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Steinberg: Chris Christie, Rahm and Garrison Keillor

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Chicago. File Photo. (Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

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Remember Chris Christie? Big guy, governor of New Jersey, once thought he could be president? That was before the incident two years ago that knocked him from Republican party darling to mortally wounded also-ran: the closing of the George Washington Bridge as payback to the mayor of Fort Lee for not supporting him.

Christie’s defense was that his top aides did it, while he knew nothing.

Which he seemed to think let him off the hook. But it didn’t. What it did was create two equally unpalatable choices: either he really did know and is lying — the answer that makes the most sense, given his bullying, hands-on-everything personality.

Or he didn’t know, but placed his trust in chuckleheads who could engage in jaw-dropping political pranks, undermining the well-being of the public, right under Christie’s nose while he remained in the dark.

Really, which is worse?

OPINION

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Now turn our gaze to Rahm Emanuel, our diminished mayor and the Laquan McDonald video. Having committed to his “I didn’t know” defense, Emanuel is confronted with the paper trail of his top aides huddling constantly with officials from the law department and the police, discussing the McDonald case. For eight months. These same aides and officials also met with the mayor. But, Emanuel insists, they never brought up this matter. Because, like Christie, he seems to think ignorance is preferable to knowledge, and once you’ve lied about knowing, that might seem the only route left.

What’s Garrison Keillor’s classic line about slipping in the shower? “It’s isn’t the fall that hurts you; but what you do trying not to fall.”

The not-knowing defense, when it comes to Rahm, is ludicrous, and he should abandon it while he can. Rahm is knowledge incarnate. He can spout forth the most stupefying gush of facts and figures and self-justifying statistics. To see him go mute and mournful and out-of-the-loop on this, holding up his broken-wing, all saucer-eyed and sad, like one of those waifs in an alley in a black velvet painting, well, it’s an insult to us but, remember, (all together now) “Rahm thinks we’re stupid.”

So where from here?

Calling for him to quit is like begging God to send a fiery angel. Sure, it might help, but it ain’t happening. If anything, this whole episode will prompt Emanuel, not to go away, but to stay even longer. My sense was he wasn’t going to run for a third term before this happened, but between wanting to bully the City Council into approving his budget in October, and trying to maintain his ebbing sense of authority, he now say’s he is going to, and he probably will. Because quitting = failure, and Rahm Emanuel can’t fail, at least in his own estimation.

Three years is a long time. Public attitudes can shift in a heartbeat. Let’s say, as they fear, a cop gets shot while squinting at a suspect, asking himself whether that’s a gun or a cellphone. Whoops, turns out to be a gun. Let’s say by some miracle that gets on video. Suddenly the police view isn’t quite so hypothetical.

For the record, I still don’t think Chuy Garcia should have won. The deer-in-the-headlights look that Rahm is slipping into now, in the depths of crisis, is how Garcia greets every morning on a good day. I hear every kind of credulous nonsense shouted from the streets. But I have yet to see a sign reading “WHERE IS BOB FIORETTI WHEN WE NEED HIM?!?”

Rahm’s an abrasive, charmless man. That said, the problems he faces are not ones solved easily. The schools can’t get fixed because they’re never fixed. The pension time bomb is protected by a force field of law that would thwart James Bond. And while it would have been great if, the moment Emanuel learned of the McDonald shooting he was on TV, denouncing it, how would that have played with the 11,000 members of the Chicago Police Department, who throw a sulk if treated with anything short of worship?

Let’s pretend for a moment that Rahm Emanuel is toast. So who’s gonna run the city next? Nobody seems to be volunteering. Not yet anyway.

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