There is a “Sopranos” episode where a deal for a beachfront house on the Jersey shore goes awry at the last minute and Tony Soprano decides to punish the reluctant seller for changing his mind. He sends a couple of mobsters in a boat mounted with giant speakers to remind the recalcitrant homeowner of the wonders of the Italian popular songbook played at full volume. When it comes to ingenious punishments, Jersey leads the field.
What no one has yet explained about the intentional four-day traffic jam levied on the good people of Fort Lee, New Jersey, at the George Washington Bridge, is the real reason the punishment was exacted.
Was it to hurt the mayor by making his constituents so angry they would, in some future ballot, blame it all on him? Was it to punish the voters for choosing a mayor who declined to back Governor Chris Christie’s re-election? Other possible theories have also been suggested. But in any case, closing the traffic lanes would hardly seem an effective way of exacting revenge.
One thing is clear. Using the good offices of the state to punish a person or persons is broadly considered beyond the pale -- which is why Christie is in such a precarious position. If any link is established between him and this act of punitive politics, or if there is any attempt to cover up any link between him and the order to squeeze three lanes of traffic into one for four long days, the Republicans’ brightest 2016 hope is toast.
The principle of punishing political opponents, however, is long established.
Congress has yet to approve the extension of welfare payments for the long-term unemployed, for example. Perhaps Republicans who object to extending unemployment benefits have concluded that those without jobs will never vote for them. That is likely, considering that the GOP has placed unemployment at the bottom of their concerns -- way behind paying off the national debt and restricting the size of federal spending.