Most of the pixels being wasted in the blogosphere are focusing on the political aspect of Chris Christie's staff allegedly closing bridge lanes as political payback.
This is the way we are these days - the substance of the charge isn't as interesting as the contortions used to evade it. While the media is of course harder on a Republican governor than it would ever be on a Democrat (got to protect one's own, of course), the treatment is actually quite similar.
"How will he respond?"
"Will the voters buy it?"
"Will this hurt his presidential campaign?"
Nowhere in the mix is there a discussion of what this says about the politics of today. As someone with far too many years in electoral politics, I am here to tell you that Chris Christie's petty, smug and vindictive staff is the rule, not the exception in our political class.
This is who those people are. This is why they go into politics.
Time was, failure was met with a demand for accountability. Governments fell and careers ended over lapses in judgement or even bad luck.
Nowadays, all one need do is hold a contrite press conference, weep convincingly (or appear outraged, as appropriate) and it's all good.
To put it another way, scandals used to be about what actually happened. In Benghazi, a US ambassador was murdered. That used to be a big deal.
Nowadays, scandals are about how poeple manage them. Do they say the right things? Has the coverage been favorable? Are the polls showing any movement?
Writing at PJ Media, Richard Fernandez has been talking about the steadily eroding design margin of western civilization. This casual attitude toward the actual offense is a large part of it.
When the margin was narrower, fools simply could not be trusted. Gen. Curtis LeMay's alleged formulation: "I have neither the time nor the inclination to seperate the incompetent from the merely unfortunate." One mistake was enough.
For a generation that was farms blow away into dust and lived through the carnage of two world wars, this approach made sense. For people 70 years removed from the danger, it seems harsh and archaic.
Maybe it is. Maybe civilization is strong enough to withstand unlimited levels of idiocy.
On the other hand, the capital city of a major industrialized state just went without power for a week because its municipal utility has been systematically robbing the infrastructure budget to cover transfer payments. The largest city in the same state is now bankrupt. Perhaps the margin isn't as big as we thought.
There is a tendency among historians to think in terms of centuries, but the dividing lines do not always line up with the calendar. This was noted somewhere in the blogosphere earlier this week (I forget where) - that the 19th century didn't really begin until the overthrow of Napoleon in 1815 and the 20th didn't commence until the Great War began in 1914.
This trend actually goes back farther than that. One could argue that the death of Louis XIV in 1715 ushered in the 18th century proper, and that the beginning of the Thirty Years' War in 1618 ushered in the 16th century.
That being the case, we may be living in the final years of the old 20th century, waiting for the world crisis that will bring on the next epoch.
Indeed, I sometimes think we are living in 1914. We are secure in our prosperity, smug in our global trade and distracted by emerging and new entertainments (back then it was silent films and records). And of course our leaders were far to enlightened to make a gross miscalculation that would shatter the fabric of civilization itself.
Just like their leaders were.