There are times when a person, especially a politician, has to stand up for himself or herself. If someone is making outrageous accusations – ones that can be easily and calmly disputed with facts – then step up and speak up. A good offense often means having a good defense (unlike, for example, the Denver Broncos). But such defenses must be carefully executed, and in a dignified manner.
That’s in a normal situation, where the accusations deal with one’s voting record or past statements. But the standard of behavior on defense is even higher when the alleged offense has to do with behavior itself. For New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, this means if you are accused of being a bully, don’t defend yourself by responding with bullying behavior.
Christie has been accused of having a part in – or at least not stopping—a shutdown of lanes on the George Washington Bridge last year, an episode that caused tremendous headaches for commuters. He has vehemently denied orchestrating the slow-down (which allegedly was done to punish a Democratic mayor for not giving Christie an endorsement the then-wildly popular governor didn’t even need). An aide and an appointee stepped down because of the controversy. Christie then went on the deliver a very solid, very get-down-to-business State of the State address. So far, so good as it could be under the circumstances.
Then, David Wildstein, the man Christie had appointed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, announced through his lawyer that evidence existed showing that Christie indeed knew of the shutdown. Such evidence was not offered, and did not appear in an initial dump of documents (though there are more to come, part of a subpoena from state legislators looking into the episode). It was not a good development for Christie.
What he could have, and perhaps should have done is to stay silent, saying in a statement that Wildstein was understandably upset about having to resign, and that Christie was confident that the evidence would exonerate him. Instead, the governor’s office issued a scathing email attacking Wildstein – not only accusing him of saying whatever he could to protect himself, but unearthing teenage infractions. According to the Christie memo, Wildstein , while a “16-year-old kid,” sued over a local school board election, and – gasp! – “was publically accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.” Further, Wildstein “was anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge,” and “had a strange habit of registering web addresses for other people’s names without telling them.”
The first question for the governor should be, “really? Is this the best you got?” If we’re going down that road, did Wildstein also stick rotting banana peels in someone’s locker, or refuse to say hi to you in the hall?
It looks pretty desperate when one answers serious allegations by bringing up high school era infractions. It looks even worse when you have insisted – as Christie did in a press conference -- that you barely knew the guy in high school.
If Christie really did nothing wrong, he can wait out the investigations, and make his opponents look foolish and petty for spending the effort to look into him at all. And if he did do something wrong – if he knew about the closures or even sanctioned them in some way – then his heated denials look almost pathological. In the superbly done movie “Quiz Show,” a character says sagely, “if you want to be a knight, act like a knight.” Sage advice. And if you don’t want to look like a bully, stop acting like one.