In the Echo Chamber: Chris Christie and the Infinite Sadness


By Tanya Silverman

Image by Donkey Hotey.

Amidst the ubiquitous array of attention over “Bridgegate”, a seemingly resilient Governor Chris Christie appeared at the Statehouse in Trenton Tuesday afternoon to dictate his State of the State address.

Everyone listening likely formed some opinion of the New Jersey “Bridgegate” scandal by Tuesday’s speech, where, last September, several top members of Christie’s administration and political hires to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey enacted a lane closure to the entrance of the George Washington Bridge – a vengeful move against Fort Lee’s mayor for not endorsing Christie during his most recent run for governor.

Then, on Tuesday around 3:00 pm, after a receptive round of applause and shout-outs to fellow politicians and residents, Christie announced at the very beginning of his 2014 State of the State:

“Mistakes were clearly made, and as a result, we let down the people we entrusted to serve,” referencing the intentional traffic vengeance that caused the infamous four-day gridlock.

He added: “I am ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch, both good and bad.”

Times have certainly been more on the bad side lately for Christie and his inner circle. Last week was quite messy; documents were released that showed top aides planning for “traffic problems in Fort Lee,” calling the town’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, an idiot and a “little Serbian” (he’s actually Croatian), plus some pithy moral debating over whether it was right to subject the young offspring of opposition voters to their deeds. Christie went through firing Deputy Chief of Staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, on account of her involvement, as well as traveling up to Fort Lee to deliver his apologies to the mayor and people.

“I am the leader of this state and its people, and I stand here today proud to be both,” he announced Tuesday, sporting a pin of New Jersey on the lapel of his stiff blue suit coat.

Such proud remarks contrast his words during last week’s lengthy press conference, where he chose more pitiful adjectives to describe his apparently “humiliated” and “heartbroken” condition about the scandal. Snarky reporters and op-ed contributors offered Christie no remorse over his self-focused overuse of the word “sad”, showing no sympathy to his proclamation about being a “very sad person” whose predominant emotion was “sadness”.

Perhaps Chris Christie also had to orally exert his resilient pride after the number of media accounts last week, especially since we’ve seen numerous (often unflattering) pictures of him, and scandal-declaring headlines, throughout the front pages of The Star Ledger, The Trentonian, New York Post, The New York Times, amongst others. The New York Daily News ambiguously jeered at the governor’s weight in a remotely witty sense by illustrating a thought-bubble of the White House above his portrait and inserting text “FAT CHANCE NOW, CHRIS”. Easily interpretable graphics, of course – though other sources have found more subdued verbal means to analyze the event’s significance for Christie’s prospective 2016 presidential run.

For now, though, Christie’s still governor, so during Tuesday’s speech, he made sure to point out how such occurrences cannot define the administration of his state.

These comments come after certain media outlets labeled the events as a very “New Jersey” crisis, corrupt efforts of his “crony” staff. Some satirical journalists delved even deeper into the provincial cultural references, for instance, a Fox News article describing how Christie has “gone from chief Springsteen to Tony Soprano,” while Jon Stewart referred to him as “Garden State’s Second Most Important Boss” before skewering last week’s press conference on The Daily Show.

Third-party stereotypes and Springsteen jokes aside, Chris Christie, during New Jersey’s State of the State, quickly transitioned from vague scandal speak to New Jersey policy topics, i.e. job growth, budget analysis, taxpayer promises, student achievement, crime reduction, and criminal reform, subjects significant mainly within the regional level. He did, however, touch on the rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, announcing he “will not rest until every person hurt by Sandy has their life back” – statements that may come back to haunt Christie amidst a federal investigation of his use of allotted disaster funds for personal interests.

For the time being, nothing’s concluded on that, the same way no determined evidence has come out that directly ties the governor to the bridge jam.

As things were wrapping up during the State of the State speech, Christie declared some generic forthcoming sentences:

“Let us choose a better New Jersey. This is what we owe our citizens, our children, and ourselves. New Jersey has long been blessed by an abundance of natural resources, and our extraordinary human talent.”

Maybe solid proof will surface in the future regarding the Governor Chris Christie’s still undetermined knowledge of “Bridgegate”; maybe not. Governor Chris Christie is evidently trying to catalyze the process of moving forward, but for now, the scandal cannot go dissociated from his actions.