Published January 10, 2014
Chris Christie pleads, “I am not a bully” but is he?
Attitude reflects leadership.
In any organization a leader will set a tone and subordinates looking to impress him will co-opt his personality to prove they are like him.
Whether Chris Christie is a bully in deeds can be fairly debated, but isn't there some pretty heavy historical proof that he in fact acts like one, talks like one and presents a “Jersey Guy” tough-man persona?
This is the governor who is on record at press conferences calling others “idiots” and “stupid” and telling constituents that some issues are “none of their business.” That he relishes in the bully persona was made clear when he told Iowans that if they didn’t vote for Mitt Romney, “I will be back, Jersey-style, people. I will be back.”
"Jersey style"? What’s that? Did he mean with the brilliance of Thomas Edison? The honor of Norman Schwarzkopf?
No, the governor was channeling fictional, loathsome characters who unfortunately are now more identified with New Jersey than real people are, thanks to HBO and MTV.
Chris Christie can pageant a street-tough façade if he likes but pity the New Jersey news media who bought it in the first place, coming as it does from a guy who grew up in a bucolic upper-class suburb.
Governor, we aren’t Tony Soprano, and neither are you. We’re both better than that. Stop talking that way.
None of this portends anything about Chris Christie the statesman. He was an exemplary, perhaps even heroic U.S. Attorney who made his mark jailing corrupt politicians of both Republican and Democratic stripes.
His stewardship of New Jersey has been examined closely with no genuine criticism, save partisan wails that will always be made.
At his press conference Thursday over the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, we finally saw what Chris Christie looks like while being stumped.
He just couldn’t figure out the “how or why” of it all.
How did people he trusted for five years mislead him?
Why would they seek revenge against a Democratic mayor, when no one would blame a mayor for traffic on a Port Authority bridge anyway?
How and why?
He was the only one scratching his head because the rest of New Jersey knows how and why: Governor Christie may not be a bully, but his workers wanted to be.
They wanted to live up to his tough guy image and their judgment was clouded. They lost sight of their service of the people and saw us as pawns in a fictional political thriller played out, like Walter Mitty, in their own minds.
Good for Governor Christie that he took responsibility, but let’s be clear: He isn’t just vicariously responsible like an employer is for his employee when there is no direct bad action by the employer. That’s not the case here.
The governor is an additional bad actor here for setting an unnecessary, unhelpful tough tone that his underlings aspired to.
We New Jerseyans accept his apology. But as a Catholic, Christie knows that it’s not the apology, it’s the penance.
Something has to be done. The governor stated that in the future he can’t be sure he can any longer “warranty” the truthfulness of anyone in his administration (that was too high of a bar anyway). The governor’s employees have to act to regain his trust, and he ours.
He shouldn’t just make us the promise that things like this won’t happen again. Don’t tell us, “If you like your bridge lane, you can keep it.” We know that sort of promise is empty. It’s our bridge to begin with.
Governor, what you owe us is a more professional tone. If you are going to run for president in 2016, and many New Jerseyans still hope you do, you will need to lose the wise-guy attitude. The more austere parts of America won’t vote for it. I assure you the rest of us won’t either.
No one is telling you to be “kinder and gentler.” That didn’t work out for George H. W. Bush. Be forceful in persuasion, in debate, in honor and fair play. But do so in a manner that makes you respected not feared.
If you don’t temper your language, “I am not a bully” will work as well for you as “I am not a crook” did for another politician.
This damage is repairable, with the right penance.