Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Bully from NJ


"I am who I am. But I am not a bully." 

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE OF NEW JERSEY, as he apologized for his administration's ordering traffic lanes closed at the George Washington Bridge as an act of political revenge. 

I don't know where you live, but here in "The First State" - well, at least down where I live in Lower, Slower Delaware  - it's been "all-Chris-Christie-all-the-time" (ad nauseum).

Even some of the conversations at local diners and coffee shops, men and women who normally don't care two figs about New Jersey or New York are all abuzz about "Bridgegate".  

Unless you've been living in solitary confinement or on silent retreat in a monastery or convent somewhere, you no doubt know what I'm talking about. 

Seems as if some of the top staff order the closing of some of the lanes from Ft. Lee, NJ into the George Washington Bridge, which delayed traffic for hours. 

It was more than just a dirty political trick. Conspiracy theories abound, but the allegation is that the closing of lanes and ensuing traffic jam was ordered to "punish" the Democratic mayor of Ft. Lee for not endorsing Governor Christie in his bid for re-election as Governor.

Problem was, it meant that thousands of kids were late for school and thousands of adults were late for work. Emergency services were also delayed, apparently resulting in the delay of the ambulance transport of one 91 year old woman to the hospital; the woman later died. And, it also hampered the search for an abducted child.

Not cool.
No joke.
Part of what I was hearing today, in conversations from "the locals" included these observations:
"Either he's lying or he's a bad leader not to have known what his staff was up to."
"Well, his staff must have thought they were doing what they needed to do to make their boss look good. At least he took responsibility for that. But why did it even occur to them to do something like that? What else have they done that 'the boss' doesn't know about?"

"If you can't be trusted in small things, you can't be trusted in big things. Says so right in the Bible. (I'm just reporting here). So, if he's a bully about small things, he's going to be a bully about big things, too. He's from NJ. What do you expect?"
"Seems to me that when a leader does something you agree with, he's 'decisive'. When he does something you don't like, he's a 'bully'."

"Yeah, and if you like a leader and he stays on task, he's 'focused'. If you don't like him and he does something you don't agree with, he's arrogant.
"Yeah, well what about Benghazi?  Four people died in Benghazi! Who died in NY?
Okay, forget that last one. This is Sussex County, DE. None of our legislators voted for Marriage Equality. That will give you the temperature of the political water here where it's still "All-Benghazi-All-The-Time".

What caught my ear was the conversation about "decisive v bully" and "focused v arrogant".

It's a slippery slope, isn't it?

Where is the line between being absolutely clear about what is right, and fighting for what you believe is right?

Where is the line between being focused on your task and being blind to the rights of others?

I think the proof is in the pudding.

A long time ago, one of my political mentors gave me this standard: "You have the absolute right," he said, "to wave your arms as wildly as you wish; but that right ends at the tip of my nose."

Yes, Governor Christie and his administrative staff have the absolute right to pursue a course of action that he and they believe is consistent with what they believe and what they believe is best for the people who elected them to office.

No, they do not have the right to hurt people in the process.

Ah, but here comes the rub: What constitutes 'hurt'? 

Opponents of everything from the Affordable Care Act to Reproductive Justice to Marriage Equality say that these laws 'hurt' them, and hurt this country.  They even claim that their 'religious freedom' is being compromised.

There are a surprising number of law suits and pieces of litigation pending concerning these three areas of social concern which allege 'harm'.

In the strict sense of personal affront, they may well be absolutely correct. In terms of the law of the land, however, their claim holds no weight.

Indeed, their claims distort the principle of 'freedom of religion' to a state where the principle itself is barely recognizable.

Not so with "Bridgegate".  Not only were people actually hurt - one woman died! - but the act itself was against the law. This is no doubt why several of the men involved have "taken the fifth" when asked for their testimony unless granted immunity from prosecution.

How does stuff like this happen? Well, it can't be denied that there are lots of 'political dirty tricks' that happen every day which fly under the public radar. Stuff that actually hurts individuals. That is an unfortunate reality of political life.

Bridgegate, however, goes way past 'decisiveness' and 'focus' and is a perfect example of bullying and arrogance. It's pretty clear that this was mean-spirited political retribution. 

The leader sets the tone. Governor Christie is known for his sharp, pointed political rhetoric. He is, in a word, blunt, even calling the staff person who lied to him about Bridegate "stupid".

No argument here on that, but might there have been a different adjective he could have used? Oh, there is no doubt. "Ill-advised". "Unwarranted." "Not smart." And a few others come to mind.

"Stupid" pushes the point of necessity and is unnecessarily demeaning.

But, the truth is that Christie has gotten accolades for being a "straight talker". Indeed, he won reelection as Governor by a whopping 24 points. Remember, he's a Republican in a Democratic state.

He fits the stereotype of someone from New Jersey, but it's just a stereotype, same as the 'hick' from the Midwest, the 'city slicker' from New York, the 'granola head'  from California or 'cheese head' (full of holes) from Wisconsin.

He "doesn't mince words" and "tells it like it is." It's "refreshing," some say, for a politician to say what he means and mean what he says because "you can trust him".  He's "one of us" - a "Joisey boy" - who doesn't put any spit and polish on public discourse. We understand him.  He may be "a little rough around the edges" but, see?, "he gets the job done".

Well, it seems that would not always be the case.

More to the point, that kind of standard for rhetoric and action creates a climate and an environment which sets the stage for a Bridgegate to become possible.

Indeed, I think the Governor of NJ needs to do a little soul searching this weekend. A little of what the nuns he and I both grew up with would call "an examination of conscious".

When Christie takes responsibility for establishing an administrative environment which permitted - and, in fact, encouraged - the behavior of his staff, I'll start to believe that he is 'presidential material'.

That would be "refreshing". I'll start to believe he may be worthy of "trust" (as politicians go).

I'm remembering all those things my grandmother and mother and nuns taught me:
When you point a finger, just remember there's a nail at the end.

When you point a finger, just remember that there are three more pointing back at you.

When you try to make someone else look bad, you never make yourself look good
I'm also remembering what Shakespeare would have said about his statement "I'm not a bully" - which is reminiscent of Nixon's "I'm not a crook.
"The lady (man) doth protest too much, methinks."  (Gertrude, scene ii)
Unless and until the Governor of NJ begins to take some personal - not just professional, personal - responsibility for "Bridgegate," he'll just be "The Bully from New Jersey".

Not a focused, decisive leader who is worthy of election as President of The United States.


8thday said...

I have come to believe that it is just the tip of the iceberg when people use demeaning language toward other people, calling them stupid, asshole, jerk, retarded, etc. Verbal abuse is a true and insidious form of bullying and scary when others accept it as anything else. I don’t know if we'll ever know the full story behind the bridge insanity, but I have learned to walk away from people who use abusive language. It tells me more than I want to know about the person underneath.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

We have tons of research and learnings from domestic violence which proves that violent language always leads to violent actions. Even so, violent, abusive language is violence and abuse in and of itself.

And, you're right. If we tolerate that behavior, it says something about us.

Calamity Jane said...

In New Jersey it's encouraged.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Calamity Jane - I think that's a stereotype. It's no more true in NJ than in other parts of the country. Indeed, NJ has some of the strictest anti-bullying laws anywhere. So, it may be a particular "NJ style" - like da Bronx or parts of Brooklyn, or Texas or wherever - but I don't think bullying, per se, is encouraged.

I'm not letting Christie off the hook that easy. He wasn't "born that way".

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see if the prosecutors take up a criminal action. What headlines they would make....

Just sayin....

Donna said...

Not to minimize a death but, honestly... the woman was 91. There's no direct cause/effect here to indicate that lack of a traffic jam would have made an appreciable difference in the outcome for this lady. It's fodder for drama and headlines but not necessarily reality based. And,as a 'Jersey girl' living for decades in a flyover state in the Midwest, you might be surprised to know how little this story has captivated attention here. There's a whole world out here - and it doesn't revolve around what goes on 'back East'!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - Please leave your name next time. But, you're right.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Donna - not to be dramatic about this, but I have a patient who is 103 who had a pacemaker put in when she was 96. I have another patient who is 84, her 86 year old husband had back fusion surgery 5 weeks ago and is now caring for his dying wife.

No, there is no "direct" cause for the woman's death, but no patient of any age should have medical treatment delayed because of political pettiness.

Your last sentence doesn't make much sense to me. I might be actually be surprised to hear that folks in the "flyover Midwest" are "captivated" by "this little story" if I really believed that the "whole world" revolves "around what goes on back East".

I don't. But, I do think this is a major story because Chris Christie will most definitely be running for Presidential election in 2016.