It is hard to pick a favorite line from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's epic news conference Thursday. It ran about twice as long as "Lawrence of Arabia," with only moderately fewer displays of ego. Among the best moments: "I don't know whether this was a traffic study that then morphed into a political vendetta or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study," Christie said.
"I don't know what makes a legitimate traffic study. ... I've been told that sometimes they're done live, sometimes they're done by computer model. I've heard that in the professionals who've testified for the Port Authority. But you'd have to go to them to ask them what a legitimate traffic study is. I probably wouldn't know a traffic study if I tripped over it." Or if hundreds of commuters did.
My favorite part of this scandal is the attempt to claim that the incident was a traffic-safety study. If I were in New Jersey, I would be chasing someone around with a microphone, shouting, "But what did you learn in the traffic study? People deserve to know! Did you learn that if you put traffic cones somewhere, blocking lanes, there will be traffic? This is a great revelation! Let's do a health study next! What happens if you whack your political opponents on the head with a bat?"
Perhaps you can get away with anything if you pretend it's a study.
"I was just conducting a study to see what happens to your lunch when I flush it down the toilet," the schoolyard bully explains.
It's possible Christie thought the whole exercise was about the public wanting to know how he was feeling.
"I am a very sad person," he informed us.
Then: "I'm sad. I'm sad. That's the predominant emotion I feel right now is sadness, sadness that I was betrayed by a member of my staff, sadness that I had people who I entrusted with important jobs who acted completely inappropriately, sad that that's led the people of New Jersey to have less confidence in the people that I've selected. The emotion that I've been displaying in private is sad."
Then, just to drive it home. "I don't know what the stages of grief are in exact order, but I know anger gets there at some point. I'm sure I'll have that, too. But the fact is right now I'm sad."
How sad was he?
"I am a very sad person today. That's the emotion I feel. A person close to me betrayed me, a person who I counted on and trusted for five years betrayed me. A person who I gave a high government office to betrayed me. I probably will get angry at some point, but I got to tell you the truth. I'm sad. I'm a sad guy standing here today, and very disappointed. And that's the overriding emotion. Someone asked me that before. That's the overriding emotion."
What kind of a day is it for you?
"It's a sad day for me. And I'm doing what I'm obligated to do under this job, because it's the right thing to do, and I'm doing it. But it doesn't make me angry at the moment. It just makes me sad." They say the key to apologies is making a lot of "I" statements, but Christie may have overdone it. By the end, I felt as though we were supposed to apologize to him.
Another theme of the news conference was that Christie was more sinned against than sinner, and that some of the people involved, (cough, David Wildstein) who claimed to be friends from school, were losers whom Christie did not remember at all.
Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., whose traffic was disrupted, was a small fry on whom Christie would never have wasted this kind of effort.
"I mean, I don't know this guy. Like I said, I may have met him in a greeting line or in a -- in a big Bergen County event or at a town-hall meeting or something. But I'm telling you, like, until yesterday when I saw his picture on TV, I wouldn't have -- I -- if he walked in the room, I wouldn't have been able to pick him out. So that's not to diminish him in any way."
Sure. Of course not. This was clearly the sort of remark designed to make Sokolich feel great about himself.
Before the news conference ended, word had surfaced that Sokolich was urging Christie not to travel to Fort Lee to apologize, saying it would be needlessly disruptive.
"What was that whole spiel?" the mayor seemed to think. "It looked a lot less like apologizing than saying how sad you are about something that was in no way your fault, except in the sense that you, as governor, are always responsible for everything that happens in the state. If that is what an apology from Chris Christie looks like, I will pass."
It's hard to blame him.
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog at washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost.