Christie Reminds Us of Which Steve Martin Skit? (Updated)
“Oh, no. Now who would do a thing like that?”
This was the old skit, in which Steve Martin, as a Roman centurion, steps in a bag of excrement, planted by the Vandals.
The words, funny on Saturday Night Live in 1979, came to mind this week as we learned that people from Gov. Christie’s office squeezed an approach to the George Washington Bridge for four days – and joked about it.
Who would do a thing like that – inconveniencing, endangering, thousands, maybe millions of people, to get back at a local mayor who had not endorsed Christie.
An old lady died after her ambulance was delayed. Her daughter doesn't seem to blame the slow care but the ambulance people say the little practical joke out of Trenton added minutes to the hospital run, while the public servants were making jokes on their email.
They all need to go. On Thursday Christie fired his assistant, somebody named Kelly, whose next job needs to be working at Dunkin Donuts or an Arby’s, where she can wait on the should-be-former governor. People had health and safety and lateness problems because of these latter-day Vandals.
Christie gave a long press conference that sounded to me like the cheesiest defense I have heard since a certain candidate defended his wife's cloth coat and his little dog Checkers.
Kids, check out this guy from 1952:
Now the question is, who would do a thing like that?
A few names came to mind.
As it happened, the ruinous transcript emerged on Jan. 8 – Elvis’s birthday. It was also the 50th anniversary of the State of the Union speech by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, when he proposed a war on poverty – a noble task, particularly in light of current callous members of Congress who do not care about the poor.
Johnson, a New Deal Democrat, had the War on Poverty right. But then he went power-crazy and wound up killing tens of thousands of his own troops and millions of Vietnamese because he could not admit a mistake.
He slinked out of office, announcing he would not run again in 1968.
Now who would do a thing like that?”
Nixon, I thought. Nixon.
He replaced LBJ as President, and within four years he was directing a campaign against his enemies. The other party, that is. He needed the Watergate burglary the way Christie needed to dump on the mayor of Fort Lee. Had to have revenge for slights, real or imagined.
Christie is an overt bully, so was Johnson. Nixon was more insidious, playing the smarm card at all times, rubbing his hands together, unctuously, but the tapes reveal his paranoia, his prejudices.
Where do we get these people? Is there some deep recess, or abscess, in the American soul that produces people like Johnson and Nixon and Christie? Do we like them? Admire them? Want to be them?
“Well, that's just sick! I guess this is just another example of the decline of the Roman Empire!”
Steve Martin’s Centurion had it right.
Here’s the transcript from the Vandals skit:
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.