Many of us are still repelled by George W. Bush's behavior before Hurricane Katrina. Not only did he refuse to authorize funding to strengthen the levees near New Orleans before the storm, but he flew out to John McCain's 69th birthday party on the same day Katrina plowed into the city. It takes some effort to get more depraved than that. But if Chris Christie was in any way involved in the Bridgegate affair and the attempts to extort Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer, then Christie may have actually outdone Bush for depravity. After all, for all of his misdeeds in office, Bush never willfully used the power of his office to put his own people in harm's way. And in the process, we may have the unusual spectacle of a moderate Republican proving beyond all doubt that today's Republican Party is a far-right party.
When Christie's cronies shuttered the lanes on the George Washington Bridge, they did so knowing that it would snarl up traffic in Fort Lee and delay emergency responders. Indeed, we know of at least one tragedy that nearly happened because of this stunt--a child in Fort Lee went missing, and yet it took longer than it normally would to find her because it was difficult to spare any police officers from directing traffic. Moreover, they did this despite the Port Authority's own engineers telling them in no uncertain terms that this was a disaster waiting to happen. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a breach of one of the most sacred trusts in a democracy--and if Christie was in any way involved in the planning or cover-up of this, he would deserve everything he gets.
Bridgegate alone would be enough to raise Christie's depravity above that of Bush if Christie were involved. But if Christie was in any way involved in the extortion of Hoboken, it would be another ball game entirely. If you'll remember, earlier this week Zimmer revealed on Anderson Cooper 360 two letters she'd written to Christie in the spring that bolster her case that Christie tried to make the release of more funding for Sandy relief conditional on Zimmer supporting a development project he favored. The second letter, dated May 8, was written less than 24 hours after Hoboken was slammed by a rainstorm that left most of the western half of the already battered city flooded. Zimmer pointed out that for many residents, it was the third time in less than a year that they'd been flooded out. And yet, Christie refused to approve any additional funding for pump infrastructure beyond a low-interest loan. The implication--any funding beyond that was dependent on approving the project. However, on the same day Zimmer penned this letter, the Hoboken planning board rejected a key zoning change that effectively deep-sixed the project. If Zimmer is telling the truth--and thus far, there's nothing to indicate she isn't (for instance, she has openly stated that she is willing to testify under oath and take a polygraph)--then Christie knew an entire city was struggling to survive and was still willing to play games with its livelihood. That would have been like New Orleans getting socked by a second hurricane while still waiting for Katrina relief--and Bush still refusing to open the spigot.
As we've seen all too often, the GOP is more than willing to play politics with people's lives. We found that out when we learned that elements of the GOP knew that attempting to defund Obamacare would cause a shutdown--and did it anyway. And several times, Republicans have actually said that they are more than willing to let the country go into default. These two episodes in New Jersey, to my mind, are the logical end of this mentality. And what makes it all the more grotesque is that they were perpetrated by the administration of a governor who is supposedly a moderate Republican. If it turns out that Christie was directly involved in either of these outrages, or he knew about them and did nothing, then to my mind it would no longer be up for debate--one of our major parties is a far-right party.
11:18 AM PT: A lot of commenters have said that I've forgetting about Bush lying us into Iraq. In my view, the difference is that Bridgegate and Hoboken took place within our borders. A government deliberately putting its own people in harm's way within its own borders is something that simply is not supposed to happen here. That, to my mind, is what would push any involvement by Christie at least to a Bush level of depravity.