State of the State messages are so dull that they usually make State of the Union messages look like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. They don’t command a primetime audience like the President’s, so they tend to be little-watched and mired in a combination of bad rhetoric of the let-us-move-forward variety and questionable boasting about how well the state is doing versus the other 49. But Chris Christie’s address this year was obviously attended by high drama. After all, his administration is plagued by a laughable scandal about traffic days and political payback that reminds one of the delicious Sopranos episodes about kickbacks at the (fictional) Newark Museum of Science and Trucking.
On Tuesday,Christie addressed the scandal in an opening “mistakes-were-made-I’m-accountable” statement that checked two of the damage control boxes. “The last week has certainly tested this administration and as a result we let down the people we were entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better, much better. Now I’m the governor and I know that I’m ultimately responsible for what happens on my watch.” He wisely didn’t mention what the issue was. No mention of traffic cones or traffic itself.
The Governor, as he called himself in his campaign ads, also performed a nice bit of jujitsu, vowing not to let the scandal derail him or the legislature from the peoples’ business. “This administration and this legislature will not allow the work that needs to be done to improve the people’s lives in New Jersey to be delayed for any reason.”
It in some ways echoed Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He vowed to keep on working and prayed that his opponents overreached, which in Clinton’s case, they famously did.
And so he put out his quotidian proposals on mergers of country and municipal governments, reforming the state’s parole system, refusing to raise taxes. There were the usual contradictions--a plea for more local control, but also trying to prohibit towns from adding user fees to get around the state’s property tax cap. He also got the the left of the Democrats on drug treatment programs and drug courts. His rhetorical hook--”The New Attitude”--sounded like a parody of the New Frontier or New Freedom.
The Bridgeghazi scandal may yet do in Christie but he still shows the rhetoric and left-right mix that could make him president. His promiscuous use of the word bipartisanship might be damning to excitable tea party audiences. But if he can’t get passed the Bridge scandal that won’t matter much.