Love, Inc

The intersections of emotion and capitalism.

Politicians Behaving Badly

Gov. Christie is just the tip of the iceberg.

As a young person I was part of a protest against garbage dumping on the Triborough Bridge. We were charged, as I recall, with malicious intent to interfere with traffic or some such thing. Mostly I remember that it was felony. Now as we watch one of the few centrist Republicans, Chris Christie, self-implode over a bridge scandal, I am struck once again with the thought that even when the rich and powerful get in trouble, their troubles are never quite the same as us regular folk. 

According to reports in the New York Times, Governor Christie's staff

purposefully closed two lanes onto the George Washington Bridge — turning the borough of Fort Lee, N.J., into a parking lot for four days in September — exploded into a full-bore political scandal for Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday. Emails and texts revealed that a top aide had ordered the closings to punish the town’s mayor after he did not endorse the governor for re-election.

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The ensuing chaos—emergency vehicles stuck in gridlock, children in school buses unable to get home—was amusing to senior Christie staff members who shrugged off such consequences with 

They are the children of Buono voters...(referring to Mr. Christie’s opponent Barbara Buono). 

Whatever happens to Christie or his minions, I am willing to wager that he does not go to jail over it in the same way that Rob Ford, mayor of Toronoto and crackhead extraordinaire, is not only still walking around a free man but is running for re-election. That's right. Mayor Ford—who has admitted to buying crack, smoking crack and a few other things which I cannot mention in print—filed re-election papers under his new slogan "Ford More Years!"  Ford told journalists:

"I've got the strongest track record. I've been the best mayor this city has ever had."

Imagine a black man telling the press that he had smoked crack in a drunken stupor and sure as hell wasn't going to rehab. Actually we can—Marion Barry, mayor of DC, black and a crack user himself, did go to federal prison.

Then there's "Cocaine Congressman" Trey Radel, a Tea Party backed Republican who was sentenced to a year on probation after pleading guilty to posession. Radel told GOP leaders that he will not resign.

I guess none of this should come as a surprise. Powerful white men don't live in the same world of crime and punishment as the rest of us. This fact was made manifest last month when Ethan Couch, a wealthy young white man, was not held accountable for killing four people and injuring two others while driving intoxicated because he was rich and spoiled and could thus not possibly understand the consequences of his actions. In other words, Couch suffered from "affluenza" and so the judge showed him mercy with no prison time at all.

These two very different worlds of crime and punishment—where the most wealthy and powerful are never really held accountable and the poorest and least powerful are locked up for the most minor of infractions—is increasingly obvious in our political leaders. No longer is it enough to hope that someday we might throw the bums out. It's time to lock the bums up.

Laurie Essig, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology and women and gender studies at Middlebury College.

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