Chris Christie is a bully, a thug, a crook and a shameless opportunist. We all know that now. What is significant is that ordinary people outside New Jersey finally get what New Jersey people have been saying for years. This reality check has shattered his personal mythology.
What we have here is a failure to communicate. The meaning of words and phrases in language, especially those used in discussing public affairs, have become so immersed in metaphor and euphemism that most people fail to grasp the full meaning of what is being said. In the case of New Jersey politics, it has been described repeatedly as "brutal", "cut-throat", "vicious" and likened to "smash-mouth football" and "taking no prisoners" in battle. When we hear these phrases, we all agree that these are bad qualities, yet none of us can completely escape the temptation to romanticize and glorify such practices as bold, courageous or even admirable. In doing so, we turn evil action into good, and more dangerously, we characterize the evil-doer as a swashbuckling folk hero. This is not rational, but we all do it.
What is it that makes us idolize villains? The reason, if it could be precisely determined, would also explain why anyone thinks pirates are cool. I used the term "swashbuckling" intentionally because it has often been applied to Christie's public demeanor and alludes to pirates. He is undeniably brash, confrontational and arrogant. It's possible that those who are fascinated by thieves who boldly take property by force of arms and kill people are secretly expressing antisocial urges. While that may be true for some, I suspect that most people think buccaneers are at least interesting because of the personality they are generally portrayed as having in literature. Who among us would not wish to be more assertive, effectual and even charming? We think pirates are cool because we admire those who get things done and are liked or at least repected by those around them, as every pirate captain is portrayed.
Is it clearer now why Chris Christie had such cachet as a politician? (I say "had" because, in case you haven't figured it out yet, he's finished.) The fat boy is a pirate in the eyes of those who see his posturing and bluster from a distance. Among New Jersey natives, though, few have been taken in by his pseudo-populist blather except the extremely gullible. There must be a lot of simpletons in New Jersey for Christie to have won re-election by such a wide margin, but I suspect that the bulk of his supporters just like his style despite the horrendously inhumane and corrupt policies he has carried out as governor. If you combine this pirate mystique with misanthropic tendencies such as rationalizing that targets of Christie's disfavor "probably deserve it", you get a general consensus of acceptance that amounts to enabling a raging sociopath. This guy is a monster.
I'm drawing a distinction between people inside and outside New Jersey to show how it is not surprising that the spin given to Chistie's public persona by the corporatist media can shepherd a lot of people into thinking that he's an honest, plain-speaking fellow. He has so often been called "refreshing" and "iconoclastic" that a startling number of people, even Democrats, like him. This carefully-crafted image is the only reason that Christie is now even bothering to deny that he was intimately involved with planning the four-day Fort Lee traffic jam. Instead of just firing everyone immediately and apologizing, he's stalling and covering up with a Nixonesque "stone-walling" maneuver. He at least knew about it the whole time and did nothing to fix it. That's as obvious as it can be, put the Governor is daring anyone to prove it.
Nobody in the state or familiar with politics there has been fooled into thinking that Christie was not at the center of this cruel, senseless and irresponsible prank. I was struck by Tweets today from the actor/writer/director Zach Braff, a New Jersey native and longtime resident.
"I'm going to close 4 lanes of the George Washington bridge for 4 days, cause mayhem and not tell my boss." - no oneDo you see it now? If you're from New Jersey, the idea that Christie at least went along with the ruse and worked to cover it up is obvious. It's patently absurd to think that this act, which happened way back in September, could have come out of his office without out his knowing about it. There is no way that he could have been in the dark about what really went on for the last month since one of his cronies admitted in a hearing that there was no "traffic study". If he had really known nothing up to that point, what has he been doing to find out what did happen since that revelation? People in New Jersey are not stupid (well, most of them, anyway) and those outside New Jersey are finally getting the lowdown on the real Chris Christie.
If you think Gov. Christie wasn't involved in closing the lanes to the bridge, then I have a bridge to sell you.
Let's examine what the language we've been hearing for years actually means.
- Dirty politics: These are, collectively, the specifics of all the pirate metaphors applied to Chris Christie's political practices. He's into dirty tricks, bullying and vindictive paybacks. Steve Kornacki of MSNBC has been collecting and enumerating these abuses of power for quite some time. After reviewing Christie's past misdeeds, the George Washington Bridge approach lane closures are entirely consistent with what his past acts. He's a nasty piece of work.
- Corruption: How many reports have we heard about cronyism in awarding government contracts and diversion of funds to illegal purposes? Plenty, but somehow the Republican noise machine has heretofore managed to deflect any serious calling to account by Christie and his cohorts. Is it clear that he's a crook now, or does he have to steal something else besides the governor's chair to tarnish his image with Republicans?
- Misanthrope: Chris Christie is mean to teachers and other public employees. He yells at them in news conferences and derides them in the media. He's trying to drive them into poverty, and thereby into submissiveness, by breaking their unions, cutting their pay and takng away their other benefits. He has gotten away with it so far because some of those who are not public employees mistakenly think that these people are overpaid and that the money "saved" by denying pay and benefits to public employees with be used to better their lives. They are wrong about that unless they are part of Christie's elite clique of wealthy supporters. He hates ordinary people and will do anything to aggrandize himself, even if it means creating misery for the people at large. Is it any wonder that might think it was an amusing prank to tie up traffic in Fort Lee?
- Arrogance: The fact that until yesterday, Christie was acting as if he were going to get off Scot-free in the Fort Lee scandal proves that he thinks he is invincible. In today's news conference, he referred to himself as a "national figure". While that may have been true before yesterday, it reveals his arrogance to not acknowledge that as of yesterday he is no longer a national figure and his status has plummeted to that of a regional embarrassment. The idea of a Christie presidential run is now such a joke that only a delusional megalomaniac would still entertain it. The fact that he can't admit that to himself shows how out of touch he is with objective reality. As I said earlier, it's Nixonesque.
- Stupidity: Has this guy ever said anything smart, or at least insightful? What makes him think that he has even the minimum intelligence necessary to deal with the all-consuming complexity of the presidency? We saw with Bush 43 what happens when a half-witted buffoon is the most powerful person on earth. We get wars, a gutting of the economy and a massive funneling of the nation's wealth into the hands of corporatist thieves. Idiots like Warren G. Harding, Ronald Reagan as well as George W. Bush have nearly run this country into the ground during their tenure. How could a Christie presidency be any less harmful than those? None of our previous jackass presidents would have been stupid enough to allow a stunt like the GW Bridge slowdown to proceed, nor would they have failed to immediately clean house and throw everyone under the bus if it came to their attention after the fact. Attempting to smooth things over and cover them up proves that Chris Christie is an idiot!
- Hypocrite: Christie toes the line on every wrong-headed Republican notion there is, but still tries to characterize himself (like John McCain) as some kind of maverick, and an independent thinker. Marijuana for medicinal use? Bad! It's a gateway drug! Abortion? Well, I am a Catholic, so that's bad, too. Minimum wage? No, let's fix all our problems by giving rich people more money. What moderate, let alone progressive, policy is this guy even in favor of? If you want to cite his cooperation with President Obama for Hurricane Sandy disaster relief, I discount that as angling for more money to divert to himself and cronies. Have I said it enough times yet? He's a crook!
- Snotty: Does he treat others with compassion or respect? I have yet to see it. There are lots of people whose ideas are just as despicable as his, but Christie does nothing to hide them. He's all up front with that Jersey boy bravado and doesn't shirk being abusive to anyone who confronts him. In fact, I don't ever recall his being civil with anyone who publicly confronted him with an idea that he did not like.
The kicker, though, in my closing the book on Chris Christie comes from the abrupt change in attitude of my lady love toward the portly governor. Even though I've railed against Christie for his regressive social policies and scoffed at his presidential aspirations, she had until yesterday maintained a certain fondness for him and seriously considered supporting him in 2016. She described him as "honest" and "charismatic", correctly spotting him as having a lot of appeal to ordinary working people. I was girding my loins to craft a persuasive argument for her to not support Christie should he become the Republican Party's candidate. She no longer supports him. Why? It's clear that he's a liar and not a nice person in the least. Her attitude turned on a dime when the mask was lifted yesterday. In her eyes, he's just another jerk, which is how I've always described Christie.
It's clear to me that my gal is representative of a large body of the populace. They were curious about him and intrigued, but this scandal has revealed him as a disingenuous poseur destined for oblivion. His fifteen minutes are up.
For the poll, I'm interested in you predictions, not your hopes or aspirations for the rotund governor. Let me reiterate that: What WILL happen to Chris Christie? Got that? It's not, "What do you want to happen to him?" I'm no longer tracking what people think of him because he's gone and I really don't care any more. It does interest me, though, how this scandal will affect him and how long it takes for the corporatist media to turn on him.