Last week’s revelation that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s administration may have used a traffic study to create gridlock and exact some political revenge have grabbed big headlines across the country. Some have speculated that these allegations could lead to criminal charges and that they could surely tank his possible White House bid in 2016. Others have said “fuggedaboutit” noting that it’s “just politics.”
While I don’t think voters have any stomach for government corruption – and assuming that criminal charges are not filed, I think that how Christie weathers this storm is going to hinge on what people thought of him before this happened. Do they view him as a strong leader or as a bully? Do they see his praise of President Obama after Sandy as traitorous or just honest? In other words, how people will view him after this incident depends largely on whether they were Christie fans to begin with.
Sports fans also see the world through team-colored glasses. During nationally televised games, it always seems like the commentators are rooting against the Red Sox, particularly this year when it seemed like the focus was more on what the team wasn’t (packed with superstars) than what it was (relentless).
I had the same sense watching the Patriotss over the weekend – during the final seconds of the playoff game the commentators were talking about the talent of Andrew Luck (intercepted three times) instead of talking about the fantastic and amazing play of Tom Brady. A friend pointed out to me that all sports fans feel like others are “against them” and sure enough, studies support this idea. Fans actually see a game and interpret the call differently based on who they were supporting when they walked into the stadium. It’s part of why “fan” is short for “fanatic." We are all a bit obsessive.
This analogy is good news for Chris Christie, since he was very popular in New Jersey and clearly seen as a rising star nationally before the traffic debacle. Rhode Islanders – and maybe others from the more gritty political climates – are probably even less horrified. We’ve long heard stories about which neighborhoods and streets get plowed first after a big storm, and we can probably all list several people who got a job, a license plate, a seat on a commission or “out of trouble” because they were a friend, brother or "comare" of an elected official. It’s the Vo Dilan way.
While some acts of political retribution never see the light of day, some are actually so obvious that we don’t even notice them. White House tours were shut down for months as part of sequestration. Was it to cut costs? Not really. The people’s house was closed to the people because White House tour tickets are available through your member of Congress. President Obama and his staff knew that members would feel the wrath from constituents whose long-planned trips to Washington would be without this key stop. Instead of traffic cones, the Obama administration just locked the doors. White House fans cluck about what a shame that Congress refused to compromise and the other side rages about the hubris of Obama taking petty politics to a whole new level by denying schoolchildren the opportunity to visit the White House. And the truth is that they’re both on point, just seeing the same thing differently.
Next weekend I’m going watch the AFC Championship game and try to listen to the game impassively – as if I weren’t a fan of either team. I’m sure that the commentators will sound neutral and unbiased until they compliment that has-been Peyton Manning. Then I’ll know for sure that they’re against us.