Here’s a question: who can I talk to about delaying the 2016 election? Or maybe we should just move it up to this November – anything to avoid the four-year election cycle that seemingly began the day after Barack Obama won office for a second time.
After all, why else would the country be treated to weeks of Level 1 coverage for what is clearly an under-baked story? I’m talking, of course, about that oh-New-Jersey-you-never-fail-to-disapoint scandal that has come to be known as Bridgegate. Did Chris Christie personally order the shutdown of the world’s busiest bridge? Why did he do it? Was it retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee? Or maybe retaliation against the leader of the state senate Democrats? Does he, or doesn’t he, know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried?
Give me a break. No, actually: let me take a break from the jockeying in advance of 2016. I’m begging you.
I have no idea whether or not Governor Christie will be implicated in any of the ongoing investigations. In truth, it doesn’t look great. But at this point, it may very well turn out that he had nothing to do with it. Sure, he’ll have to answer for some poor personnel decisions, and he might have to walk back some of his famous pugilism. On the other hand, if he was involved, it might amount to criminal behavior. To me, it sounds precisely like the kind of job for the local media to cover intently and for the rest of the country to take a very mild interest in. But, since we’re already caught in the whirlpool of the next Presidential election, it’s all hands on deck.
Last week also saw the release of the Senate’s report on the tragic events that unfolded in Benghazi in September 2012. The New York Times helpfully ran this headline: “Senate Report Finds Benghazi Attack was Preventable.” As opposed to what? An act of God? Of course it was preventable. The report also outlined some of the all-too-familiar mistakes leading up to it, such as the inability of the different members of the intelligence community to talk to each other. In case you’re wondering, that was precisely the sort of problem that the office of the Director of National Intelligence was created to solve in the wake of 9/11. Instead, DNI James Clapper has been busy overseeing massive surveillance on Americans – maybe he should be wiretapping the phones of his subordinates instead.
The report was also highly critical of the State Department, and by extension, Hillary Clinton. Naturally, that’s what got all the attention. Never mind that the tired Republican story of an Obama White House cover-up was again disproved, and never mind that the report outlined areas where we could productively cast our attention. Instead, since it’s an election year, we’ll be treated to the Hillary Clinton circus. Get excited everyone! Democracy at work!
And it isn’t just that the next election is already distorting what we’re talking about; it’s also destroying any chance of a meaningful conversation.
Here’s an example. Does everyone remember when the IRS scandal broke? The one about how a random bureaucrat in Cincinnati had decided to apply special scrutiny to conservative groups? It was nearly impossible to link the White House directly to it. For one, the Commissioner of the IRS at the time, Douglas Shulman, was a George W. Bush appointee.
(By the way, it also turned out that the IRS had also applied special scrutiny to progressive groups – something which kind of takes the wind out of the conspiracy’s sails.)
Even so, the Republicans knew what to do: they alleged that the President was responsible for creating an environment in which this sort of abuse was likely. In other words, they argued that because the events of the scandal adhered to their image of the President, he was ultimately causally responsible for it. Fine, fair enough: being the chief executive means having to answer for what your subordinates do. If you’re going to be blamed for everything that happens on your watch, at least that will encourage diligence.
So, when it was revealed that the George Washington Bridge was closed at the behest of Gov. Christie’s deputy chief of staff, those same Republicans reemphasized the responsibility that leaders have to set the tone under which the people who answer to them work. Right? Of course not. In fact, here’s RNC chair Reince Preibus ripping Obama over the IRS scandal:
Look, one of two things are [sic] going on…If the President actually knew something, well then clearly he’s not being truthful and no one around him is. If he didn’t know anything, then I think it suggests a level of aloofness or perhaps even incompetence that I think is pretty disturbing in its own right.
And here he is defending Christie after David Gregory asked him if the governor had set a tone that allowed this to happen:
Here’s what he did. And here’s what he admitted. He admitted that he trusted people that lied to him, and he’s asking a lot of questions about himself as far as why that happened.
Preibus goes on to explain that Americans need to understand that New Jersey is “a huge, complicated government.” In other words, Christie can’t be responsible for every decision made under his authority. No charge of aloofness, no charge of incompetence – just a dutiful defense of Christie’s innocence from someone who knows exactly nothing in addition to what you and I know.
In case you’re wondering, the Democrats haven’t suggested the same caution in assigning blame that they counseled earlier. Why? Because hypocrisy is the most renewable commodity that Washington has to offer, and nothing gets the juices flowing like a Presidential election. And as we’ve all learned, handicapping Presidential candidates this far in advance is both insightful and productive – just ask President Giuliani.
Follow Pedro on Twitter @IamPedroA.
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