People are giving Christie four stars for his political performance at his press conference on the George Washington Bridge political payback shutdown. He appeared to be honest, took responsibility, fired the guilty party -- and he apologized.
Here is what he didn't do:
1. He didn't reveal any new offenses or guilty parties other than those who had already been identified. As always occurs in scandals like these, Christie was back-filling, accounting for the misbehavior already known to have occurred while offering no new information or insights himself. If someone you worked closely with committed a comparable act, don't you think you or your colleagues could find some tracks she had left, other cohorts or enablers, or similar actions in the past?
2. Christie confessed to being too trusting and gullible. How adorable. He didn't confess to having bullied people himself, thus creating an atmosphere where his staff would consider this completely reasonable -- even expected -- behavior. As Ezra Klein put it in the Washington Post: "He's a bully with a staff of bullies." More seriously, if everyone had followed his lead, none of the scandal would have come out. How about confessing to being defensive and arrogant, and promising to be more open to criticism and suggestions in the future?
3. Worse, he in many ways displayed the same behavior that he was promising to change. As many observers commented, after a very strong and stirring start, Christie began to fade over the two hours of the news conference. The main tell was that he relapsed to the meme: "I know the news media would love it if... but that's just not true." Likewise, his sarcasm began to resurface, his put-downs of the questions and the questioners. But this, of course, is exactly the attitude that created the problem in the first place, and which expresses his essential arrogance: "I know what's true, so what's your problem -- why don't you just believe me, you fool?"
4. As usual, in such performances, he declared that the responsibility for these events fell on him. What does that mean? In the first place, everything from his lips was self-exculpatory and, worse, self-aggrandizing ("I'm suffering so much -- despite all my efforts to help the people of New Jersey, I was betrayed by people I trusted"). Would he penalize himself in any way for having caused such a serious problem? For example, might he declare that he wouldn't consider the nomination for the presidency in 2016 (instead, this question prompted an "Oh you media" response). His penance turned out to be that he would ride to Fort Lee to hold a kind of "apology rally."
5. Will Christie spearhead a process to ferret out other examples of such behavior in his office? How could he, considering that he regularly calls municipal office holders to rack them out for disagreeing in the slightest with him (as described in the New York Times)? Do you expect any further revelations about this affair or other Christie office or staff operations to come from Christie? Or will these come from all of the investigations now being initiated, from the media, or from former or current staff members or others who have dealt with Christie?
Let's just say that's always the way these things go (didn't Nixon conduct an internal investigation of Watergate?), and that Christie doesn't do mea culpa very well.
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