Mark Shields: High School Confidential

  • Wednesday, February 19, 2014

As my savvy precinct committeewoman used to say, “A month is a lifetime in politics, and six months is an eternity.” On Jan. 9, the Quinnipiac Poll stated: “New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie is the hottest politician in the country.” Democrats were openly nervous the Republican Party might have an unexpected attack of pragmatism and actually nominate Christie in 2016. Less than a month later, after Christie’s office was revealed to have been directly involved in a scandal that had for days deliberately tied up commuter traffic on the George Washington Bridge, the CNN-ORC national poll, which, in December, had shown Christie leading Democrat Hillary Clinton 48 percent to 46 percent, now indicated that Clinton would crush Christie, 55 percent to 39 percent.

And all these polls were taken before we got a full, if unwelcome, look at what I can only call the “unappealing smallness” of Christie. In his marathon two-hour press conference in the second week of January when he testified that he had neither involvement in nor knowledge of his appointees closing the bridge, Christie went back 30 years to distance himself from his man at the Port Authority, David Wildstein, who had been a year ahead of him at Livingston (N.J.) High School and who received, and allegedly executed, the order from the governor’s office to snarl bridge traffic:

“David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school ... We didn’t travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don’t know what David was doing during that period of time.” These are the words of a small man who brags, I was the popular jock who had an assigned seat of honor at the exclusive cool guys table in the school cafeteria while David was nowhere to be seen, let alone included.

But that was gentle treatment compared to what the governor’s office unloaded on Feb. 1 after Wildstein’s attorney wrote that there existed evidence, contrary to what the governor had unequivocally asserted, that Christie knew about the bridge lane closings. Proving he and his team were totally unready for the prime-time pressures of a national campaign, Christie charged in an email to supporters, which was made public, that “as a 16-year-old kid, (Wildstein) sued over a local school board election” and that “he was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.” What? No charges that Wildstein failed to use the revolving door or, in defiance of federal law, tore the tag off his mattress, or chewed gum during the national anthem? Christie managed to “raise” pettiness to a new low!

Remember this is the same Wildstein Christie appointed to a $150,000 a year position on the powerful Port Authority, where he was called the governor’s “eyes” and “ears,” and defended by the governor’s press secretary against criticism that he had alienated some colleagues at the Port Authority.

High school is where it all began. Because they happened to be quarterbacks or student council officers or homecoming queens, or because adults told them they were special, individuals of very ordinary talents burst with self-confidence, totally unconnected to their actual achievements or abilities, and went through life receiving recognition they haven’t earned. And how many people of genuine talent do you know who, prisoners in the shadow of their own self-doubt, fearing the risk of rejection they learned so painfully in high school, never scale any heights? Maybe this time, having been king of the cool guys table will not be enough.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




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