Chris Christie Playing In Traffic

Playing in Traffic

With the emails and text messages which came to light this week implicating Christie’s top aides, but not directly providing evidence against Chris Christie, the outcome of this scandal might come down to public opinion. Documents clearly show evidence of corruption and an attempt at a cover-up. While it is far too soon to know if Christie will recover, I suspect that most people will either not be aware that the evidence does not prove direct involvement by Christie or will still believe Christie was involved. At very least, people will likely see him as creating the type of culture where such corruption exists, regardless of whether he ordered specific misdeeds.  There remains the danger that a smoking gun will be found, or someone will talk, making criminal prosecution a possibility.

There are other dangers for Christie. Being thought of as an incompetent leader who was unaware of what his top staff members were doing could be as damaging politically as being proven to have been involved. He might become a laughing stock even as details of the incident fade from the public’s mind. Late night comedians will continue jokes such as those I posted yesterday. Images such as the one on the upcoming cover of The New Yorker of Christie playing in traffic will haunt him, and probably be even more damaging than pictures of Mitt Romney driving with his dog on top of the car or shaking an Etch A Sketch.

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Christie May Not Survive Impact Of Email Saying “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”

As The Rachel Maddow Show, and Maddow Blog writer Steve Benen have been vigorously covering the Chris Christie Bridge scandal for a month, I have been uncertain as to whether this would amount to enough to seriously impact Christie’s until-now rising political career. The new revelations released today, based upon email and text messages directly linking Christie’s top aides to the scandal, now suggest that this will be important:

Private messages between Governor’s Christie’s deputy chief of staff and two of his top executives at the Port Authority reveal a vindictive effort to create “traffic problems in Fort Lee” by shutting lanes to the George Washington Bridge and apparent pleasure at the resulting gridlock.

The messages are replete with references and insults to Fort Lee’s mayor — who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election — and they chronicle how he tried to reach Port Authority officials in a vain effort to eliminate the paralyzing gridlock that overwhelmed his town of 35,000, which sits in the shadow of the world’s busiest bridge.

The documents obtained by The Record raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor’s top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough’s access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta—a notion that Christie has publicly denied.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, one of three deputies on Christie’s senior staff, wrote to David Wildstein, a top Christie executive at the Port Authority, on Aug. 13, about three weeks before the closures. Wildstein, the official who ordered the closures and who resigned last month amid the escalating scandal, wrote back: “Got it.”

I’m not sure we have had such clear documentation implicating a major politician in a scandal since the Watergate tapes ended the career of Richard Nixon. Of course in this day and age it is email and text messages (raising the question as to why they would think that such a clear trail would not be revealed.) The documents both display an abuse of power and contradict previous denials that Christie was involved. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” is likely to become a phrase which will haunt Chris Christie for the rest of his career, and might very likely end his presidential ambitions. As Chris Cillizza points out, “Molehills can grow into mountains in politics. This is now a serious problem for Christie.”

Jonathan Chait pointed out why this scandal can be particularly harmful for Christie, both being easy for voters to understand and reinforcing previous questions about Christie:

Several things come together to make this scandal especially devastating to Christie. One is that it’s very easy for voters to understand: He punished a town because its mayor endorsed his rival. There are no complex financial transfers or legal maneuverings to parse. Second, it fits into a broader pattern of behavior, documented by the New York Times, of taking retribution against politicians who cross him in any way. There is, in all likelihood, much more. Mark Halperin and my colleague John Heilemann reported in their book about the 2012 campaign that Mitt Romney wanted to put Christie on his ticket, but his staff was “stunned by the garish controversies lurking in the shadows of his record”:

“There was a 2010 Department of Justice inspector general’s investigation of Christie’s spending patterns in his job prior to the governorship, which criticized him for being “the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification” and for offering “insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification” for stays at swank hotels like the Four Seasons. There was the fact that Christie worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Securities Industry Association at a time when Bernie Madoff was a senior SIA official — and sought an exemption from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. There was Christie’s decision to steer hefty government contracts to donors and political allies like former Attorney General John Ashcroft, which sparked a congressional hearing. There was a defamation lawsuit brought against Christie arising out of his successful 1994 run to oust an incumbent in a local Garden State race. Then there was Todd Christie, the Governor’s brother, who in 2008 agreed to a settlement of civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission in which he acknowledged making “hundreds of trades in which customers had been systematically overcharged.”

The investigations also “raised questions for the vetters about Christie’s relationship with a top female deputy who accompanied him on many of the trips.”

Josh Marshall says essentially the same thing, but a little more bluntly with his comparison of Chris Christie to Tony Soprano:

As I’ve written several times, this Christie Bridge Scandal is far more potentially damaging for Christie that it might seem on its face because its fits so perfectly with the negative view (as opposed to the positive view) of Chris Christie. That is, that he and his crew are thugs and bullies. We have basically demonstrable evidence that one of Christie’s top aides instructed Christie’s crony at the Port Authority, David Wildstein, to create the series of massive traffic jams in the city whose Mayor wouldn’t endorse the Governor.

Put into a mix that a good part of the country has the Sopranos as their primary prism for viewing New Jersey. (And, hey, I’m a former New Jersey resident!) And these emails sound very Sopranos-esque. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly told David Wildstein, according to emails obtained by TPM. “Got it,” Wildstein replied.

This isn’t some low level aide. This is part of his inner circle. And unless there’s some wildly unexpected explanation, it’s pretty clear that we’ve got the worst case scenario for the Governor in terms of the political damage. I doubted very much that we’d see any email smoking gun. And it’s still not from Christie himself. But it came from the Governor’s office and I think the weight of logic (though as yet no direct evidence) at least says that Christie himself knew about the order and may have ordered it himself.

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Government Sells Off Stake In General Motors, Contradicting Conservative Predictions Of Impending Socialism

While Obama’s poll numbers remain down from last year, there has been good news this week. Following a poor roll out, the number of people obtaining health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act has jumped significantly, and the number should grow as two deadlines for January coverage and for avoiding penalties approach. Another major success of the Obama administration was seen this week without very much attention. The government sold its last shares in General Motors. Beyond the obvious benefits to General Motors and the Michigan economy, this was a financial success for the government when tax revenue and money saved on unemployment  claims is taken into consideration.

This is also a  philosophical victory.  Despite record corporate profits and stock market gains under Obama, many on the right wing persist in calling him a socialist. The government investment in General Motors, called by conservatives Government Motors, was a major part of this argument. I recall many conspiracy theories on conservative blogs which predicted that by now the government would have completely nationalized General Motors and moved on to other companies. Of course to those in touch with reality, it was clear that the Obama administration saw involvement in General Motors as a desperation measure, and not something they desired to do.

Conspiracy theories of further nationalization of the means of production were not limited to fringe bloggers. Via Steve Benen, Think Progress collected these predictions in 2010. Not all are as extreme in predicting socialism, but all were wrong:

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH): “Does anyone really believe that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington can successfully steer a multi-national corporation to economic viability?” [6/1/09]

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL): “It’s basically going to be a government-owned, government-run company. …It’s the road toward socialism.” [5/29/09]

RNC Chairman Michael Steele: “No matter how much the President spins GM’s bankruptcy as good for the economy, it is nothing more than another government grab of a private company and another handout to the union cronies who helped bankroll his presidential campaign.” [6/1/2009]

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC): “Now the government has forced taxpayers to buy these failing companies without any plausible plan for profitability. Does anyone think the same government that plans to double the national debt in five years will turn GM around in the same time?” [6/2/09]

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA): “Unfortunately, this is just another sad chapter in President Obama’s eager campaign to interject his administration in the private sector’s business dealings.” [6/2/09]

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX): The auto company rescues “have been the leading edge of the Obama administration’s war on capitalism.” [7/22/09]

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ): When government gets involved in a company, “the disaster that follows is predictable.” [7/22/09]

Steve also added this prediction from Mitt Romney:

To put it mildly, this isn’t what Romney expected. In 2009, Mr. “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” was so certain Obama’s policy would fail, he said Americans could “kiss the American automotive industry goodbye” if the administration’s policy was implemented. Indeed, at the time, Romney called the White House plan “tragic” and “a very sad circumstance for this country.” He wrote an April 2009 piece in which he said Obama’s plan “would make GM the living dead.”

 

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Wingnuts Say The Darndest Things: Bombing Iran

“What are we going to negotiate about? I would say ‘Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.’ …You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘OK let it go.’ And so there’s an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles, the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever. Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development. You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it all,  and we will guarantee you that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, energy purposes.’–Sheldon Adelson, a major financial backer of Mitt Romney

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Rand Paul’s Use Of Misinformation Dates Back To Med School

It is looking like looking back at their behavior in school can provide important insights on Republican leaders. During the last presidential campaign we learned that Mitt Romney was a bully and a homophobe while a student at Cranbrook. Rand Paul, who, like Mitt Romney, regularly makes up facts to support his position, showed that he understood how to use misinformation while in medical school.  National Journal found that Paul even admitted it:

Rand Paul was talking with University of Louisville medical students when one of them tossed him a softball. “The majority of med students here today have a comprehensive exam tomorrow. I’m just wondering if you have any last-minute advice.”

“Actually, I do,” said the ophthalmologist-turned-senator, who stays sharp (and keeps his license) by doing pro bono eye surgeries during congressional breaks. “I never, ever cheated. I don’t condone cheating. But I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic. Misinformation can be very important.”

He went on to describe studying for a pathology test with friends in the library. “We spread the rumor that we knew what was on the test and it was definitely going to be all about the liver,” he said. “We tried to trick all of our competing students into over-studying for the liver” and not studying much else.

“So, that’s my advice,” he concluded. “Misinformation works.”

That was a perfect lead-in for an article on the misinformation Rand Paul continues to spread:

“Under Obamacare and the current evolution of things, we have 18,000 diagnostic codes. We’re going to 144,000 diagnostic codes,” Paul told them. It wasn’t the first time he had implied that the number of codes—complete with seemingly absurd categories for injuries from macaws, lampposts, and burning water skis—was exploding as a result of the Affordable Care Act. But fact-checkers across the spectrum, from the conservative website The Blaze to USA Today to the liberal site Think Progress, had thoroughly debunked that notion months earlier. As Paul must know, the new diagnostic codes were approved by the Bush administration and have nothing to do with Obamacare.

Later in the article:

But then, there are the half-truths, cherry-picked factoids, and outright errors that Paul seems steadfastly unwilling to relinquish.

Take health care. Although he’s a doctor, Paul repeatedly misrepresents aspects of the Affordable Care Act. For example, all of those crazy-sounding new billing codes he implies are the spawn of Obamacare were in fact released by the World Health Organization 20 years ago and, as The Blaze reported, approved by the Bush administration in 2008, scheduled for 2011, delayed until 2013, and then delayed again until late 2014, so they’ll finally take effect the same year as most of the ACA.

In discussing the expenses the law will impose on consumers, Paul rarely mentions the subsidies many people will receive, and he sometimes says a single person making $30,000 a year will have to pay $15,000 a year in premiums. The government is going to require somebody to pay 50 percent of their income for health insurance? “It depends on circumstances,” Paul replies. “I can’t tell you where the cutoff is for single without kids. But I think there will be people who are single without kids who don’t get subsidies who will struggle to pay $15,000 for insurance.” PolitiFact labeled that assertion “especially off the mark.” Citing available facts, PolitiFact said such a person would pay at most about $3,000 and could pay far less due to the law’s caps, subsidies, and bare-bones coverage options.

The Louisville med students were worried and curious about Obamacare, which could greatly affect their future. “I will continue to fight to make it less bad, at the very least,” Paul told them. It sounded like he wanted to fix or improve the law. Later, away from those students, asked how he would improve the law, he told National Journal he would try to delay and defund as much of it as possible in hopes of eventually getting rid of it entirely, because “the whole thing is rotten.”

Paul’s logic in justifying the GOP drive to kill Obamacare is dicey, too. He says that while the president won reelection by “a small majority” in 2012, “a majority of the people believe Republicans should be in charge of the House” and therefore don’t want something like the law that was passed solely by Democrats. Obama won last year by nearly 5 million votes. Some people might consider that a small majority. But while Republicans won a majority of House districts, it’s not accurate to say a “majority of the people” wanted a GOP House. Democrats won the House popular vote by more than 1.7 million votes nationwide, the Federal Election Commission reported in July.

On another front, Paul routinely exaggerates the size of the annual federal deficit, pegging it at $1 trillion. In fact, the deficit for fiscal 2013 fell to an estimated $642 billion, heading toward $378 billion in two years, according to a Congressional Budget Office report in May.

Paul, like most Republicans, is also dishonest in blaming the size of the deficit on Obama when Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were the biggest spenders in recent years. The current deficit problem is a consequence of George Bush passing on a combination of unfunded expenses and tax cuts to his successor.

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Conservative Denial of Republican Racism

The Republican Party bases much of its appeal on racism and fear, scaring middle class white voters into voting against their true economic interests. They scare people into voting Republican out of fear that poor minorities will take their money, with greatly exaggerated views of the cost of programs such as welfare and foreign aide. At the same time, they have no concept of the real redistribution of wealth underway in this country–Republicans transferring wealth to the top one-tenth of one-percent at the expense of the middle class. While racism permeates the Republican Party and Tea Party movement, they tend to be in total denial of their own racism. Joe Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, posts that American Needs A White Republican President.

It is hard to deny that a headline such as this is not racist, but Joe the Plumber follows with: “Wanting a white Republican president doesn’t make you racist, it just makes you American.”

The true racists according to Joe appear to be Mexicans,  liberal blacks, and white Democratic presidents. He wrote that, “Many deranged Mexicans believe we should open the country up to them, some saying that much of America belongs to Mexico anyway.”  As for blacks and white Democratic presidents:

Liberal blacks have disagreed with most Republican presidents since Eisenhower, yet these blacks are not considered racists. In fact, when blacks had sanity and disagreed with the policies of racist white Democrat presidents, nobody accused black people of being racists.

Joe believes that blacks should vote Democratic because, he claims, “Reagan ushered in a veritable Renaissance for blacks.” His source? Fox News. Remember what David Frumm said about the effect of Fox creating an artificial reality for Republicans just a few days ago?

Joe also cited current economic data as reason why Obama has been bad for blacks. I haven’t checked on his actual statistics, which I would be skeptical about, but the key factor which Joe ignores is the economic crash caused by Republican economic policies under Bush and the fierce battle waged by Congressional Republicans to hinder economic recovery, especially for the poor and middle class. It would take someone from the Fox artificial reality to really believe that blacks would not be even worse off now if John McCain or Mitt Romney were deciding economic policy instead of Barack Obama.

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The One Thing Mitt Romney Was Right About

Remember how Mitt Romney spent the presidential campaign avoiding making any meaningful statements on political issues or responding to Obama’s actual views? Maybe it wasn’t purely because he’s a pathological liar who preferred to attack an imaginary version of Obama which he made up. Perhaps it was because Romney never really was interested in running for president.

Over the Christmas break of 2010, Mitt Romney and his family took an internal poll on whether he should run for president once more. Twelve family members cast ballots. Ten said no. One of the 10 was Mitt Romney himself.

The doubts that the former Massachusetts governor harbored before ultimately launching his second unsuccessful bid for the presidency are one of several attention-grabbing details in “Collision 2012,” the newest book on the 2012 campaign.

We had a candidate who didn’t want to run heading a party of people who don’t believe in governing.

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Quote of the Day

“Mitt Romney gave a commencement speech where he advised graduates to start a family before they turn 30. He also advised them to pay for it by inheriting millions of dollars.” –Conan O’Brien

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Quote of the Day

“In his first interview since losing the election, Mitt Romney says it kills him to not be in the White House. He said he’ll always think of it as the one house he couldn’t buy.” –Conan O’Brien

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Mitt Romney Admits He Didn’t Believe What He Said

“What I said is not what I believe.” –Mitt Romney in interview with Fox

Romney was specifically referring to the 47 percent comment but this quote has attracted considerable attention today for what it says about Mitt Romney’s entire political career.  As First Read commented, “Folks, that one sentence sums up Romney’s two failed presidential bids.”

Ironically, the 47 percent comment appears to be about the only thing Romney really believed during the campaign. He even showed this mind set during the same interview.

In a polarized political world, disgust over Mitt Romney’s dishonesty is a rare thing which many on the left and right agreed about. Liberals objected to the manner in which Romney repeatedly lied about everything from Obama’s positions to economic statistics to questions on his own background during the campaign. Steve Benen documented 917 falsehoods during the campaign (and over the course of the year I noticed a few more which didn’t make the list).

Conservatives also distrusted him, believing that his conversion to far-right conservatism was opportunistic and not sincere. They were also right to mistrust him. Take this assessment of Romney from Daniel Larison at  The American Conservative:

Of course, it never mattered whether Romney “really” believed what he was saying, because it became clear years ago that he would have said almost anything to win. In that case, it was a good bet that Romney was always more likely to lie to his audience than not, and for that reason he disqualified himself through sheer, overwhelming dishonesty. When in doubt, it was safe to assume that Romney was lying, and it was usually safe to assume the worst about his intentions. If there was a chance that he might cave in to hard-liners and ideologues in his party, there was no reason to believe that he would ever stand up to them. When the 47% remarks came out, it didn’t matter whether he believed what he had said, because he had been willing to say it and he had done so because he was so desperate to appeal to the worst elements in his party. As it was, everyone assumed that he didn’t believe what he was saying, but we attributed it to his unprincipled willingness to pander, which simply made his awful statements seem that much worse.

Romney told more falsehoods than most politicians, but other conservatives were coming close. To a considerable degree Romney’s falsehoods echoed the false narratives which are common in echo chamber of the conservative movement, as they falsely portray liberals as supporters of big government and out of control spending when this is a better description of actual Republican policies when they are in power. Newt Gingrich is often as out of touch with reality as any conservative, and at other times provides an accurate insight into politics. He was honest in an interview with Salon:

…I think conservatives in general got in the habit of talking to themselves. I think that they in a sense got isolated into their own little world. So our pollsters, many of whom were wrong about turnout. No Republican pollster thought you could get 87 percent turnout in Milwaukee. You just sort of have to say that to some extent the degree to which we believed that the other side was kidding themselves, it turned out in fact in the real world – this is a part of what makes politics so fascinating – it turned out in the real world we were kidding ourselves.

Reality intruded into predictions of the election outcome. Does Gingrich realize that the same isolation from reality applies to virtually all the noise now coming out of the conservative movement? Being out of touch with reality, as well as the beliefs of most Americans, is why the Republicans are now unable to win a national election.

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