Governor Shumlin’s state of the state speech was such a jarring departure from the usual self-congratulatory, "look how much I’ve done for you" paeans delivered in statehouses across the country that it merited an extended mention in Gail Collins’ column in the New York Times. The governor chose to focus his annual speech on the proliferation of drugs in Vermont and his administration’s plans to combat the burgeoning problem.
Collins wrote that she had endured many state of the state speeches during her career as a journalist. Shumlin’s was unique in that it actually focused the public’s attention upon a subject about which many residents may be totally unaware, one that doesn’t reflect a flattering light upon anyone, and one that might be even tougher to confront than the mighty corporate power behind a dangerously aging nuclear power station.
Shumlin’s courageous departure from custom was probably destined to be ignored by most people who live outside of the Green Mountain State. All eyes and ears were on New Jersey, where the embattled governor once again stood behind a podium after his marathon pseudo-mea culpa in which he valiantly took up the cross of the clueless victim in the wake of the George Washington Bridge scandal.
I have heard it said that early signs of Chris Christie’s presidential aspirations might be detected in his determination to loose some weight. I think it is a fair conclusion then to state that Mr. Christie will make a really special effort to be tempted by any kind of jams in the next couple of years.
In his own state of the state address, Christie acknowledged that "mistakes have been made," an admission roughly on par with First Officer Murdoch’s observation that the iceberg was too close for the Titanic to avoid.
It is difficult to access the long-term damage that the bridge scandal has wrought on Christie’s viability as a candidate in a national arena. Even the polls in New Jersey are conflicted. While 55 percent of the residents questioned believed that he has done a good job as their governor, only 40 percent believe he is telling the complete truth about his involvement in a hairbrained scheme to shut down two access lanes to the world’s busiest bridge solely to exact revenge upon the mayor of Fort Lee for not supporting Christie’s re-election in 2012.
I suspect, however, that even given the American public’s notorious inability to retain memory beyond a couple of weeks, the damage to Christie’s ambition and his pose as a "tell it like it is" kind of guy is serious. Not so much because of the gravity of the transgression, but because of the astonishing pettiness of the motivation for it. If this was an isolated case of overt vindictiveness on the part of Christie’s administration, the governor himself might escape any direct implication in its execution. It is not. It is a particularly egregious example of a pattern that has existed since Christie was first elected in 2010: a generous slice of the cake for supporters, crumbs for anyone who dares to decline to get on board.
It is patently ridiculous to believe that Christie was, as he stated, "blindsided" by the revelation that some of his top aides had conspired to shut down the access lanes as an act of political retribution. Two of his hand-picked appointees to lucrative Port Authority positions, Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, resigned long before the scandal broke in all its fury and we are asked to believe that Gov. Christie didn’t wonder why? We haven’t seen a lack of curiosity on that scale since George W. Bush was in the White House.
Mr. Christie is wedged in a classic "damned if he did, damned if he didn’t" position. If there are no further revelations about direct culpability -- and, at the moment, that is a very big if -- he is very likely going to emerge from all of this with a comfortable political future in New Jersey, a state that seems to admire his particular flair for arrogant showmanship. Outside of the perimeters of the state, Christie’s political fortunes are far less certain than they were only a few months ago when he seemed the only viable Republican candidate in a match with Hillary Clinton in 2016.
On a national stage, Christie may now suffer the same kind of inglorious fate experienced by Texas governor Rick Perry. Remember when Mr. Perry was going to blast all the other candidates right out of the water in the last presidential election? Then he stepped over the state line and opened his mouth.
Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.