'BridgeGate' in Perspective
The mainstream media (MSM) have been in a feeding frenzy over Chris Christie and "Bridgegate." The three television networks, for example, devoted 17 times the number of stories about "Bridgegate" in one day that they gave to the Obama Administration's "IRSgate" scandal in six months.
The assault on Christie appears to have metastasized. The newest revelation, provided by the Democrat mayor of Hoboken, NJ, alleges that the Christie Administration held up funds to help her city recover from Hurricane Sandy because it had not moved quickly enough on a project favored by the governor.
Two things should be noted immediately. First, I'm not a Christie supporter. Second, "Bridgegate," and Hoboken's mayor's accusations -- if true -- reveal stupidity (and probably arrogance) in Christie's Administration.
Those statements should be juxtaposed to two observations. First, as Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley said, "politics ain't beanbag." It's a body-contact sport, with rough-'n-ready tactics in which people (and causes) get hurt. (Growing up in central Illinois, I learned very early how Chicago politics works. I also observed a cardinal principle of the Kennedy clan's politics: "don't get mad, get even.")
Second, if "Bridgegate" and the Hoboken contretemps were instances of political retribution, they follow a very long line of cases in which politicos used government to injure political opponents (or at least condoned subordinates who did it).
We need, in short, to put the Christie Administration's conduct into historical perspective.
Let us focus on U.S. presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Although many historians hail FDR as the savior of American democracy, Burton Folsom, Jr. wrote that he regularly sought to use the IRS to target political opponents. Add FDR's infamous Executive Order 9066 shipping thousands of Japanese Americans to internment camps, and you only scratch the surface of the lawlessness that occurred during Roosevelt's presidency.
After John F. Kennedy was assassinated, his widow, assisted by Theodore H. White, manufactured the "Camelot Legend" that raised the martyred president to the status of a liberal icon. Many people have forgotten JFK's use of the FBI to investigate businessman Roger Blough who bucked the president's economic policies, and to tape Martin Luther King's extra-marital sexual escapades. (One could mention other instances of abuse of power during Kennedy's presidency, but these will do.)
Lyndon B. Johnson also engaged in abuses of power. There are questions involving the late Billie Sol Estes, and many entail events before LBJ became president. Estes -- a Texas tycoon with a record of questionable conduct -- had come under investigation by the Kennedy Administration.
In 1967, President Johnson authorized the CIA to investigate anti Vietnam War protesters, and ordered the FBI to monitor anti-war activists via the agency's Cointelpro program.
No understanding of LBJ's conduct can be complete without reading Robert Caro's four books -- so far -- detailing Johnson's shenanigans from his early forays into politics through his assent to the presidency.
One is tempted to bypass Richard Nixon's excesses. His abuses of presidential power are well known to us geezers.
For those too young to recall, I specify just a few instances of Nixonian overreach. Nixon is known, for example, to have kept an "enemies list." (More recent pols, such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, are also said to have "enemies lists.")
Nixon may or may not have personally known of the "White House Plumbers" -- who sought to destroy Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg -- but given his presidential style, he was probably aware of their activities even before the 1972 break-in at the Democrat Campaign headquarters in the Watergate complex. The attempted cover-up of that "third-rate burglary" destroyed Nixon's presidency.
If John Dean can be believed, Nixon was involved in obtaining money needed to insure the Watergate burglars' silence after the breakin. Dean's testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee investigating the Watergate Scandal was instrumental in unraveling the cover-up, and leading to Nixon's resignation in 1974.
Until Barack Obama's presidency -- which has equaled, if not exceeded, anything that happened between 1969 and 1974 -- subsequent presidencies have paled in comparison to Nixon when it comes to abuse of power.
People remember Bill Clinton as the second president to be impeached. That was because of his attempts to cover up his sexual liaison with Monica Lewinsky. Perhaps the most ominous instance of executive over-reach when Clinton was president was the collection of 918 raw FBI files by Craig Livingstone, a former nightclub bouncer who had somehow secured a position in Clinton's White House. (Charles Colson went to prison for having one file; Livingstone remained "free as a bird.")
Despite the fact that Ken Starr exonerated her, I have always suspected that Hillary Rodham Clinton played a larger role in "Filegate" than her husband. Mrs. Rodham Clinton was so devious that she was fired from the team investigating Watergate.
The Whitewater controversy and "Troopergate" occurred before Clinton was elected president; I shall pass over them. Ambiguity surrounds what happened in Vince Foster's death; therefore, I let that incident pass also.
Finally, permit a brief rendition of Barack Obama's (and his minions') use of dirty tricks and governmental power, first to rise to the top and then to stay there. Obama's early forays into politics include instances in which political opponents were destroyed. (Remember Alice Palmer and Jack Ryan?) Need I remind readers of Obamians' use of ends-justify-the-means tactics, first to defeat Hillary Clinton, then to vanquish John McCain, and later to "kill" Mitt Romney?
During his presidency, Obama (and/or his minions) have used federal government agencies such as the Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service to reward friends and harm opponents. The DOJ secretly subpoenaed and seized reporters' phone logs and e-mails, and Obama's Administration targeted Fox News reporter James Rosen.
Part of the MSM's criticism of Christie is that, even if he personally were not involved in executive overreach he set the tone in his administration that may have contributed to his subordinates' nefarious conduct. If that charge applies to Christie, shouldn't it also apply to Obama?
Doubtless I've over-looked other instances of politicians' abuses of power. I have, for example, eschewed governors' and mayors' improper conduct. Perspicacious readers may mention them.
Nevertheless, the incomplete record above puts "Bridgegate" into perspective, and occasions a question: Why all the fuss aimed at Christie?
Two reasons come to mind, one more sinister but neither reassuring. First, and probably less worrisome, the hoopla surrounding Christie attests to the naïveté some people express about politics. According to these folks, all politics is supposed to be pure, and politicians are supposed to be nice. ("Goo goos" -- good government advocates [thank you, Mike Royko] - have always been with us, but they get a more favorable press these days, if they pick the "right" target.)
More ominous, the MSM's assault on Chris Christie may indicate how much its denizens worry that he would be a formidable opponent for Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016.
If the NBC News/Marist poll of January 12-14 - which showed Rodham Clinton now leads Christie by 13 percentage points -- is any indication, the MSM's campaign against Christie may be working. For now.