I am a big fan of the novel No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. In the novel, and the subsequent movie, McCarthy explores the corrupting influence of money on virtually everyone and every institution. At the end of the novel, the villain, a truly evil man, is able to escape justice simply by paying a few young children a large sum of money to provide him with a disguise.
The news that the Chairman of United Airlines, Jeff Smisek, and other executives have been ousted over a corruption issue related to the Christie Administration is a case in point. Apparently, Smisek, hoping for a reduction in his rent at Newark Airport, paid off David Samson, chair of the Port Authority and Christie appointee, with a special route to his weekend home. After Samson’s resignation in the wake of the Bridge scandal, the weekend-only flights suddenly stopped.
Samson himself is a powerful New Jersey power broker and attorney with close ties to several prominent law firms and many politicians in our state. He is a former Attorney General and a close confidant of our Governor. His own attorney is Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security Secretary and another powerful attorney in New Jersey.
It is unclear why Smisek has been the only casualty of New Jersey’s corrupt politics. (He has a generous severance package, so he will not be suffering too much). I believe it is because New Jersey’s corrupt culture is in some ways unique; there is an unwritten rule that everyone needs to get “a little something” and everyone needs to be “taken care of” when there is money to be made. The money is shared, graft and pay-offs are bipartisan, and no one gets too greedy. There are honest and honorable men and women in the power structures of New Jersey, but many of them are so connected by business and friendship circles to those who are dishonest that it is the practice to simply look the other way.
Smisek is an outsider, from Chicago. Chicago corruption is different (I lived there, too). Your best friend can easily turn on you at any time; it’s everyone for themselves. Jersey, they circle the wagons and protect each other. Smisek was the easy mark, he never imagined that when push came to shove, he was going to go down alone. The sad part is, he probably did what he did for the good of the company, to reduce costs, and got nothing personal in return.
It is really a shame; New Jersey may be a physically unattractive state, but it has some really wonderful qualities. Among them is a practical pragmatic spirit; give New Jerseyans an opportunity and they can do almost anything, fix almost any problem, and succeed in almost any task. There is no slavish adherence to ideology-people in New Jersey “get it done”. It is tragic that the obsessive pursuit of money prevents them from doing so; we are now truly “no state for old men”.