Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bully Pulpit

You might have noticed, though probably you didn't, that there are quite a few top tennis players these days who started life in Eastern Europe. Out of curiosity I looked up the top fifty men and women players to get a handle on this phenomenon. If anything, it was even bigger than I thought. Out of the one hundred players listed, over a third started life in countries that were once on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. You'd probably need a sociologist to explain it. And Americans? Well, there's the Williams sisters and a handful of others, none of them recognizable on the street. Get used to it. The Cibilkovas, Sharapovas, Dimitrovs and Djokovics are here to stay.  They're as common as lightweight boxers with Spanish names.

Politics, as we know, can be a pretty tough business. Things get hammered out in the marketplace of ideas every day, sometimes in ways that are deliberately covered up. There's this business in New Jersey for example. It may be a long time before we know all the details and all the motives, but when there's someone involved who might become his party's nominee for president, the stakes are higher and so, evidently, are the things each side is willing to do in order to come out ahead.
None of this is new. When Lincoln wanted to amend the Constitution he opened the presidential goodie box to get the votes he needed. Nixon's favored tool was punishing his enemies, an official list of which became known when someone, no doubt performing a counter attack of his own, leaked it to the press. Both approaches were centuries old before our country was started.
It's too early to know just what Governor Christie wanted done, and who the intended victim was. But maybe it isn't too early to fault him on two counts. First, he doesn't seem very truthful. I base this on the fact that evidently his office was full of people who knew just exactly what was planned for the George Washington Bridge. Christie comes across as the only one left out of the scheming loop, a stretch, in my opinion, because Christie was also known for running a tight ship, and no one could reasonably believe that the assistant chief of staff thought it all up on her own. The unlucky mayor of Hoboken appears to be a credible witness in telling how the governor's office put the squeeze on her even as flood waters from Hurricane Sandy put most of the one square mile city under water. The mayer of Fort Lee is still wondering what he did to deserve having his city turned into a parking lot during the partial bridge closure, though he knows it wasn't by accident.
The second thing which makes me wonder if Christie has the stuff of presidents is that he and his people seem more interested in getting leverage against New Jersey Democrats than in actually improving the citizen's lives. This is not an uncommon trait, but it's nonetheless an ugly one. It's the attitude that says "This would be a pretty good job if only we didn't have all these wretched people pestering us all the time." Ambulances held up trying to get across the bridge? Tough luck. Three feet of water in your living room? Hope you've got insurance, pal. Need a job? Why not talk to your Democratic state senator. Maybe he can help you.
I guess very few people are 100% honest about everything, but covering up often leads to bigger, more damaging lies. And not caring? You weren't elected the neighborhood bully, sir, and your pulpit is for moving the state forward, not just making denials.         


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