Editorial: Presidential hopes stuck in traffic

The irritating tendency to append the suffix ". . . gate" to just about any scandal tends to huff a stale whiff of halitosis over what should be minty-fresh new scandals.

The original Watergate was back in the early 1970s, for heaven's sake.

Right now our American friends are concerning themselves with what has tediously been termed Bridgegate. But, as rarely happens, there is something of a legitimate Watergate-style dynamic to this one.

The fascinatingly high-rising New Jersey governor and potentially the next Republican US presidential candidate Chris Christie is in the gun over actions that so far can be pinned only on his aides.

Emails have shown his people either orchestrated, or were complicit in, the malicious creation of maddening traffic snarl-ups on the George Washington Bridge.

Why do that? Because the bridge leads to Fort Lee, whose mayor Mark Sokolich has been less than supportive of the ambitious governor. So this was domestic mayhem as payback.

Now, just as Nixon had to convince the public that any dirty dealings on his behalf were carried out without his knowledge, let alone his sanction, Christie needs to show a seemly distance between himself and his now-disgraced personnel. Having initially denied any involvement by his people, he now declares himself to have been misled as to their innocence. Some staff are now down the road and he has made a two-hour press conference apology.

So far, so survivable. Unless there's even a plausible suggestion of coverup.

Ultimately, Nixon's career was destroyed by his attempts to keep information from investigators. It wasn't just that the president could not plausibly distance himself from those carried-away troops of his, it was that he so nakedly and clumsily obstructed investigations in a doomed attempt to protect himself.

For Christie, it's not enough that the scandal stop short of reaching him directly. It must do so without it looking plausible that he squelched it.

Not everyone will be wishing him well in this endeavour, including more than a few within his own party. Christie is no rank-and-file Republican. He infuriates many of his supposed colleagues, typically the arch conservatives, and he certainly broke ranks to give his benediction to President Barack Obama post-hurricane measures on his own patch.

Some who work regularly with Christie or his personnel complain of arrogance. Even so, the wider public has been liking what it sees.

And not only because of the "Chris Christie is so fat" jokes that have become late-nigh chatshow staples. It remains one of the highlights of The Late Show with David Letterman when after months of being the ample butt of such jokes, Christie waddled into the guest sofa, and while the host began a lengthy and flattering question, pulled out a donut and started to munch on it saying: "I didn't know it was going to take this long . . ."

The man has blue collar populist appeal, in a way not that many Republicans do. Some analysts say this is why he's so vulnerable on this issue.

It's one thing for powerful figures to be implicated in, say, political burglaries or illegal arms trading. But to be shown to have deliberately caused one of those life-sucking, soul-destroying traffic jams that bedevil millions of US citizens - well for many folk that would be just unforgivable.

The Southland Times