Powerful men walk the world without consequences, and that should be changed.
Soon-to-retire New Jersey Governor Chris Christie got off the beach and into our hearts again. The great man screamed at a sports fan, which is an understandable impulse but freakish when seen in a mature officer of the state. His pants were high, and so was his temper. According to Business Insider:
Chris Christie made headlines again on Sunday after accosting a fan at a Cubs game, getting into the fan’s face while holding a tray of nachos. In the video that surfaced of the incident, Christie can be heard telling the fan, “You’re a big shot,” before heading back down to his seat.
The fan, Brad Joseph, called Christie a hypocrite and informed him that he sucked, which he does. Then this happened.
“I was seated at the end of our row, and Christie turned around and made his way up the few steps that separated us. As he approached he looked at me and said ‘Have another beer,’ which caused me to laugh, since I thought it was a decent comeback under the circumstances despite the fact we hadn’t been drinking at all, but Christie quickly made it clear that he wasn’t joking around. He came a few inches from my face and began to call me a ‘big shot,’ and a ‘tough guy,’ and asking ‘what are you gonna do now?’ He was close enough that I could feel his breath on my face as he shouted at me. He never denied being a hypocrite. Then, his right foot stepped well outside of the aisle and into our row, and he began to hit my leg with his knee in an aggressive fashion.
At this point I heard someone ask ‘what is going on?’ to which I turned and calmly replied, ‘well, this guy is accosting me.’ Christie was incredulous at this characterization of the interaction, despite the fact that he was the one who initiated physical contact, and despite the fact that his tone and conduct were intended to provoke a reaction to which his security detail could respond. I sat calmly in the back of my chair as Christie became frustrated with my refusal to turn a verbal confrontation into a physical one. After calling me a big shot a few more times, he relented and turned away, as I thanked him for his opinion.”
According to Joseph, Christie’s security detail threatened him, and then they vamoosed away. According to the Post, Christie would later tell reporters, “For those of you who know me, I was very restrained.” If this is his version of restraint, God only knows what he would do with a bucket of meth and a weekend in Vegas.
Some people would call Christie a garden-variety bully. But we must give the Governor his due—and perhaps, his high pants. Obnoxiously occupying a beach and screaming at a sports event are two parts of a triple crown. As soon as he disposes of a body in a landfill, Our Man Chris will have completed the Three Ancient Tasks of Jersey. Naturally, he wants to score this triple threat before he leaves office. He may at that point disappear back into the ocean or the mists or wherever the hell he came from. While his term will soon be up, he will never leave our collective hearth. As long as there are frustrated officials venting inappropriately at the very public they serve, Christie will be remembered.
The other moment of note here is that the Governor of the Garden State protected his food while he was haranguing a member of the teeming masses. Protection and harassment: These are the Governor’s two powers in life and they are ever-strong. You may loathe the governor, but I do not. The mainspring that drives Christie in the sunset of his ambition is the same impulse that drives Trump in his Presidential career: the inability to give a shit, or to save face. The Governor’s term is up in January of next year. Christie has given up any pretense, and going full smugaholic has never been so breathtaking. But even so late in the game, Christie has a peer in not caring. That gentleman’s name is Tony Blair.
Tony Blair, formerly Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and noted appendage of the Bush Family, is one step ahead of the law. As a headline for The Independent read, “Third of British people want to see Tony Blair tried as a war criminal over Iraq, finds YouGov poll.” Per Chloe Farand:
Carried out on the same day that the High Court blocked a bid by a former chief of the Iraqi Army’s staff to bring a private prosecution against the former prime minister, the YouGov survey asked 3,264 adults representative of the population in Britain to pick one of five statements that best summed up their views about him in respect of the Iraq War. A third – 33 per cent – of those taking part in the survey chose “Mr Blair knowingly misled Parliament and the public and should be tried as a war criminal”.
The poll arrived “after Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice, and Mr Justice Ouseley dismissed General Abdul Wahed Shannan Al Rabbat’s application for private prosecution, saying there was ‘no prospect’ of the case succeeding.” How odd, given that they are the very people who would decide whether or not a case “succeeded.” Especially since the Chilcot Report, in Farand’s words, “concluded Mr Blair deliberately blurred lines between what he believed and what he knew.”
I also couldn’t help but notice that it was a British court, probably staffed by lawyers named Cecil. You may have noticed this court does not feature anyone who got shot at or bombed in Iraq. What an odd coincidence. As a result, the former Premier spends his time rescuing the world, perhaps in penance. Wait, wait. I’m receiving word that, in fact, that is not what Blair actually does. As Kevin Meagher at the New Statesman reports,
Next Friday, he appears as a witness at the Foreign Affairs Committee to face questions about his dealings with Colonel Gaddafi. Blair famously struck up an unlikely rapport with the Libyan tyrant, bringing him back into the diplomatic mainstream in 2004 in exchange for eschewing Libya’s nuclear and chemical weapons programmes.
The details of Blair’s post-invasion career are out of sync with the common logics of mammal caring:
Mr Blair is being paid to advise the Colombian government on how it spends £2 billion earned from mining deals. The contract, obtained by The Telegraph, reveals that the Colombian government does not pay any fees for his services. Instead, the fees owed to Tony Blair Associates (TBA), Mr Blair’s consultancy firm, are paid for by an oil-rich Gulf state where Mr Blair has developed close links. The deal raises questions over Mr Blair’s role as a Middle East peace envoy and whether he has used that position to befriend wealthy rulers in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who are now funding his private consultancy work in Colombia, among other countries.
The UAE helps us run torture jails in Yemen. But what is that to Tony Blair, messiah of human rights? A consulting fee, that’s what. “Middle East peace envoy” is a fancy word for “autocrat buffer.” For that is what Blair does; he’s a one-man Clinton Foundation. He launders reputations and sometimes himself. As Murtaza Hussain at The Intercept has documented exhaustively, business has been very good to Tony Blair: ”[Blair] leads a consulting firm that has reportedly received tens of millions of dollars doing advisory work for dictatorial governments in the Middle East and Central Asia.”
He’s like a World of Warcraft gold farmer that way, only with a less dignified history. Blair accepts commission from shady customers from every nation. Ironic: here’s a man who can repair every reputation but his own. The former Prime Minister gets money to clean up the effects of the mess he helped make. To be honest, my number-one question for post-Parliamentary Blair has nothing to do with his dictatorial make-work programs. Rather, I’d like to ask: Why he isn’t he with his friend Bush? I have no clue. My guess is that is that it has to do with being arrested for war crimes. Two men of their underworld stature in the same town would be too tempting for any prosecutor to avoid.
Blair and Christie are living the dream, a life free of consequences, without any penalties. Only the drunkest, most elite gamers living in communal houses know such raw, giddy freedom. Normally, this life is reserved for the very wealthy. But in these latter days, the democratic representatives of a free people also seem to enjoy this status. Goldman Sachs did not go to jail, and neither do their barefoot servants, the public officials of America.
Most importantly, the public itself does not enjoy the same privileges. Christie, as a federal prosecutor, spent his days making sure people paid the consequences for their acts. He reminded voters of it, constantly. There was actually an article in the Times titled “Chris Christie Reminds Voters, Again and Again, of His Prosecutor Days”:
“I will tell you this, I’m a former federal prosecutor, I’ve fought terrorists,” Mr. Christie said in opening remarks. Moments later, when asked how he would alleviate the fear of terrorist attacks that has become pervasive in America, Mr. Christie said that because of his work as a prosecutor he knew that terrorists were planning attacks elsewhere. People have good reason to be worried, he suggested. “I could tell you this, as a former federal prosecutor, if a center for the developmentally disabled in San Bernardino, Calif., is now a target for terrorists, that means everywhere in America is a target for these terrorists,” Mr. Christie said.
How strange. It was not a terrorist that shut down the George Washington Bridge, merely the whim of one man. Consider if ISIS had detonated a half-assed nail bomb on the middle of the bridge, killing nobody but stopping the flow of traffic for a day. I guarantee you Christie would now be setting up a black site in Newark.
And yet, strangely, the man has a complete disinterest in settling his own debts. Consider Bridgegate. As CNN explained in September 2016:
Prosecutors revealed Monday that they will show Christie was told about the traffic in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s public safety concerns were ignored, US Department of Justice Public Affairs Officer, Matthew Reilly told CNN. ... “Of course I will,” Christie told Tapper on “State of the Union.” “I have been investigated by three different entities, two of them led by partisan Democrats, who have all found that I had no knowledge of this incident and no involvement in it. And so I would have no problem if called to testify by either side. But the fact is that I won’t because I really don’t have any knowledge of this incident at all.”
Consider Christie’s response to his recent beach holiday. According to the Times:
Mr. Christie was shown in aerial photographs relaxing in a beach chair on Sunday at the governor’s official retreat in Island Beach State Park. The pictures were taken by The Star-Ledger of New Jersey. Mr. Christie gave a ho-hum response when questioned by reporters Saturday about going to the beachside retreat at such a politically sensitive time, as a budget standoff forced the shutdown of the state government. “That’s just the way it goes,” Mr. Christie said. “Run for governor, and you can have a residence.”
“Enjoy these pictures, peasants.” What a rich-uncle thing to say. “Well, when you’re as successful as I am, a triple coronary on your own private yacht is a badge of honor.”
These are minor infractions, but they paint a dismal portrait. Arrogance in the ruling class is hardly a new phenomenon. But the brazenness of these two gents ought to give us pause. They did wrong, and walk the Earth without penalty. Nay, they enjoy ample rewards. Both of these men are important personages, in the same way the corpse of Lenin is still important. One was Prime Minister, of a kind. The other was a governor of every highway in New Jersey. During their season of power, they fed their ambitions. They were bad at their jobs. Now they’re bad at their post-power jobs: they’re bad at caring, and bad at pretending to care.
I cannot account for their strange careers. Perhaps they’re being saved for a higher purpose. What else could Christie do? Did you hear him on the radio, recently? He could be a sports radio DJ the way I could be a medical doctor in Antarctica: only if nobody else is around. As for Blair, I had more of an impact on the recent British election than he did—which is to say, none at all.
If we really want to understand how politicians work, we should change our focus. Instead of studying what they achieve, we should consider how they escape the consequences of their acts. Promises are fleeting, security is forever. Democracies are built around holding elected representatives accountable. But if they cannot be chained by voting or by the law, then democracy is disproven. Politicians only have to make promises because the public knows power has so many eject buttons.
Two kinds of men flourish in a moral society: the Good Person, and the Great Pretender. If we cannot prevent the Pretenders, we must make sure that they are held to standard. For democracy to work, accountability must reign. Instead of making politicians promise to do the right thing, we should punish them when they do the wrong thing. If there’s no easy escapes, then no promises are needed. Instead of pledging fidelity, they should fear punishment. Put bars over the windows, and goodness stays. In politics, locked doors beat true faith.
Therefore, we must insist on a higher standard for our elected representatives in the future. We must prosecute when they do wrong or abide wickedness, and shame them in the places where the law cannot touch them. We cannot be a society where fraud is practiced by the prominent. Otherwise, why have the law at all?
As general policy, this is well and good. But what, you ask, should be done in the specific case of Christie and Blair? This raises another uncomfortable question: if they are abusive to the public, and were poor practitioners of politics, what are they good at? They must have some skill, to be elected and then to make money.
Why else would they have such a prominent position in our society? What can account for it? I have a theory. These gentlemen, and politicians of their caliber, are what the website TV Tropes calls Karma Houdinis. They can get out of anything. The Great Pretenders can Cochran themselves out of any charge; no fix sticks for long to them; locks break and fly away when they approach, chains turn to Twizzlers under their gaze. Understand, I am complimenting these men. What they possess is a rare gift—lacking among the general population, common among the political class.
How can our society make use of them? Launching people into space is a long-held American hobby, one that is expensive and dangerous. The orbit above us is dark and full of suffocation. Humbly, I suggest that we send Blair and Christie and the other Houdinis into the vacuum. They will find a way to escape the black clutches of the extraterrestrial expanse. They’ll get away with it, as surely as they escaped punishment here on old reliable terra firma. What airless void could asphyxiate them? The cold fastness of space would not dare.
I do this for Christie and Blair’s own sake. Surely it would be easier for them to escape the taunts of the public up there, where the stars are distant and politely silent. Let them go where no statesman has gone before. Christie is used to have lifeless expanses under his command—the Jersey beachfront, his failed Presidential ambitions, and the beaches into New York. Let him be king of the void: it will be an improvement over his career in Trenton.