Opinion: Thank God For Chris Christie - Look Back Week


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie fielding a question at a town hall meeting in Freehold, NJ. Photo by Bob Jagendorf.

With 2012 behind us, one single political fact became abundantly clear, perhaps above all others: the 112th Congress may have been the most infuriatingly unproductive and dysfunctional legislative body our country has seen in three decades. No spokesman made a more damning case against the current legislative branch of our government than Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who just after the new year, once again crossed party lines to call out Speaker Boehner and the GOP House majority for denying any sort of vote on the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund.

He opens with a bewildering set of comparisons, juxtaposing the nearly immediate Republican-backed federal relief packages in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav, Ike, and Katrina — each within a 2-3 week range, to the 66 days New Jerseyans were willing to wait for Uncle Sam to do something. Then he tacks to a glaring and largely ignored injustice involving the congestion of our national politics:

“New Jersey and New York are perennially among the most generous states in the nation to our fellow states. We vote for disaster states in need. We are donor states, sending much more to Washington, D.C. than we ever get back in federal spending,” chastised the Governor — with a final blow: “Despite this history of unbridled generosity, in our hour of desperate need, we’ve been left waiting for help six times longer than the victims of Katrina with no end in sight.”

The entire conference opening is classic Christie, a bonafide “you’ve got to be [internalized expletive] kidding me” approach that strikes at the heart of Americans’ frustration with… just about everything in politics. But I know what you’re thinking. It’s easy for me, the left-leaning commentator, to applaud Christie now that he’s on my side. Heck, he’s a big chunk of the reason Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election, no pun intended.

Mais au contraire mon ami, this is an op-ed I’ve been saving since the Republican RNC — in which Christie’s speech was easily the most inspired rhetorical exercise of either convention. Or to put it another way, Christie’s unrelenting attack on entitlements at the GOP national convention was so convincing, that I — the proud owner of an ironic “Starbucks Workers Union” t-shirt from the International Workers’ Association (a Socialist organization, the shirt itself came from a Prayers For Atheists show) — actually found myself rethinking pensions and unions for a good two and a half minutes.

For starters, I’m a big momma’s boy too, so not much about this Oedipal speech strikes me as an overtly calculated Republican PR push to swing the female vote as much as a politician defining his mantra to a national audience: “If it comes down to a choice between love and respect, always choose respect.”

It could have all been typical, scripted convention hubris, but what we saw on January 2nd was a politician living up to that exact ethic; one who likely will lose much love from his own party for doing so. Should Republicans cast out Christie now though, it will be to their detriment. The failure of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign should teach Republicans a great many things, one particular lesson of which is that they should probably never trust anyone who would be as willing as Romney to shamelessly say anything to get elected. Especially if “anything” involves contradicting past campaign promises in the age of YouTube… or analog tape for that matter.

If Republicans want a prayer of taking back the presidency in 2016, it would behoove them to realize how Christie’s national political capital has grown by keeping his steadfast fidelity to nonpartisan common sense — a hark back to pragmatic conservatism that knew full well that spitting in the faces of hard working families who spent their holidays in disaster shelters wouldn’t win them any friends in the fight for smaller government.

As far as actually making gains toward smaller government, Christie’s record speaks for itself in ways that shame the Tea Party and can at least keep liberals from ripping their hair out. I’m sure teachers in Wisconsin would much prefer having to negotiate their salaries and benefits with a governor like Christie, who will at least let organized labor have a seat at the table while trying to balance state budgets, over staunch anti-unionists like Scott Walker.

The most obvious problem with Walker and his Tea Partying colleagues in Congress is their non-negotiation policy with the other side of the aisle, which stands more and more to blame for the sort of dysfunction they claim is in the very nature of government. In the eyes of moderates, it becomes increasingly self-evident that the larger problem in Washington isn’t the inherent inefficacy of our system to solve real problems, but the sabotage of those efforts by ideologues who don’t believe these functions have a right to exist in the first place. Not to mention that they have no idea how to remove those functions from government in a humanitarian fashion.

Given the GOP’s ugly primary battle in the 2012 election over this increasingly widening difference in approach, and the still respectable position that Christie still holds within the party — the issue of federal disaster relief appears to be a debate he looks forward to having with his party in the future, be that for another gubernatorial contest… or perhaps a larger office?

A little after 31 minutes into the Sandy Relief Fund press conference, a reporter asked Governor Christie about such an election, but it’s hard to hear for what office exactly he’s talking about. I have a hard time imagining a Republican contender for governor in New Jersey politics that would oppose his stance. As Christie mentioned at the RNC, just having a Republican governor from New Jersey is uncommon occurrence enough for a famously liberal state.

“We’ll see,” answers Christie. “Primaries are an ugly thing.”

A truism that’s especially the case for Republican presidential politics.