The tradition of blaming a Bridget is a very old one on the east coast. In the 19 century the Irish name itself became synonymous with low-level ethnic drudgery, and it was common to hear the upper classes bemoan their aggressive, roguish Bridget’s for bringing them more problems than they were hired to solve.
This week the old and dubious tradition may have had its costliest moment ever. A 360-page, 1 million dollar report found that New Jersey governor Chris Christie played no part in planning the now notorious traffic snarl.
Instead it was all the work of two of Christie’s closest aides Bridget Anne Kelly and the governors Port Authority appointee David Wildstein, acting independently, without Christie’s knowledge, although Kelly’s office was steps away from Christie’s own.
The report mentions that Wildstein says he told Christie of the lane closures on the bridge as they were happening in August, but Christie claims he doesn’t remember that conversation. That ought to assuage the critics, the report inferred.
The report also offered no compelling reason as to why Kelly and Wildstein had acted the way they did, but it was certain that it was Kelly and Wildstein who had acted, and that they had acted alone.
Apart from the questions this raises about the people the governor hand picks to surround him, it also begs the question of why two of his closest aides felt emboldened to target political opponents with Tammany Hall style dirty tricks?
The most eye raising aspects of the report were reserved for a woman, however. Kelly was variously depicted as unstable, in over her head, and motivated to perform fake traffic studies by that old dependable, romantic fury, having been scorned by a paramour.
The report notes that earlier last year Kelly had a relationship with Bill Stepien, Christie’s former campaign manager, but informs us he eventually dumped her, without saying why.
With her women’s capacity for mischief, Kelly may have decided to retaliate for this slight by effectively closing one of the busiest bridges in the world, we are to infer. She became the Cleopatra of the Hudson. The reason she didn’t inform Stepien of her fateful decision to block the bridge was because she was so not talking to him, duh.
Kelly did not cooperate with the report, nor has she responded to the governor’s claims, yet. But that didn’t prevent the report from delving deeply into the personal life of the divorced mother of four.
By making Kelly hit the headlines instead of Christie, this scorned lover ploy has enjoyed mixed success in the tabloids. Critics called it blatantly sexist, and bemoaned it as transparent attempt to “slut shame” a woman who had probably acted on her bosses’ orders.
But it wasn’t the first note of sexism in the affair. Recall that when firing her Christie had called her “stupid and deceitful.” She was certainly not the first Bridget to hear herself described thus by an entitled and moneyed former employer.
Of course the report didn’t comment on the emotional life of the men who were the key players in the sordid affair, but that was only to be expected Christie said. “I assume that the investigators didn’t have documents or testimony that gave a window in the emotional side of the others in the report,” he concluded.
Making wild allegations about a woman’s love life and extrapolating from there to characterize her behavior places this latest Bridget within a tried and tested historical framework. It feeds into centuries long narratives about how women (and Irish women in particular) reportedly behave. It simply works. You stop looking at the boss and start looking at the help.
Interestingly Gibson Dunn, the L.A.-based law firm that wrote the report, was the same one that conducted an investigation into whether vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon had unethically accepted financial contributions while campaigning in 1952, a scandal that at the time almost dropped the then senator off the GOP ticket.
The echo of Nixon may prove prophetic. In the end Christie has moved to portray himself in the same way the report has, as a man more sinned against than sinning. Asked what he thought Kelly and Wildstein’s motivation was for the lane closures, he said didn’t know.
“I don’t believe it was for me… Sometimes people do inexplicably stupid things,” he said. “Anybody who really knows me knows that I would not believe that doing anything inexplicably stupid would please me.”
Asked if he was clueless, Christie said that he had simply “trusted too much.”