New Jersey governor Chris Christie is in full damage-control mode today, in a desperate attempt to salvage his political career from the depths of a rather ugly scandal. To this end, Christie gave a rather extraordinary two-hour press conference where he concentrated mostly on himself (as is his normal style). Whether he'll be successful at distancing himself from the ugliness or whether it'll sink his future chances of attaining higher office remain to be seen, at this point. But since the rest of the political universe seems to adequately be covering this key question, I thought I'd take a bigger-picture sort of viewpoint today, to ask a crucial question of my own: "Bridgegate? Really?"
Allow me to clarify, since that may be too subtle: "Are we really going back to appending '-gate' to all our political scandals? Haven't we moved on from this, folks?"
The "-gate" construction originated, of course, from the Watergate scandal which brought down Richard Nixon. Perhaps because Christie's behavior is being compared to Nixon's (the whole "political enemies list" thing), or perhaps because the chattering political classes were just bored and lazy this time around, "Bridgegate" seems to be the label everyone has agreed to use to describe the scandal. Which is disappointing, because I truly thought we had finally broken away from the whole "-gate" thing. For roughly three decades after Watergate, we had Thisgate and Thatgate, from the Megascandalgates to the Footnotegates. Seemingly trapped in some dark version of Dr. Seuss, all our scandals had to forcibly rhyme (even conjuring up such cringeworthy labels as Debategate).
But then, somewhere along about the turn of the century, everyone seemed to get tired of the construct. Under George W. Bush, we did not have Iraqgate or AbuGraibgate or Torturegate or MissionAccomplishedgate. We were spared Katrinagate (or FEMAgate, take your choice). This seemed to be a bipartisan effort, as under Barack Obama we have not had IRSgate or APgate or NSAgate or Snowdengate or Spygate or even Benghazigate. When the ex-Secretary of Defense penned a tell-all memoir, nobody went with Gatesgate, no matter how high it scored on the cutesy-poo scale of things.
It seemed we had finally found our way out of the "-gate" woods. For a whole decade, I can't remember a single scandal with a "-gate" suffix (although I fully admit, this may just be my own selective memory). Until Chris Christie's minions decided to block some traffic lanes, it seems.
Aren't there enough metaphors and myths to exploit when it comes to the subject of bridges? Do we really have to go back to the "-gate" thing? Can't someone please come up with some sort of "troll" label to use? I mean, really. Everyone knows trolls live under bridges, right? It seems perfect!
There are even other political bridges to cross (so to speak), from the last few years. Bill Clinton made a lot of political hay over the Bridge To The 21st Century, remember that one? Or, more scandaliciously, there was that whole Bridge To Nowhere up in Alaska -- that one seems particularly ripe for revival.
There are even a few New York bridge metaphors which could somehow be built upon, although the specific nature of these might preclude their use. The Christie scandal involved the George Washington Bridge, so it'd be pretty hard to shoehorn the joke about "selling the Brooklyn Bridge" into use, I suppose.
There are even two Simon and Garfunkel lyrics which seem pretty apt, even if the first one is (once again) about a different bridge: "Slow down, you move too fast / You got to make the mornin' last" is from a song most people call "Feelin' Groovy," but which is formally titled "The 59th Street Bridge Song." But there was no specific bridge's name given for the "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," which just seems tailor-made for Christie's current problems, doesn't it?
My main point is that there are indeed other possibilities, when it comes to slapping a name on the Christie bridge scandal. We've successfully broken away from the whole "-gate" laziness for over a decade now, and it does seem a shame to slip back into such semantic slothfulness at this point. So this column is a plea, to every headline writer and pundit across this great land -- please eschew the Bridgegate label. Let's be a little more creative than that, what do you say?
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant