On September 9, 2013, 2 out of 3 lanes that allowed Fort Lee, NJ residents access to the George Washington Bridge (GWB) were blocked. Initially, it was stated that this was part of a traffic study and the lanes were reopened up after 4 days. Then on January 8, 2014 emails were released which implicated one of NJ Governor Chris Christie’s top aides and a close confidante and political appointee.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week you undoubtedly have heard of this story as it has had wall to wall coverage on every major media outlet for the last week and was the most prominent story on the Sunday talk shows.
It is very tempting to compare this scandal and the reaction to either Benghazi, the IRS scandal or any of the Obama scandals of the week. That is not what I want to do here.
As a small government conservative/libertarian I am vehemently against any abuse of power whether it’s from the left, the right or the middle. In fact I view Crony Capitalism (a subject for another day) as a subset of Abuse of Power.
In my mind, Abuse of Power has three distinct flavors. Each is bad but some are worse than others.
3 Levels of Abuse of Power
1. Punish Enemies
2. Self Enrichment
3. Impact of innocent citizens
To punish you enemies is almost expected. It is not something that I condone, but it seem that it’s a cost of doing business in the world of politics. As the old saying goes “politics ain’t bean bag.” As the media has gone over everything that Christie has done for the last 20 years, stories have come out that show that his office has not responded to folks that didn’t support him in the same way or with the same speed that he has for people that did support him. Well Duh! It shouldn’t be that way, he should be governor for all the residents of NJ, but that’s the way that it has been since the founding of the republic. Political supporters get better access.
Self Enrichment is the most insidious form of abuse of power. Every year or so there is a story about a big time politician who either takes bags of cash or gets something for free. It happens on both sides of the aisle. From Connecticut Governor Rowland getting free contracting services at his home to Congressman Charlie Rangel and his rent controlled apartments and his other ills. It is the basis for movie’s like “American Hustle” and TV shows like “Scandal”. But just because it is so prevalent doesn’t mean we should accept it. It is actually the biggest argument for reducing the size of government and putting more power in the hands of the states. Almost anyone can turn down a $20 bribe, but it takes tremendous willpower to turn down $1,000,000 bribe. Go ahead, tempt me! But you wouldn’t because I have nothing to give you. Smaller government reduces the stakes for everything.
The thing about Self Enrichment is that it typically doesn’t impact the citizens directly. The government might end up paying more for a contract but the impact on any individual taxpayer might only be pennies. It doesn’t make it right but that’s why some people shrug and say “Oh well, that’s just how the game is played.” And yet, these Citizens are who every official is sworn to serve. Often they are put on pedestals as “public servants”. The argument is that they have sacrificed their entire lives to serve the public. Think of the Kennedys, the Cuomos or yes even the Bushes. How often do we hear about their public service.
To me the worst form of Abuse of Power is when it impacts innocent citizens. Those people that officials have sworn to serve. And someone does it just because they can. I don’t care if you are the cop on the corner harassing some teenagers or the Governor of NJ whose staff actions caused havoc in the lives of thousands of citizens. We can not abide these abuses.
In a Thursday Jan 9 press conference that lasted nearly 2 hours, Governor Christie said,
“I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team. Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens under my watch,”
Well he should be. These were the actions of petty people. And I can’t help wonder where senior staff members who have been around the Governor for decades would get the idea that this was acceptable behavior. When I say “Seniors” we are not talking about High School or College Seniors, I know what they are like because I have one of each and I question decisions that they make on a weekly basis. I am talking about Senior Staff members of the Governor of NJ. They have decades of experience and because of their experience, wisdom and judgment they make over $200,000 a year. Where in this “culture of service” do they get the idea that this is OK to abuse citizens in this way. Or is it a culture of power that says “Whatever I do is OK”? As Loretta Weinberg, the NJ State Senate majority leader who happens to represent Fort Lee said, “There’s a difference between a Jersey attitude of being blunt and direct and telling it like it is, and a Nixonesque act of retaliation that punishes innocent people.”
So as we think past the midterm elections and consider who we want as a standard bearer in 2016, I ask one question… Shouldn’t we expect better?
PS. Even though I live in Massachusetts, I am proud to say that I come from Jersey!