Like you, I've been watching Chris Christie's unfolding bridge scandal with a combination of horrified fascination and an eerie sense of déjà vu.
It's all so Nixonian, with "I am not a bully" replacing "I am not a crook" as the iconic catchphrase. Of course, Nixon turned out actually to be a crook, and I have no doubt that New Jersey legislators who have crossed swords with the combative governor in the past will start trotting out other examples of his bullyboy style.
As of this writing, there is still no smoking gun connecting Christie directly to the bridge closure. But he has the reputation of being a control freak, to put it mildly, and it strains credulity to believe that his closest aides would dare to pull this off without his OK.
What's harder to understand is why politicians engage in such risky behavior, especially when it's so unnecessary. Nixon was already coasting to re-election in 1972. The economy was on the upswing, the Democrats were in disarray, the country was dazzled by his opening to China, and Henry Kissinger had come back from the negotiations with the North Vietnamese in Paris announcing, "Peace is at hand." (It wasn't, but we didn't know that at the time.)
So why did Nixon need to gild the lily by breaking into DNC headquarters at the Watergate? Why did Christie, who was already riding a 22-point lead in the polls, need to bludgeon Democratic mayors into endorsing him? And why did he -- or, at least, his closest aides -- take it so personally when one mayor refused, to the point of retaliating by paralyzing his city for four days?
I think the answer is that some very neurotic people get into politics. Nixon's mental problems are well known, and Christie may have been scarred for other reasons. Sometimes a neurosis can be an asset in politics, especially if it makes you obsessive in pursuit of your goal. But neurosis also has a downside: like actors, politicians often confuse the cheers of the crowd with love. And the more cheers they get, the more loved they feel.
So for Nixon, it wasn't enough to win 49 states; he wanted all 50. He wouldn't settle for a landslide; only an avalanche would do. And he was willing to take some serious risks to get it.
Ditto for Christie. He wanted to pad his victory margin so badly, he wasted $12 million of the taxpayers' money scheduling a special election for a vacant Senate seat in October rather than waiting for the regular election a month later, just so he wouldn't have to share the ballot with a popular Democrat -- Newark Mayor Cory Booker -- who was running for the Senate.
Nixon's won his big victory, but his risky behavior ended up destroying his presidency. And while Christie might be able to salvage his job as governor -- but not if any more evidence linking him to the closure or the "traffic study" cover-up pops up -- he can forget about being president. I'll bet Rand Paul, Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz are already preparing their attack ads.
Marx was right: "History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
Reach Martin Snapp at firstname.lastname@example.org.