Let’s Have a Scandal: Christie’s Fate in Ten Acts

What a shocker: our most pugnacious politician, who apes sneering TV tough guys, finds himself starring in his own reality-survivor drama. The only question remains: is he really a fool (the victimized micromanager who knows nothing) or a low-class knave (with an ex-prosecutor’s bag of trick decoys)? Whatever the final evidence, this scandal will devolve from snarling bridge traffic to the trollish character of our pudgiest of pugs.

Tripped by a willful, smack-down staff, the image of the most electable party “moderate” lurched with ease from “straight-talking pragmatist” to rogue pettiness. But what exactly new does the Fort Lee fiasco say about the Christie chronicle? Whoever concocted the Great Bridge Blunder, are we surprised that vendetta stamps the bully who gloats over scorned rivals? My concern is whether Christie’s hypnotic persona holds sway over a feisty state that just gave him keys to the kingdom.

And yet, does not this clownish figure, taking bigger than life literally, spotlight a politics of devolution where the least morally-fit survive? For context, let us recount the roughly ten stages that mark the sameness of big-time scandals. Indeed, the audacity of the opening abuse is exceeded only by the predictability of the narrative. On the heels of banksters and fraudsters, why not over-reaching thugsters caught in self-made traffic jams?

Behold today’s model scandal in the works:

1)   Opening Gambit: Figure you can get away with murder, or the political equivalence. Imagine a ploy so devilish your own doting mother wouldn’t go for it. Add invincibility to heightened entitlement and voila, the first stage for a rousing scandal: the impossibility of exposure. Then find a victim or circumstance that lets your inflated self-expression soar.

2)   Target Your Victim or Heart’s Desire: Whether money or sex, dirty tricks or intimidation, scandals blossom from the moment you convince yourself you alone can game the system, riding your righteous self-interest over rules that restrain the timid. Ordained from birth to rule, indeed commandeer, are you not a breed apart, unshackled, a crusader on wheels?

3)   Presume the Suckers (voters, regulators, prosecutors) are, well, Suckers. Because of your ploy’s brilliance, secrecy, or novelty, only your inner sanctum will ever know or find out, right? After all, who’d imagine a governor’s staff would torture thousands of bridge users (nearly all unrelated to Ft. Lee) and still fail at slapping down the local mayor? Who’d think this sequence wasn’t a natural disaster? Boldness in roguery will often obscure detection.

4)   Fortress Mentality, Shock & Awe, Total Denial/Ignorance:
Okay, the stunt or crime is exposed, under a red glare of bombs bursting in air. Right off, deny anyone in their right mind would conceive, let alone dare commit this atrocity. Deny any personal knowledge or intimidation. If that fails, present only your best intentions (like helping the people) that mysteriously went wrong. Impatiently blame your enemies, forever jealous of your courageous, can-do, mavericky heroism.

5)  Damage Control: Apologize, Pull Out Your Eyes: When your best, sculpted denials fail, when no one else can be blamed and bad news turns horror show, the only option is to admit nothing but apologize for everything. Fire any staff in the crossfire and cry for mercy. Rough-talking thugs do surprisingly well with abject apologies: the contrast speaks volumes. Concede everything: loose staff cannons, disloyal appointees, pollution, climate change, storms, unemployment — everything. The more extended the apologies, the more your good faith surfaces. If there aren’t clear enemies, blame obligations (campaign pressure, bad weather, or sudden illness, like the worst flu since Noah’s Flood). Season your sorrow and distress (real enough) with silver linings, like this tragedy will bear fruits of teachable moments. Unending confession bespeaks good future behavior, even if at odds with your sordid career.

6)  Mission Successful, Time-out, Scandal Fades: If your vehemence and/or your mea culpa works (or as Jonathan Capehart quipped on Christie, his “Me-me-mea culpa”) and outrage diminishes, then wait and pray something worse comes along to distract from your scandal: a terrorism attack would be nice, a modest pandemic, maybe another catastrophic oil spill (know anyone at BP?). Instruct pundits on your payroll to float redemptive nuggets like “What a guy! Any politician who survives such onslaughts wins glory in the public eye.”

7)  Second Stage, Fortress Mentality, Shock & Awe Forgiveness Withheld: If respite doesn’t happen, return to siege mentality. Express puzzlement, even intone umbrage, that universal forgiveness is not forthcoming. Shift from being the innocent victim of staff villainy to  pathetic, unforgiven prey of dark intrigues or just bad fortune. Question the still disgruntled yahoos who judge your recitation “not plausible, even preposterous.” Express sadness and profound disappointment that such open sincerity isn’t rewarded. Considering “politics isn’t bean bag,” affirm you will never give up.

8)  Crisis Management, The Sky is Falling:
The ugly truth is scandals that aren’t squelched fast go downhill: after all, every cub reporter digs deep into your sleazy climb to the top. Death by a hundred cuts will bleed you dry just like the initial bombshell. If your reputation, say for bullying, is only reinforced by absurd denials, let alone dozens of punchy videos posted to enhance your manliness, more of the same will not redeem you. Start taking seriously options for not-so-golden parachutes, scurrying from today’s sinking ship hopeful it won’t be the last.

9) Battle Royal for Your Soul, Career, Destiny: Fire and brimstone hits as all hell breaks loose. A siege erupts between the forces for good (your shiny, new staff loyal allies) vs. the massing opposition (and media shills) out to crucify you. When you lose the latter-stages of trench war, whether in law or the court of public opinion, prepare for the worse. If polling indicates even your mother sits on the fence, your fate is sealed. If far more staff quits than you can find replacements, even to interview, your tenure is fatally flawed.

10) Resignation & Martyrdom (beats indictment, imprisonment, or fatal heart attack): Face grim reality: resignation is the only solution so that your current infamy won’t get amplified into something worse: permanent stupidity. What’s worse than scandal is a malefactor too dumb to know the show is over. Look, resignation beats jail time, not just inconvenient but the end of your public life. If politics still glimmers in your eye, resign with a flourish, though be sure to sound the cry of the martyr. Offer firm pledges to compensate the injured and make amends. For Christie, that means embracing the unkindest cut of all, a year of anger management therapy.

What’s more touching, even convincing than a tough guy who forgoes the umbrage that made his career. Drone on that “Americans are a forgiving people” (if now rather tardy) open to giving pitiful sinners a second chance. Exit quickly, disappear (overseas works), and trust this scapegoating, hard-hearted generation will eventually move on. Only time is your friend now as disgrace mars your otherwise splendid public service.

Best penance for Christie? To volunteer and organize wheelchair traffic at the Fort Lee senior center for the deranged. Did you hear that hundreds of aged patients rushed in, permanently discombobulated after enduring four days locked in torturous bridge gridlock. Some old guys report their bladders will never be the same. Christie could find redemption reading uplifting stories about the goodness of human nature. Perhaps sing “Happy Days are Here Again,” or recite legends of redemption and mercy for remorseful sinners. After all, the fallen have nowhere to go but up.

Robert S. Becker was educated at Rutgers College (BA) and UC Berkeley (Ph.D, English). He left university teaching (Northwestern, U. Chicago) for business, founding and heading SOTA Industries, high end audio company from '80 to '92. "Writing for the public taught me how to communicate." From '92-02 he did marketing consulting, grant, and business writing. Since '02, he scribbles on politics, science and culture, looking for the wit in the shadows. Read other articles by Robert.