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The Curious Case of Chris Christie

by Joon Lee
For a while, it seemed Chris Christie was on top of the world. He had gained
trust and popularity in the historically-left New Jersey despite being a Republican; he
had amassed a positive reputation as a firm, no-nonsense politician; and he had secured
himself as a front-runner for the 2016 GOP candidacy.
In retrospect, it seems ludicrous that something as insignificant as a Monday
morning traffic jam could jeopardize Christie’s illustrious career. But that was exactly
what happened in early January, when it was revealed that Christie’s top-level aides had
deliberately caused traffic jams in the New Jersey city of Fort Lee, severely hindering the
transportation of commuters, students, and first responders. What was most disturbing
about the scandal, however, was the motive; emails circulated between Christie
associates suggest that the jams were engineered as a revenge against Fort Lee Mayor
Mark Sokolich, a democrat who had refused to support Christie.
When the news broke, Christie apologized to Sokolich and tried his best to stop
the bleeding, claiming he had no knowledge of the conspiracy. It was too late, however;
a recent poll by the Washington Post and ABC show Christie’s approval ratings have
dropped by from 52% to 35%.
It may be easy to write off this so-called “Bridgegate” scandal as just another case
of government corruption. Bridgegate, however, is not an isolated incident; it is rather a
manifestation of a disturbing modern trend in American politics.
What Bridgegate shows us is the true extent of partisanship and political hostility
that we are grappling with today. As demonstrated by the scandal, our current political
culture is one where Democrats and Republicans are quite literally willing to impede
first-responders just to “settle scores.” And it’s not just New Jersey; a recent study by
Pew Research finds that political polarization in America is greater than it ever was.

American political life now seems to be engulfed in a strong “us vs them” mindset.
Everyone - from Capitol Hill Senators to MSNBC analysts to your great uncle - seems to
be jumping on the partisan bandwagon. At times, the sheer level of political
polarization is somewhat comical, such as when Ted Cruz began to recite “Green Eggs
and Ham” during his 21-hour anti-Obamacare filibuster. And, as demonstrated by both
the shutdown and the allegations against Christie, partisanship is beginning to have a
tangible impact on our everyday lives.
Simply put, partisanship is preventing any sort of sustainable, lasting changes
from being implemented in the government. Long-term change cannot be made without
agreement and compromise from both parties, and such bipartisan attitudes are
becoming increasingly rare. Even if a one-sided policy is pushed through Congress, it
will almost always be undone when there is a shift in administration. As soon as the
Obama administration took power in 2009, for instance, Congress began to undo a large
number of Bush-era policies. If such a cycle of passing and undoing policies continues,
no long term change will ever be established.
So, what needs to be done to tackle partisanship? The fact of the matter is that
weeding out partisanship from American society is not an overnight task. As James
Harvey Robinson once said, “partisanship is our great curse. We too readily assume that
everything has two sides and that it is our duty to be on one or the other.” What’s true,
however, is that we cannot simply sit back and blame Washington for our woes.
Combatting partisanship starts from the ground up; it’s the voters who first need to take
action. Voters need to demand their elected representatives to adopt a more bipartisan
attitude. There also needs to be a fundamental change in our voter culture, which
discourages compromise and encourages hardline politicians and one-sided policies.
Some, such as former Congressman Mickey Edwards, have also suggested the need for
a reform in the election process itself. Edwards points out that many states have “sore

loser” laws, which ban candidates who have lost in party primaries from entering the
general election ballot. Since many of the party primaries are led by hard-headed
partisans, this results in many moderate or centrist candidates from being excluded
from the ballot. In short, it is time for concrete, long-term measures and reforms to be
put into place to combat partisanship.
Chris Christie’s recent scandals hold a mirror to the state of American
partisanship and reveal the consequences of our polarized society. And the timing could
not be better; Congress is finding itself in the middle of large-scale debates about health
care, immigration, and the NSA. Hopefully, Congress will learn from Christie’s mistake
and pursue more bipartisan discussions on Obamacare and immigration reform. If not,
we can expect to find our government going in circles without achieving any progress.

Sources

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/12/us/12regulate.html?pagewanted=all
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/07/17/partisan-polarization-incongress-and-among-public-is-greater-than-ever/
http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/2014/0130/Chris-Christie-s-nationalpopularity-tanks-but-poll-shows-room-to-recover
http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/09/politics/chris-christie-bridge-primer/
http://www.politico.com/story/2014/01/chris-christie-bridge-scandal-101909.html
http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/16/opinion/edwards-congress-partisans/