's Noah: Christie's 'Bridgeghazi' Discredits 'Bipartisanship,' Democratic Partisanship Preferable

In a strange way, you have to hand it to Timothy Noah. The contributing writer has found a way to twist the Chris Christie bridge scandal into a blanket indictment of "bipartisanship" and serve as an rally cry t to liberal MSNBC fans of the moral superiority of full-throated, left-wing Democratic partisanship. After all, the Lean Forward network is convinced it needs to energize Obama's base to limit the damage in this year's midterm elections.

Here's how Noah opened his January 10 story, "Christie and the menace of bipartisanship":

The emerging consensus on “Bridgeghazi,” the scandal rapidly engulfing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is that such “nakedly partisan score-settling” contradicts Christie’s presumed strategy to present himself in the 2016 presidential primaries as a bipartisan alternative to Democrat-demonizing bomb-throwers like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

That gets it exactly backwards. What Bridgeghazi really demonstrates is that bipartisanship can get pretty nasty, too.

At a press conference Jan. 9, Christie declared himself “embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team” who last September closed two of the three lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. The reason is unknown but probably it arose from irrational fury that Sokolich, a Democrat, wouldn’t endorse Christie, a Republican. Christie said he had “no knowledge or involvement in this issue” and announced the firing of deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, author of one of the more compromising e-mails (“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”) that surfaced Jan. 8 in the Bergen County Record.

At the press conference, Christie emphasized that the bridge incident was “the exception” to his administration’s modus operandi of “Republicans and Democrats working together … coming to resolution on so many issues in a bipartisan way.” But Bridgeghazi is actually an illustration of how bare-knucked [sic] the Christie team’s style of bipartisanship can be.

Partisanship is opposition. Bipartisanship is collaboration, ideally by getting the other side to support you. Christie’s 2013 reelection campaign was premised not on opposing Democrats, but on converting them—an inevitable strategy for a Republican seeking office in a blue state. And by all accounts, Christie pursued that strategy with a vengeance, racking up an unprecedented 60 endorsements from Democratic mayors and other officials. Christie said that demonstrated his unique ability to put politics aside, but what it really demonstrated was political muscle.

In New Jersey, the office of governor enjoys a degree of constitutional power exceeded, by one reckoning, only in Massachusetts. (Former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean once joked that after he described to governors of other states how much clout he had to make appointments and control sectors of the state’s economy, “they nicknamed me the ‘Ayatollah.’”) Christie took maximum advantage of that power—including, his opponent State Sen. Barbara Buono alleged, the allocation of recovery money for Hurricane Sandy–to win Democratic endorsements.

As Bergen County Record columnist Charles Stile observed last November, “Those who worked with him … could count on getting their phone calls returned and their needs addressed. Those who criticized risked being locked out.” By the campaign’s end, even Senate candidate Cory Booker and Senate President Steve Sweeney—both Democrats and both nominal supporters of Buono—were cozying up to Christie. (President Obama avoided endorsing either candidate.) Christie’s victory margin on election day exceeded 20 points.


Why New Jersey’s Democratic party allowed its officeholders to defect en masse from the state party ticket is a question many state Democrats have been asking since election day. More will ask that now. Even forgetting Bridgeghazi, one can’t recall any comparably “bipartisan” endorsement-harvest by a Democratic statewide officeholder operating in a predominantly Republican state. The prevailing Democratic style of bipartisanship, perfected by President Obama during his first term, is to modify legislation to appease some imaginary reasonable Republican, then watch the entire GOP caucus vote against the bill (with half of them calling the compromiser a socialist). This type of bipartisanship is troubling in an entirely different way, and there’s some evidence that Obama, at least, has abandoned it.

Republican bipartisanship, the George Washington Bridge episode shows, is an altogether more thuggish affair, sufficiently distasteful to offend even tireless Third Way pipe-puffers like Erskine Bowles. Partisan gridlock may be a terrible curse, but if the alternative is traffic gridlock, America will take partisanship over bipartisanship any day.

Leaving aside the absurd and offensive mashup of the bridge scandal with Benghazi, Noah confuses the (ab)use of political patronage to win over cross-party reelection endorsements with legitimate bipartisanship, which is the cobbling together of legislation and government policies across party lines, often with an element of mutual compromise of the preferred, ideal-situation policy objectives of both parties.

What's more, Noah seems blithely oblivious to the sort of cheap games -- and truly petty partisanship -- that President Obama played during the government shutdown, needlessly shuttering open-air monuments like the World War II Memorial, for example, or worse, cutting off military death benefits, even though legislation passed prior to the shutdown actually covered them.

Campaigns & Elections 2014 Congressional Online Media New Jersey Government & Press Timothy Noah Barack Obama Chris Christie