After watching New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie emote for two hours in a nationally televised news conference Thursday, we still don’t know why his minions decided to wreak havoc on thousands of commuters last September.
We don’t know what the true toll of human suffering was.
We don’t know why the governor accepted his staffers’ denials at face value.
We don’t know why he was satisfied with the answer that a “traffic study” was to blame for the nightmare that ensued when lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, N.J., were closed for three days.
We don’t know why the governor did not raise hell, or question the idea that anyone would authorize a “study” that inflicted such pain on the citizens of New Jersey.
But we do know that Chris Christie is sad. Very sad.
And we learned that he doesn’t really know what all the stages of grief are, and that maybe the anger will come later. But right now, he is wallowing in sadness.
Actually, what he’s wallowing in is self-pity.
Not once in nearly 120 minutes did Christie describe the damage that was caused when his deputy chief of staff and his appointee to the Port Authority of New York decided to take revenge on the Democratic mayor who did not endorse their boss for reelection by closing off lanes to the bridge, causing three days of massive gridlock.
He didn’t speak of the thousands of lives that were disrupted, or of the ambulances that had trouble getting to patients -- one of whom might have died from the delays -- or of the schoolchildren who were stuck on buses for hours, forcing many to miss the first day of school.
He did apologize -- to the people of New Jersey, the people of Fort Lee, and even to reporters, whom he mislead several weeks ago when he belittled them for raising questions about whether the bridge lane closures were politically motivated. But mostly he talked about himself.
“I am embarrassed and humiliated,” he said.
Members of his tight-knit staff -- his “circle of trust,” as he described it -- lied to him about orchestrating the traffic disaster that may help doom his presidential aspirations, which he did little to bolster Thursday. And that, as I've noted, made him sad.
“I’m sad, I’m sad, that’s the predominant emotion I feel right now -- sadness I was betrayed by a member of my staff, sadness that people who had important jobs acted completely inappropriately,” Christie said. “I’m a sad guy standing here today. That’s the overriding emotion. ... It’s a sad day for me.”
Me, me, me.
Christie described his pain, his humiliation and his betrayal by his closest advisors. He lay awake last night, he said, asking himself: How could this happen (to me)?
But he didn’t really care quite enough about the answer to actually ask the person who could have told him how it happened -- his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who wrote the famous email: “Time for the traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
“I’ve terminated the employment of Bridget Kelly effective immediately,” Christie said. “Because she lied to me.”
Repeatedly describing what seems to be a politically motivated act of criminal mischief as a “mistake,” Christie also urged people to remember that “human beings are not perfect.”
He wished aloud for what he hopes the epitaph on the scandal will be: “Mistakes were made. The governor had nothing to do with that. But he’s taking responsibility for that. And he’s made the decisions that needed to be made.” (But the governor did have something to do with that. And it is his judgment, his leadership, that is in question, because he hired the people who enmeshed him in this scandal. He was not smart enough, worried enough or curious enough to push harder for answers when it became clear there was more to the story than a "traffic study.")
“In the end,” he said, “I have 65,000 people working for me every day. I cannot know what each of them is doing every minute.”
Nobody has ever suggested that he try.
But the idea that he is the hapless victim of his innermost circle is not just far-fetched. It's sad. Really, really sad.