False Start: The Big Problem With the Chris Christie-Carl Lewis Story

Here's why the governor's latest headache should have never gotten out of the gate.

Photo | Mel Evans

Photo | Mel Evans

Chris Christie, once the darling of the media and the frontrunner for the Republican Presidential nomination, is now the national whipping boy. He hasn’t just been knocked down a few pegs; he has been knocked to the ground. And now every hack with a political grudge is ready to kick him while he’s down.

Enter Olympic star and wannabe political hack Carl Lewis. From Houston he delivers another kick to the gut claiming that Christie bullied him out of the New Jersey Senate primary race against Christie friend and supporter State Senator Dawn Addiego. According to Lewis, the Governor threatened to drop a plan to appoint the gold medalist as the state’s first physical fitness ambassador.

I am certain that some will express Captain Renault-like shock at the story. Renault was the character in Casablanca who was “shocked that there is gambling going on in here” as he collected his winnings. Are we supposed to be shocked that this kind of backroom deal-making happens in politics? My reaction to this faux-scandal is a yawn so big that the National Weather Service may have to name it.

The Carl Lewis story highlights the worst of politics and political reporting. Once a narrative is hot, a new storyline is required every day, even if it is manufactured. Lewis couldn’t run for Senate in New Jersey because he didn’t meet the residency requirements. That fact shouldn’t be a footnote at the end of the New York Daily News story; it should have killed the story.

The problem for Christie is not just hack politicians, but media hacks who want to keep the narrative alive at all costs. The media just wants the story, the politicians want something much more sinister — to destroy a man by turning his strength into weakness.

In politics you never want to confirm the opposition’s caricature of you. When Republican vice-presidential nominee Dan Quayle misspelled potato at an elementary school, he solidified the attacks that he was an intellectual lightweight. Sarah Palin did the same when she couldn’t name a newspaper she read. Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis confirmed the Republican attacks that he was a doofus when it comes to national defense by looking like a doofus in a tank.

That is what is happening with Chris Christie right now. His opponents have used the same videos that made him a You Tube sensation — of him getting tough with hecklers, teachers and the media — to portray him as a bully. And now the mayors of Fort Lee and Hoboken are solidifying that characterization with stories of vindictive traffic jams and withholding hurricane relief money.

And then along comes Carl Lewis. The only hope for Christie is that the Lewis claim is seen as so ridiculous that the entire storyline will jump the shark and finally come to an end. I doubt it. That can only happen if those after him have a conscience.

There will undoubtedly be some other soul-less creature who will slink out of the shadows and into the media spotlight for a chance to put a boot into Christie’s girth, and another, and another. That’s what happens in American politics.

None of this is to say that I am excusing Christie. As I have said before, if it can be proven that he misused, abused or withheld Sandy relief funds for political reasons, he’s finished. I just think he deserves a fair trial in the court of public opinion. With the Democratic party as the plaintiff and the media as their prosecutors, that is apparently too much to ask.

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