Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Bridget (or: Four Days in Fort Lee)

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Inspired by 3 Stages of Chris Christie’s Crisis Management (Matt Katz, WNYC 1/08/14), King Henry II’s superior crisis management skills, and Gov. Chris Christie’s apparent failure to learn from them.

 

“We are self-uncertain creatures, and we may, Yea, even when we know not, mix our spites and private hates with our defence of Heaven.” — John of Salisbury in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Becket
 
“Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” – King Henry II in Becket, the 1964 movie based on Jean Anouilh’s play (Henry later explained that he didn’t actually want his erstwhile friend Thomas Becket killed)
 
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” – Chris Christie’s deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly, instructing Christie Port Authority appointee David Wildstein to partially close the George Washington Bridge, allegedly in order to punish Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich (a Dem) for refusing to endorse Christie

 

Chris Christie denies he had anything to do with lane closures in Fort Lee,

Though that seems pretty unlikely to me.

 

It’s hard to believe Bridget Kelly had the authority

To send that fateful text to the Port Authority.

 

It’s hard to believe Christie didn’t at least imply

That he wanted to get back at that FortReno guy.

 

Or, maybe there was something that Bridget heard,

And then that self-same instruction somehow inferred.

 

So at best, Bridget’s Bridgegate is a Becket situation,

With at least some royal inference or insinuation.

 

Who and what was said, that is the question,

Causing death not by sword, but by traffic congestion.

 

(Though King Christie and his henchmen may dispute the why,

Don’t forget there was one human being who actually did die.)

 

Alas, King Christie should have took

A page from Henry II’s playbook.

 

King Henry perfectly walked the line,

And as a result wasn’t forced to resign.

 

He admitted the angry words that caused Becket to die,

And didn’t try to cover them up with an implausible lie.

 

Henry didn’t try to deny those words again and again

(And they didn’t even have email and text records back then).

 

He took responsibility for triggering that fatal retribution,

And then sought the Pope’s absolution.

 

Henry allowed himself to be publicly stripped,

And then naked by bishops and monks repeatedly whipped.

 

In contrast, King Christie claimed nothing he said or did in anyone’s wildest imagination

Could ever be remotely interpreted as having ordered the retaliation.

 

(That’s like if Henry claimed that Becket, his erstwhile buddy,

Had been accidentally killed during a church attendance study.)

 

Reporters gave Christie the perfect chance to apologize fully

When they asked if he had created the impression of being a bully.

 

Chris could have pulled a King Henry and sincerely said

That the retaliation was because of something he’d inadvertently said.

 

He could have apologized for the culture he created

In which his political opponents were intimidated.

 

He could’ve claimed he had less radical retaliation in mind,

Something that regular people wouldn’t much mind.

 

Of course, Christie might still have deliberately ordered this closure,

And then come up with excuses when threatened with disclosure.

 

(That at least would’ve been much more believable

And made Christie’s future goals much more achievable.)

 

Then again, King Henry II

Might have done the same thing too.

***

Here’s Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich 1/08/14 on All In.

 

Here’s Christie’s 1/09/14 press conference. Christie would’ve been a lot better off if he’d followed Henry II’s example and admitted that either something he said or the culture of retribution he created led to the order to close the Fort Lee GW bridge lanes, rather than trying to maintain the implausible fiction that nothing he ever said or did could cause a staffer to reasonably come to the conclusion that Christie wanted to get back at Mark Sokolich for not endorsing him. Christie could and should have said that New Jersey politics was rough and he was a practitioner of that form of politics, but that this time it’d gone too far. He could and should have admitted that he did want to exact revenge on Sokolich, but in a more normal Jersey way, not in the publicly harmful way that Bridget Kelly adopted. Christie should have then taken the opportunity to apologize for his contribution to the culture of retribution, and committed to do what he could to help change it during his second term. In other words, he should have admitted to and owned his bullying. That approach (barring later incontrovertible evidence that he deliberately ordered to lane closure) would have been a much better approach to save Christie’s governorship, and possibly even his presidential ambitions. Indeed, if Christie had really wanted to preserve the latter, he could have resigned as governor (that would have been penance comparable to King Henry’s public flogging), then spent the next two years talking about how aggressive and tough politics are sometimes necessary to get things done (a nice contrast with Obama’s “let’s just get along” approach), but that one needs to balance aggressive politics with a respect for the public interest, which his staff had failed to do. If he’d done either of those things, Bridgegate might actually have advanced his presidential prospects.

 

 

Here’s the trailer for Becket, the 1964 movie based on Jean Anouilh’s play (the quote is at the 3”40 mark), which provided our titular and thematic inspiration. The actual quote is of course “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”  That is (more or less) what King Henry II is quoted as actually having said, which his followers interpreted as a request to assassinate Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket because he was being a thorn in King Henry’s side, resisting royal encroachments on the church’s perogatives and privileges (it’s a true story). Strictly speaking, in order to be more thematically equivalent, our title should have been “Sokolich,” but Bridget Kelly is a such a key player in King Chris’s story, and I couldn’t resist the Bridget/Becket parallel. NB: RIP, Peter O’Toole, who starred at Henry II (Richard Burton played Becket). O’Toole, a giant of the screen, died last month at age 81.

 

Update: Here’s Rachel on 1/09/14 with a new and very interesting theory that the GW Bridge lane closure wasn’t retribution against Sokolich, but against the leader of the Senate Dems Loretta Weinberg. Just like with Becket, there are many possible versions of what happened, but the basic story remains the same: abuse of power. Regardless of the target, I stand by my earlier analysis that Christie bungled the crisis management. I suspect that even if he didn’t specifically order the lane closures, he had made it clear to his staff that they should engage in general retribution to his political enemies, and that he at least knew and tried to cover up the retributive nature of the lane closure during or soon after it took place.

 

PS: The subtitle “Four Days in FortReno” is a take-off on another play about Thomas Becket’s assassination, Four Nights in Knaresborough by Paul Webb. Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Elliot is another one.

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