Christie: A Bully’s Bully
Oh, how we love those Republican “straight-shooters.”
I wanted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s press conference to go on forever. And, at 114 minutes, it almost did. I wanted to know more about traffic studies, and Christie’s workout and his personal trainer, his four-hour middle-of-the-night heart-to-heart with his wife, the tight-knit family atmosphere he cultivates at the office and how that had no bearing at all on whether he knew what was going on there. I especially wanted to know more about the governor’s feelings. We know he felt “blindsided,” “humiliated” and “embarrassed” by high-level close associates who arranged for a four-day traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge last September, possibly to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, who hadn’t endorsed him for re-election. And we know he was unhappy (“I am a very sad person today. That’s the emotion I feel”) that, as he tells it, all by themselves deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, Port Authority appointee David Wildstein and other operatives cooked up their retribution scheme, which snarled school schedules and may have contributed to the death of a 91-year-old woman waiting for an ambulance. We know he felt personally betrayed and fired Kelly without even meeting with her because she had “lied” to him. He mentioned her “lies” thirteen times. But there was so much he didn’t tell us! For example, when he said “mistakes were made,” did he know he was quoting Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler, or did that particular obfuscatory use of the passive voice just pop into his head? And what about “I am not a bully”? That has a Nixonian ring to it as well. Maybe if he hadn’t fired all those people, they would have told him that if you have to tell people you’re not a bully, you probably are one.
Republican pundits tried hard to change the subject. “Only 2 possibilities,” tweeted Byron York. “He’s innocent, or he’s a Clinton-level liar.” And (Republican chorus here) what about Benghazi? And the IRS? It took Peggy Noonan (from whose Wall Street Journal column I got that York quote) one whole paragraph to bring up Obama and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, before moving on to blame The War Room, a 1993 documentary about the Clinton campaign (him again!), The Good Wife and The Sopranos. These entertainments have filled the heads of inexperienced young political operatives with cartoonish ideas about being loyal cutthroats. (Wait, so Christie’s people thought they were doing what he wanted? Where did they get that idea?) David Wildstein is 52, by the way; Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien (also fired) is 35; and Bridget Kelly is 41. Isn’t it likely that they were more influenced by their years with Christie than by Sunday nights with Eli Gold? And for the record, Eli, the governor’s consigliere on The Good Wife, would never have participated in an e-mail or text exchange like the ones involved here, in which the Fort Lee mayor was the “little Serbian” and schoolkids stuck on buses were “the children of Buono voters”—Barbara Buono being the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Eli is deft, gentlemanly, discreet. He could probably give you twenty highly entertaining minutes on all the politicians now in jail because of texts and e-mails. Texts and e-mails! Did Snowden teach these people nothing?
Here’s the thing, though. Christie was always mean, vindictive and hostile. Remember how he leaned forward and pointed his finger at Melissa Tomlinson, the teacher who challenged him on his negative talk about the schools? “I am tired of you people,” he snapped. “What do you want?” That was not an isolated incident. Jersey politicians are now coming forward with tales of his petty retaliations. Yet the media adored him. Media Matters quoted some of the most egregious examples of worshipful blather: he was “different, fresh” (Joe Scarborough); a “happy warrior” (GQ); “bipartisan” and “a workhorse with a temper and a tongue, the guy who loves his mother and gets it done” (Michael Scherer); “someone who is magical in the way politicians can be magical” (Mark Halperin). It didn’t matter that he lost $400 million of federal school funding, or unilaterally canceled a plan to build a commuter train tunnel connecting New Jersey and Manhattan and presented it falsely as a big savings for his state, or vetoed—five times—additional funding for family planning, directly causing six reproductive health centers to close. Christie has filled the place formerly occupied by John McCain: the straight-shooting Republican “maverick” (a maverick being a Republican who admits the earth is probably older than 10,000 years). It doesn’t matter what he actually did or said.
But there’s more to Christie’s attraction. Like McCain, Christie is a man’s man. As he put it himself, “I am not a focus group–tested, blow-dried candidate—or governor.” So what if he is a crude rageaholic? At least he doesn’t eat pizza with a knife and fork like that liberal wuss Bill de Blasio (unbelievably, de Blasio’s decision to use silverware instead of shoving the whole slice in his mouth and letting tomato sauce drip all over his shirt like a real New Yorker was the other big story in the Tri-State Area while the Christie scandal was breaking). Democrats, with their usual self-loathing, cozied up to Christie, leaving Buono, a perfectly decent candidate, in the lurch. Though it’s true she wouldn’t have won, you don’t build support for your politics by fawning over your ideological opponent. But people are drawn to swagger and aggression. Bullies are popular.
Just ask Fox News’s Brit Hume. “I have to say that in this sort of feminized atmosphere in which we exist today,” he said on Media Buzz, “guys who are masculine and muscular like that…run some risks.” When a woman panelist expressed shock, he doubled down. “Men today have learned the lesson the hard way that if you act like kind of an old-fashioned guy’s guy, you’re in constant danger of slipping out and saying something that’s going to get you in trouble and make you look like a sexist or make you look like you seem thuggish or whatever. That’s the atmosphere in which we operate.”
In other words, Christie’s troubles are all women’s fault. But then, what isn’t?
© 2013 The Nation