With his 2016 presidential bid potentially ending before it even begins, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knew he had to do something bold and significant in order to confront the allegations that he played a role in closing down traffic in his state to payback a political rival.
On Wednesday, e-mails confirmed some of his closest aides were responsible for ordering the shut down of the George Washington Bridge as a show of power to Fort Lee, N.J. Mayor Mark Sokolich, who declined to endorse Christie’s gubernatorial re-election bid.
Christie released a statement that night, which was mocked in the social media world as being uncharacteristic of him.
And then we got a “West Wing” moment. No, not the real West Wing, but the longtime, award-winning NBC TV show.
As Christie went before the cameras Thursday to answer questions, he kept talking and talking, calling on reporter after reporter. While some thought he would only issue a statement and take a few questions, Christie, who loves his “I’m-not-a-regular-politician” shtick, kept going. And going. And going. And going.
The more he talked, the more I thought about Arnold Vinick, a Republican U.S. senator from California who ran for president in the fictional television show, “The West Wing.” Vinick’s character on the show, played superbly by Alan Alda, was in many ways like Christie: an unconventional Republican who cared to do things his way.
Four weeks before the fictitious “West Wing” election, there is an accident at a California nuclear power plant, and President Josiah Bartlett has to order an evacuation of the area. Knowing full well he has long championed nuclear power, Vinick realizes his campaign may be dead after the accident, so he does the unthinkable: He goes to the site of the accident and vows to take on all questions until he tires out the media.
And he did just that. Live. On television. It was a test of wills. Their questions. His stamina.
It made for compelling television, and would lead any viewer — and voter — to say, “Man, that guy ain’t like the rest of them. I sure wish we saw that in real life.”
Did Vinick go on to win the election? No. But he sure as heck showed the kind of guts we say we want from politicians; don’t walk out and issue a paper statement. Stand up and face the heat.
It was hilarious to watch the Twitter feed of numerous journalists who mocked Christie’s performance, among them New York Times columnist Charles Blow.
It was shameful to read journalists whining about a politician taking question and question. Really? Don’t we get paid to ask questions? Aren’t we always demanding, “One more! One more!” So please, shut up about the length of the news conference.
People are sick and tired of politicians hiding behind their press people, unwilling to take the heat. Forget the carefully crafted statements. Forget the posting of a video message on YouTube. Stand before the cameras and answer it all.
Because Christie was willing to put it on the line, he will have to answer to any changes in the story. If it is found that he played a role in the closure, he can forget about 2016, and may even have to resign from office.
His credibility is on the line. For a politician who has long told everyone he’s a straight shooter and will tell it like it is, that is Christie’s greatest commodity. It’s not about policy or brains. It’s the willingness to throw caution to the wind and say, “I have no filter. I’m going to tell you what is exactly on my mind, whether you like it or not.”
If Christie lied to us all, we have it on tape, two hours worth of apologies, denials and explanations. And that’s the way it should be.
So don’t put me in the group of cynical and crass members of the media who would rather take shots at Christie then say what they really thought: I sure wish all politicians had the guts to do what he did.
• • •
Roland S. Martin is senior political analyst for TV One and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.”