiller.”

Ms. Noonan then shifts her focus to staffers and operatives in politics:

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.

Advice for politicians: 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.

Those are words Governor Christie should contemplate. The New Jersey governor is obviously a man with impressive political skills. He won a huge reelection victory in a blue state and has some notable achievements to his name. But it is legitimate to wonder, given how close Christie was to the aides that executed the retaliation, if what happened was symptomatic of a mindset, a pattern of behavior, an organizing political principle. I have no idea. But Governor Christie and those who are closest to him do.

Unless there’s evidence directly tying Mr. Christie to what occurred on the George Washington Bridge for four days in September, he’ll certainly survive. The media obsession with this story will eventually fade. The deeper question is whether the New Jersey governor uses this experience to engage in honest self-reflection.

The character of an administration, its ethos, is determined by the behavior of those in authority. Something was obviously amiss in Christie World. Does Governor Christie have the wisdom and capacity not simply to fire people who have committed wrongs but to change how he operates? Will he surround himself with people who don’t roll their eyes at concepts like the public trust and political integrity? Who, if they had heard about this effort to exact political retribution, would not only have objected to it but dismissed on the spot those who concocted it? Will he build something good out of this searing experience? 

During his press conference last week, Governor Christie said the right things. My guess is he means them. But he’s on notice. One (political) near death experience ought to be enough. 


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