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SOWELL: Chris Christie, Hillary Clinton and a bridge to 2016

Unlike Hillary and Obama, the governor doesn’t shrink from accountability

- - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The first time I saw New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on television a few years ago, my first reaction was astonishment: "A talking Republican!"

It would scarcely have been more astonishing if there had been a talking giraffe. For reasons unknown, most Republican leaders seem to pay very little attention to articulation — certainly as compared with leading Democrats, who seem to pay little attention to anything else.

Mr. Christie's nearly two-hour-long news conference last week showed again that he is in a class by himself when it comes to Republicans who can express themselves in the heat of political battle.

When it comes to policies, I might prefer some other Republican as a 2016 presidential candidate. The bottom line in politics, though, is that you have to get elected in order to have the power to accomplish anything. It doesn't matter how good your ideas are if you can't be bothered to articulate them in a way that the voting public can understand.

Mr. Christie's news conference showed that, unlike President Obama, he did not duck the media or sidestep questions. Nor did he resort to euphemisms or cry out, as Hillary Clinton did, "What difference, at this point, does it make?"

He met the questions head on and gave unequivocal answers — the kind of answers that could, and should, destroy his political future if they are not true.

More important, Mr. Christie quickly fired the people he held responsible for deliberately creating a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge. Contrast that with the many scandals in Washington for which Mr. Obama has not fired anyone.

While the creation of a traffic jam in a small New Jersey town shows the calloused ugliness too often found among political operators puffed up with their own power, this cannot compare with the threat to freedom when the Internal Revenue Service targets the administration's political opponents during an election year.

Nor can a traffic jam compare with the Department of Justice's gunrunning operation that led to the death of an American Border Patrol agent in the Southwest, or the State Department's actions and inactions that led to the deaths of four American officials, killed by terrorists in Benghazi.

Nevertheless, media coverage of the traffic jam in New Jersey was several times as extensive as any — or all — of these far more consequential scandals in Washington. Moreover, many of these media reactions simply assumed that Mr. Christie must have known about the traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge.

Does anyone who thinks that a traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge should attract a governor's attention have any idea how many traffic jams there are on the various highways leading into Manhattan?

The Long Island Expressway, for example, long ago acquired the title of "the world's longest parking lot." Traffic backed up heading into, or out of, the Holland Tunnel or the Lincoln Tunnel is nothing new. My recollections of driving on highways in and around Manhattan include very few memories of free-flowing traffic.

Any governor who devoted his time to looking into traffic jams between New Jersey and New York would have very little time left for doing anything else.

If any good comes out of this shabby episode of political vindictiveness by Mr. Christie's staffers, it showed what a skewed sense of perspective most of the media have about what kinds of issues are important. It is not that the media consider traffic jams more important than human lives. The fact that Mr. Christie is the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 — and is ahead of Mrs. Clinton in the polls — makes him a target for a partisan media.

Given that blatant partisanship, the need for a Republican candidate in 2016 who can make his case to the public, in spite of the media, is especially acute — even though it is much too early to try to predict who that candidate will be.

Whatever the political fate of Mr. Christie, he has provided an example of the kind of articulation that is needed — indeed, imperative — if the Republicans are to have any chance of rescuing this country from the ruinous policies of the past few years.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.