January 10 2014
Bridgegate and the IRS Scandal: Only Connect
One of the several things that we should notice about the New Jersey bridge closing is how much power government workers wield—and, as has come to light through a host of scandals over the last few years, Bridget Kelly, the former Christie staffer fired over the bridge closure, isn't the only one who is willing to abuse her power.
Bridget Kelly doesn't look (as several commentators have said) like the sort of person who shuts down bridges. She wore Barbara Bush pearls and stud earrings. I kept imagining an email to her that said, “Hey, Muffy, I shut the bridge down.” Some tweeters have had a field day with Ms. Kelly’s name—Bridge-t.
But the preppy looking Ms. Kelly joins a long list of government employees we’ve seen abuse their power at the expense of the public in recent years. Some abuse their unchecked power by taking lavish trips and relaxing in a hot tub at the taxpayer’s expense. Others abuse it by using their positions at the IRS to trample on the rights of organizations with which they disagree.
Jim Geraghty in his invaluable Morning Jolt quotes a discussion between Hugh Hewitt and Mark Steyn on Ms. Kelly's alleged escapade that has caused Governor Chris Christie such a headache. Here’s some of what Steyne said:
A woman died because the ambulance couldn't get to her in time, and so she's dead. And so for me, the important question is not whether Chris Christie can do sufficient damage control to position himself well for the New Hampshire primary or whatever, but how we can stop political staffers from being so myopic in their view of what their job is that they wind up killing American citizens, because when American political staffers are essentially jerking the citizenry around to the point of death, then I think that's the larger problem….
At the best of times, a New York-New Jersey commute involving a bridge or tunnel is not a great thing. So to have political staffers actually making it worse for political reasons gets to the heart of what's wrong, what's so upside down about politics in this country, and just to back to, you know, it hasn't been definitively confirmed that she would have lived if they had got to her, in other words, you're saying that by delaying the ambulance getting to her, it doesn't, that did not necessarily prove the fatal part of whatever happened to this woman. That's the wrong way to look at it. These people are supposed to be making the bridge from New York to New Jersey better. That's why there's government. That's the point of government. Government isn't there for private-score settling. Government is supposed to do those things that only government can do, like arranging a transportation system between two states that makes it possible for an ambulance to get to a sick woman in time.
For the record, the daughter of the 91-year-old woman who died when an ambulance could not reach her in good time because of the bridge closing has said that “it was just her time” and that she doesn't blame her mother's death on the closing. But citizens should not have to tell reporters that the government didn’t kill their mothers.
Governor Chris Christie might have made more of how the frivolous closing of the bridge was an affront and inconvenience not primarily to Chris Christie.
It was the citizens of New Jersey, not the governor--who presumably has a chauffeur-driven car and doesn’t experience traffic jams in quite the same way as others--who more immediately bore the brunt of of the closings. Peggy Noonan took note of Christie’s over-reliance on the first person pronoun in yesterday’s otherwise virtuoso press conference. Note to Governor: for us ordinary folks getting home from work or having an ambulance arrive is just as important as your bridge to the White House. Don't forget that.
Christie’s taking responsibility and his willingness to fire Ms. Kelly and withdraw support from another associate provided a powerful contrast to the way President Obama has handled the scandal of the IRS targeting of conservative organizations. The Wall Street Journal notes in an editorial with the provocative headline “Christie and the IRS”:
We mention the IRS because Mr. Christie's contrition contrasts so sharply with President Obama's handling of the tax agency's abuse of political opponents and his reluctance to fire anyone other than a military general for anything.
Regarding the Obama administration’s handling of the IRS scandal, I do want to say that the appointment of an Obama donor, Barbara Kay Bosserman, a trial lawyer at the Department of Justice, to investigate the scandal cannot be defended. Ms. Bosserman may be the most honest person on the face of the earth, but is she really the right person to handle this investigation? To me, it looks like government protecting government. It should be noted that Ms. Kelly is also paying a price for her behavior. This is a rarety in government today.
The Journal also points out that, though Christie had a good news conference yesterday, this fiasco is a chance for him to improve the quality of the people around him. It is also a time to make points about a vast apparatus that gives people such as the Christie aide a chance to cheat. People have always been tempted to abuse their power, but big government gives them bigger opportunities.