Friday, July 03, 2015

A Tale of Two Christies

The charming "National Chris Christie" in action
After months of playing coy with the media about his inevitable official decision to run for president, Chris Christie appeared at his former high school in Livingston, New Jersey to announce that he's the fourteenth Republican candidate to declare for 2016.

I'm not sure the long-anticipated announcement had the "shock and awe" effect on the political establishment he was seeking, but he did get a nice chunk of free media out of it.

As a self-proclaimed political junkie, I listened to a good portion of the first part of his announcement speech. It was heavy on a glowing patriotic reflection on his parent's working class roots and touching references to his adoration of "Mary Pat and the kids", but it was light on his actual record as Governor and even less so on substantive specifics about his actual goals for the country.

While Christie has planned future appearances in the coming weeks to publicly unveil more detailed "policy stances" on specific issues, from my perspective his kickoff speech didn't really separate him from the crowded field of Republican hopefuls. As speeches go it was pretty standard stuff.

November 2012 - Where did the love go?
He lambasted President Obama for lacking "authority" in the Oval Office.

The same President who appeared with Christie (pictured left) after POTUS flew up to the state of New Jersey to personally survey (with Christie) the extensive damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and then used his authority to help push through $47.99 billion in federal aid for the states (including New Jersey) ravaged by flooding. 

In short, the aspiring candidate presented the "National Chris Christie" personae showcased during the 218 of his 518 days in office that he's spent at GOP fundraisers and events in 37 different states and different countries, but there was little of the "Real Chris Christie" familiar to folks who actually live here in New Jersey.

Anti-Christie protesters chant outside Livingston High School
A large and vocal group of anti-Christie protesters (pictured left) that included environmentalists, teachers and frustrated victims of Hurricane Sandy still waiting for compensation, gathered outside Livington High School where Christie was giving his presidential launch speech.

They far outweighed the number of Christie supporters inside attending the speech; a fact that reflects how people in New Jersey tend to view him these days.

It's not that people dislike him, but there's this quiet sense amongst New Jersey folks still feeling the pinch of high taxes, low interest rates and flat wage growth that Christie's only real accomplishment in two terms was a generous tax break to the state's wealthiest citizens.

That was the consensus at my local bar last night where four of us were gathered at closing time. A white married small business owner in his 50's with a kid and two mortgages on a house and an investment property, a white fully-employed divorced man with a grown daughter in his early 50's who owns a house, a white man in his mid 60's who's comfortably retired from the defense contracting sector and yours truly, an employed single black man in his mid 40's who rents an apartment and likes to write.

There was also a white man in his 50's at the bar who's a high school wrestling coach who actually went to school with Chris Christie at Livingston HS - but he stayed conspicuously silent on the political commentary.

Not all of us agree politically, I was the most liberal-minded person there at the time and two of those I mentioned are pretty conservative but in a decent practical "Jack Kemp" way rather than in a Fox News extremist kind of way. But we all agreed about Christie; and we're not alone.

As a resident of NJ, I think Christie's focus on broadening his appeal to the most conservative members of the national Republican voter base and establishing "cred" with the Tea Party element have left him looking like a candidate totally out of touch with where the mainstream American zeitgeist currently sits.

By "out of touch", I'm not just talking about Christie's staunch opposition to the creation of medical marijuana laws in New Jersey, or his melodramatically dismissing popular referendums to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as "blood money" as he did earlier this year; measures that are supported by a majority of Americans by the way.

He used to be pro-choice as most people in New Jersey tend to be, but then he reversed his position on the issue as he solidified his presidential ambitions; and he recently vetoed the use of taxpayer funds for Planned Parenthood even though the funds were being used for gynecological services for women - including cancer screenings.

Even as Christie passed tax cuts for New Jersey's wealthiest taxpayers, his administration has backed efforts to cut public transportation by scaling back train and bus service for commuters even as fares go up; and he voted against raising gas taxes to help start a long-needed construction of a new commuter rail tunnel in order to remain loyal to Grover Norquist's "never raise taxes" pledge conservatives deify.

So Christie has consistently used his power as Governor to put the conservative ideological policy stances of extremist Republicans clustered in gerrymandered sections of the nation's red states ahead of the best interests of the citizens of New Jersey who elected him.

One of the sharpest and most brutally honest critiques of Christie's two terms as Governor was written recently by Newark Star Ledger editorial page editor Tom Moran.

Moran has been covering Christie for 14 years and his must-read article posted on last Saturday June 27th entitled, 'After 14 Years of Watching Chris Christie a Warning: He Lies', details some of the Governor's most blatant political lies; including the written pledge he sent to New Jersey pensioners during his campaign for Governor promising them he would not cut their pensions and considered them "sacred" - his first major task as the newly elected Governor? Cutting their pensions.

If you've got 14 minutes to spare, I highly recommend you listen to the interview Moran did last Wednesday on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC.

As you likely heard today, according to the June jobs report, 223,000 new jobs were created in the US last month and the national unemployment rate fell from 5.5% to 5.3% (it's still 9.5% for African-Americans).

Today's positive job numbers also reflect the large numbers of Americans who've been unable to find work giving up on searching for a job and despite the gains, overall wage growth remains flat for most employees.

But for those considering Christie as a presidential candidate, it's important to note that his rosy interpretation of his handling of New Jersey's economy is undermined by the fact that the state's unemployment rate has remained significantly higher than the national average during his tenure - and the state ranks near the bottom in job creation and wage growth. (See the chart above from the United State Bureau of Labor Statistics)

According to a CNN Money article posted on Tuesday June 30th, "New Jersey has yet to recover all the jobs the state lost in the recession. Most states — including neighboring Pennsylvania and New York — are now back on track and even adding more jobs, but not New Jersey."

And with pending court cases it's only a matter of time before the George Washington Bridge scandal once again becomes political red meat.

Frankly that's a lot of political baggage to load onto the already loaded Republican Clown Car.

While Chris Christie is big on a populist message, as outlined by the numerous examples above, his real message is specifically tailored to two small segments of the overall US population, the hyper-conservative non-racially diverse populations of key primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire (two of the most least-populated states in America) and the members of the 1% whose campaign contributions he covets.

When you couple that with Christie's vindictive, confrontational bully-personality, which can't tolerate dissent or differing opinions, and you have a recipe for a presidential candidate who's simply not going to be able to function effectively in the complex and partisan political arena of Washington.

The problem for Christie isn't his ability to communicate, he's an intelligent quick thinker and quite shrewd on his feet and will probably be a tough debate opponent; but he's two completely different people.

There's the "National Chris Christie" personae you've seen on talk shows or standing onstage with his jacket off fielding audience questions from carefully pre-screened crowds; and there's the "Real Chris Christie", a ruthless political operator who lies with a straight face and has morphed to embrace an extremist conservative political agenda.

Not because he believes in it the way a Ted Cruz does, but because he sees it as an avenue to power which is ultimately his real goal in a ruthlessly Koch-ian kind of way; and that kind of politician is dangerous for an America that needs consensus and visionary leadership tempered by wisdom and compassion.

While there's no doubt that Chris Christie truly covets the presidency, or that he's savvy enough to raise enough cash to run a campaign, or tough enough to take on the 14 other suitors for the GOP nod, ultimately it is he himself who is his own worst political enemy.

My prediction is that when we look back on the 2016 Republican presidential race, in some ways that's what it will be about; a tale of two Christies.


The Hunter-Miller Group, Inc. said...

Nice post. Good information. I'm not a Christie fan, but have been interested in how (long) he's been able to avoid getting his wings clipped since "The Bridge". As a result, I've become a mild Christie watcher. Will check out provided links and continue the research on this guy.

Love your posts

Separately, and by the way.... the links on your black website page pop well, but not so much when they come though in email. You might consider going with the traditional blue. Yellow is very hard to read on white background.

culturegeist said...

Thanks for the comments. From what I understood from the Newark Star Ledger's Tom Moran, I think Christie has been able to avoid more intense scrutiny of his record in New Jersey largely by avoiding contact with local NJ media as much as he can. For example he's held major press conferences in the past year where he actually excludes members of the NJ media and invites only national media reporters.

It's kind of like his "town halls" where the audiences are carefully pre-screened and handpicked. Christie is all about control, that's why the suggestion that he didn't order the lane closures of the George Washington Bridge are so absurd. He controls access and he controls the message but I don't think he's going to be able to pull that off on the national stage when the race heats up and the media and other GOP candidates really start digging into his record; which, as Tom Moran's article shows, is problematic for someone seeking to run for president.

Thanks for the heads-up on the links - I've been meaning to update the visual format of the blog, I definitely want to make sure the links show up clearly; I appreciate the feedback and will see what I can do. Happy 4th. - CG