In a play you could have seen coming from a couple small planets away, prominent conservatives are arguing that “Bridgegate” just isn’t a big deal because of Benghazi and the IRS. Any new chance to trot those out I guess, you just have to admire the message discipline here if nothing else. But it’s worth saying that these are, essentially, red herrings since there’s no way to make this argument non-idiotically. Chris Christie fired his deputy Chief of Staff because she was directly implicated in the lane closures. Barack Obama fired no White House staff over either of those stories because there was no evidence of deliberate malfeasance on the part of the Obama team, according to the facts. Incompetence? Perhaps. But the only possible incompetence comparatively is that of Chris Christie in the event that a high-ranking aide was actually able to pull the wool completely over his eyes and launch a misguided, legally dubious vendetta. Had the White House Chief of Staff’s deputy texted somebody about reducing staff to the U.S. Embassy to Libya, then it would be comparable, but there’s simply nothing like that that is known to exist.

I do feel like this is a discussion worth having. The executive branch has reached such elephantine proportions that no president can know everything that is going on in every federal agency. You could probably make the same argument about some of the larger states’ governments as well. The broader point is this: how much do we really expect executives to know? When should they get blame and when shouldn’t they? I don’t have a simple answer on this question. However, I will say that the right-wing argument here–that possibly criminal (and certainly shady/unethical) conspiracies involving close aides to the executive are no big deal, while incompetence/poor decisionmaking (but certainly not criminal behavior) by bureaucrats several layers removed from the executive (located in cities a great distance from where he works) are gravely serious and possibly even grounds for dismissal–is simply incoherent, and only makes sense viewing the world from a purely partisan perspective. You could argue either that the executive is completely responsible for everything done in the government under their watch, not merely in a formal way but strictly speaking, in which case Christie is toast. You could also argue (as I would) that it’s essentially impossible to run a government this way, especially in a country as big as the United States, and that it’s unrealistic to expect the executive to know, say, the dynamics of the Social Security office on Cirby Way in Roseville, CA, and that this should be at least taken into account when assigning blame. This is obviously a debate, and I can accept a variety of answers and shades of gray here. However, you can’t argue for the first approach for a president you disapprove of, and the second approach for a governor you do approve of, especially if the second one doesn’t fit since the conspiracy did in fact reach the inner circle of the Christie Administration. It’s a silly, uncreative way of trotting out FOX/Rush/Drudge obsessions at best, and not nearly good enough to salvage anything from Christie. If this really is the best defense of Christie they have then he’d better be afraid, though there is some poetic justice in a man who spent his 2012 Republican National Convention speech almost entirely on himself being “defended” with defenses that are more about keeping BENGHAZI! and the IRS scandals relevant to conservative media consumers than about actually defending him.

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