Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Chris Christie's tiny red box

By Frank Moraes

Chris Christie started his second term yesterday. I saw a bit of it. (I try to avoid these things because they are boring.) But one line really stood out to me, "We have to be willing to play outside the red and blue boxes the media and pundits put us in." That's interesting. I didn't know it was the punditsthat were putting politicians in these boxes; I thought it was the choice of each politician. You know: the way I'm a Democrat because I agree more with that party than with the Republicans.

Let's leave aside the fact that it is looking more and more like Christie has run New Jersey like an old political boss from Chicago where money trumps ideology. That's generally true of modern Republicans, anyway. But when it comes to ideology, Christie's "moderation" is phantasmagoric. You can see it in the writings of those political pundits who Christie claims try to put him in a box, but not in reality.

One of the main ways that Christie is "different" from the GOP generally is that he accepts climate change. But as I wrote before, "Christie's affirmation of climate change has been so weak as to be useless." What's more, in a Republican presidential primary, I suspect he would walk that back with something like, "Well, I don't know, I just think we should look into it." And that is pretty much the current state of climate change denial: we need more study! When it comes to workers rights and economic issues generally, he is absolutely ideologically pure. All that yelling at teachers? That's not just because he's an asshole; it is also because he hates unions. And finally, on social issues he is also absolutely ideologically pure. He's anti-choice. He's anti-gay.

The question logically comes up, "Why do people claim that Christie is a moderate?" I think it is simple as this: his rhetoric isn't as extreme as that we hear coming out of Texas. The biggest part of this is that he doesn't use religious language about sin and damnation. He talks like people normally do in New York and Washington so he seems like a regular guy. Of course, what's really going on is that Christie just has a different approach to "fire-breathing" conservatism. It is encapsulated in what Paul Krugman calls him, "Governor Yells-at-People."

What the current Christie scandals show, regardless of whether he is directly involved or not, is that any actual ability to "work across the isle" is nothing but power politics: forcing the other side to do his bidding. He isn't interested in "compromise," that vaunted end-in-itself for "centrist" pundits. Regardless, Republican executives usually get more done with Democratic legislatures than the other way around. Why? Because Democrats are more compliant. If Christie had had to deal with the Democratic equivalent of Mitch McConnell in his legislature, he wouldn't have gotten anything done—except, of course, through his standard extortion techniques.

So it really annoys me to hear Christie pontificate about the media putting politicians in boxes. Christie put himself in a very small red box. The media have been working overtime to make it appear as though he weren't a completely ideologically consistent Republican. The media want "bipartisanship" and "compromise." And they have anointed Christie as the bringer of that, regardless of the facts. For him to pretend otherwise is disingenuous and, frankly, hilarious.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)


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