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Donny Deutsch
Associated Press/Photo by Evan Agostini (Invision)
Donny Deutsch

The bud of tyranny in the bridge scandal

Government

Donny Deutsch is a New York advertising executive who often fills a seat on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, though he seems out of his depth among most of the panelists. But on Friday he uttered wise words about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s bridge closing scandal:

“This is bad. This is really, really—this is abusive. It’s worse than being caught with a prostitute. I really mean that, in the scandal continuum, because this is an abuse of power that affects me, the voter.”

Laura Ingraham awarded this her “Lie of the Day.” But she missed the wisdom in it.

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Deutsch was not passing judgment on Christie’s involvement in the lane closings. “I don’t know this incident,” Deutsch disclaimed. He’s an ad man. He’s all about perception, and he was speaking of how the public would now perceive Christie and what seems to be the culture of his administration emanating from his tough guy personality.

Deutsch spoke clumsily, and perhaps he hit the mark somewhat left of the bull’s-eye. But the spirit of his concern was a fear of tyranny, which is any use of public authority for private advantage. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s wild secret life with prostitutes was a serious endangerment of public security and a frightening symptom of his personal instability. But what Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly did in prompting the closure of two of three lanes of traffic at the George Washington Bridge to punish the Fort Lee, N.J., mayor for withholding his support for the governor’s reelection bid was in principle more serious. She used governmental power for personal revenge and at the expense of the public good. In effect, she stole people’s time and money and she caused people grief and loss to punish a political opponent. That’s tyrannical.

The arbitrary use of power endangers everyone profoundly. Any use of the awesome power of public force outside the law should horrify Americans across the political spectrum. When Gov. Christie found this rogue in his circle, he was right to fire her immediately and express his abject regrets at length to the public. I think this is what Deutsch had in mind when he said it’s “an abuse of power that affects me, the voter.” If he didn’t, he should have.

Joe Scarborough did not miss a beat in turning this point against the Obama White House. When Lois Lerner at the Internal Revenue Service used government agents to target conservative and Christian groups for special scrutiny, she was acting tyrannically. When Attorney General Eric Holder charged James Rosen of Fox News—which the administration views as antagonistic—with co-conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act, he behaved tyrannically. When the president countenances these acts by holding no one accountable he is countenancing tyranny.

A young John Adams warned his fellow colonists in 1774, “Obsta principiis, nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people.” Christie pruned wisely and faithfully. Washington, D.C., by contrast, is overgrown.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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