This is a fascinating piece, good because it dares to be iconoclastic. (We’re not supposed to say, or even think, such things in the post-Watergate world.) I want to quote the whole thing, and you should go read the whole thing, but here are key passages:
Having governed by intimidation, punishment, cronyism, patronage, and legal forms of corruption, Christie is now unmanned. He has renounced Satan and all his works, given up his ability to kneecap and to bribe.
And that’s a shame, because Chris Christieism is not the main problem with American politics these days, or even a problem at all. American politics is a broken horror, particularly at the national level, not because politicians are too dirty, but because they’re not nearly dirty enough. Children need to eat dirt to develop immunological resistance that protects them from allergies and disease as they grow up. Something similar is true in politics: Minor forms of corruption—votes bought with earmarks, traded favors—create a political flexibility that keeps the entire system from collapsing in moments of crisis.
But excessive hygiene is rampant in Washington….
A case in point is the House ban on earmarks, a proud achievement of the Boehner majority for the past four years. Grubby and inefficient, earmarks decorate the country with misplaced bridges and idiotic museums. But evidence suggests they also make political compromises possible. The less than 1 percent of federal spending that went to earmarks bought goodwill and dealmaking that lubricated Washington. Earmarks—a bribe, essentially—gave politicians cover to vote against their political interests, in support of someone else’s agenda. Think of President Obama buying support for his stimulus with a $10 billion pet project for Arlen Specter, or LBJ’s entire quid pro quo presidency. On the flip side: The earmark ban made it impossible for Democrats to buy enough votes to pass last year’s gun bill.
Democrats and Republicans rail about the corruption of Washington, about backroom deals and “Chicago-style” politics. But there are no backrooms anymore, just green rooms….
Petty corruption isn’t necessarily in the public interest. Not every act of political thuggery is in the service of passing the Civil Rights Act. Christie, in particular, seems to have doled out punishment for political reasons, rather than in pursuit of major policy goals.
But done right, corruption helps create a government that gets things done. Americans aspire to clean politics. But clean politics has given us a national government that doesn’t work. We need to get a little bit grubbier.
OK, so he uses language meant to put you off. But I think he’s getting at something that speaks to why I hate to see Christie go down over this lane-closing thing.
He seems like a guy who’d get things done in Washington because he’d be focused on getting it done, rather than playing the usual games. He would hug a Democrat (even that awful Obama person who gives Republicans the heebie-jeebies) or give the back of his hand to a Republican if it helps accomplish a governing goal (such as, say, getting the feds to hop to it with Sandy relief). And vice versa.
What’s awful about the lane-closing thing is not so much that his people sought to retaliate against a pol who didn’t cooperate, but that they punished the people of New Jersey. That was both deeply wrong, and deeply stupid.
As I say, this guy deliberately uses provocative language. I mean, I’m not about to endorse corruption. But he is sort of exploring the edges of something that has long concerned me.
All through my career writing about politics and editing other people who wrote about politics, I’ve often gotten impatient with our obsession with ethics, as ethics are dumbed-down in our political culture. We obsess over whether someone has filed the proper disclosure forms by the proper date, rather than whether that person is doing something that is really, truly good or bad. I always cared about whether pols had implemented the right policies, rather than whether they had crossed the right Ts or dotted the right Is.
You’re probably not following me. I’ll use an example that I’ve used before (bear with me). In fact, I’ll just save myself a lot of typing by quoting myself:
I remember a lot of folks getting really concerned about David Beasley accepting plane rides from folks associated with the Barnwell nuclear waste dump, from whom he had also received campaign contributions. People went on and on about these plane rides, like they mattered. (Folks who get worked up about ethics laws have a particular obsession with plane rides, as we’ve seen recently.)
Me, I was more concerned about the fact that Gov. Beasley had thrown careful interstate negotiations out the window in a reckless bid to overturn years and years of bipartisan effort to get some state other than South Carolina to be the region’s nuclear toilet for awhile. Mind you, he had already done this before all the hoo-hah about the plane rides. I kept trying to explain to anyone who would listen that the plane rides were only significant in that they might point to a cozy relationship with the dump people, which could portend that the governor might do something in the interest of the dump people rather than the interest of the people of South Carolina. But folks, he had already done the worst thing he could have done along those lines. This worrisome indicator (the disclosure of the plane rides) was superfluous and after the fact, and it interested me not in the slightest. It was a matter of straining at gnats.
It struck me as particularly dumb that Democrats were making a huge deal over the plane rides, and to my mind never made enough of the trashing of our nuclear waste policy (if Jim Hodges had run on that instead of the state lottery, he still would have won).
Actually, I could have just given you this short explanation: I care more about the substance than I do the appearance….
Too often, our discussions of “ethics” concerns plane rides, rather than opening our state to other people’s trash.
But I’m digressing. Basically, I just found that Christie piece more thought-provoking than a lot of stuff I’ve seen on the subject…