Putting a good face on things


Alden Graves

It was like watching a Hitchcock movie backwards. You knew who didn’t do it before the opening credits had even finished rolling.

A recent report cleared New Jersey governor Chris Christie of any direct involvement in the infamous Bridgegate scandal. There are more positive ways to react to it than just looking at the bottom of your shoe. Maybe it gave you that little nudge you needed to put a new coat of whitewash on the fence out front. There isn’t very much humor in the news today and the report was good for a laugh, even a ruefully infused one. And what a great testimony to the bonds of friendship in the best good ol’ boys tradition!

You could even frame the story as a kind of timeless fable that might go like this: Once upon a time, there was a kingdom by the sea. It was presided over by King Christie of the House of Arrogance, once class president and star athlete. The king had grand visions of expanding his power so that it stretched all the way to the great ocean in the west.

Then, a dark spell was cast over Arrogance. The evil sorceress, Mediaificent, told the people that King Christie’s royal advisors had closed the roads that led to the enchanted kingdom of really tall buildings across the river. A great stupor came over the king’s ambition and he plummeted in Ye Olde Polls.

The spell could only be lifted by a kiss from a law firm that loved the king. So, King Christie gave away some of the crown jewels to encourage the love of the lawyers. Fighting their way valiantly through a deep ticket of vested interests, with the thorns of fact scratching their Brooks Brothers armor, they reached the slumbering prince and bestowed the kiss of exoneration upon him.

And the rosy color came back to King Christie’s cheeks again. He mounted his white steed, his own armor gleaming once again in the Trenton sun, and rode off to talk to Prince Sheldon in the Land of the Golden Fleece about refilling the royal coffers.

The Knights of the Order of Deep Pockets, however, saw traces of tarnish on the king’s armor and they weren’t so sure that they wanted to bankroll his happily ever after aspirations any more.

And the moral of the story: You don’t count on Sylvester to get to the bottom of Tweety’s disappearance, especially when he has a yellow feather stuck on his chin.

Mr. Christie may have regained some of his trademark bombast, but, outside of his ironclad sphere of influence in his home state, he may find a considerably diminished enthusiasm for his larger-than-life personal style. (See: Rick Perry, quickly curtailed national aspirations of, for any further elaboration.)

Where else but in America could a powerful politician, up to his neck in the slime of a political dirty trick that actually endangered the lives of countless people, be allowed to spend a million dollars of taxpayer money and appoint the crew that would investigate the outrage? Attorney Randy Maestro’s expensive 200 page inquiry stopped just short of etching a halo over the governor’s head. In its nauseating obsequiousness to Christie, it is a masterful document. As a definitive exoneration of a man with a long history of executing political vendettas, it is much less convincing.

You can almost imagine Mr. Maestro and his team of high-rolling attorneys sitting around a mahogany table in Manhattan trying to think up ways to detach their client from the disgraceful mess that another handpicked Christie team had wrought.

One of the most troubling aspects of the scandal has been the "when did the governor know" aspect. Christie has only exacerbated it by his constant equivocations. (Currently, he remembers talking to now departed Port Authority executive David Wildstein at the 9/11 memorial service, but claims he "doesn’t recall" what they talked about.) Mr. Christie’s various defenses lean heavily towards an abundance of "didn’t knows" and "don’t recalls" and the report accepts them all with hardly a blush. A million bucks buys a lot of leeway.

What, in the final analysis, did the taxpayers in New Jersey get for their exorbitant outlay? They got a strained rehash of "Fatal Attraction." The best that the guys around the mahogany table could come up with was the "woman scorned" chestnut, with Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly cast in the Glenn Close role. The incriminating emails, according to Maestro, were sent in retaliation after her affair with Bill Stepien, her predecessor as deputy chief-of-staff, began to cool. An emotional woman, who saw a priceless opportunity to get even with her lover by causing a massive traffic jam, orchestrated the whole thing. But, Mr. Christie’s team may come to rue the day they decided to use the scorned woman defense if "Game of Thrones" is any indication.

Chris Christie’s ultimate achievement might actually be lowering the public’s perception of the level of sophistication at work in the pervasive corruption in New Jersey politics. That is, I suppose, no small accomplishment.

Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.


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