Saturday, August 10, 2013

Missed Opportunity

Last week, following their tiff about foreign policy, Rand Paul and Chris Christie exchanged words over federal disaster aid.  MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell (transcript, here) was overcome by the Governor's manliness:

Yes, Rand, good luck with trying to kiss Chris Christie. I happen to have right here, Chris Christie`s reaction to your kissing proposal. Said this tonight on a New Jersey radio station.I`m running for re-election in New Jersey I don`t really have time for that at the moment.So Rand, you will be lucky if you get a hand shake. And if you do get to shake his hand on Republican presidential debate stages it will be before and after he beats the living heck out of you in those debates.

And we have a winner in the Rand Paul versus Chris Christie fight. Last night, the judges called it unanimously for Chris Christie.

Yes, this is a prime-time host on what is often assumed to be the "liberal" or "Democratic" network.   The guy who cut taxes on millionaires, personally and publicly ridiculed individual teachers, pursued the destruction of the teachers' union, slashed retirees' pensions he had promised to preserve, rejected federal financing of women's preventive health programs, sabotaged the public schools in favor of charter schools, rejected public financing of a critically needed transportation project, vetoed significant gun control initiatives, fought access to medical marijuana, and nixed same-sex marriage legislation will "beat the living heck out of" his opponent, the liberal host breathlessly maintained.

Governor Christie won  the argument because, according to O'Donnell's logic, Rand Paul offered to meet with the Governor personally and iron out their differences.   Apparently, that to O'Donnell is an unacceptable sign of weakness.

On the merits, Christie did win the argument- or, rather, the Kentucky senator lost it.   The latter contended

It is really -- I think kind of sad and cheap that he would use the cloak of 9/11 victims and say, I`m the only one who cares about these victims. Hog wash, if he cared about protecting this country, maybe he wouldn`t be on this give me, give me, give me all the money you have in Washington or don`t have, and he would be a little more fiscally responsible, and note that the way we defend our country, the way that we have enough money for national defense is by being frugal and not by saying give me, give me, give me all the time.

But the Governor's sin is not in saying "give me" the $550 million in federal public assistance grants for New Jersey residents after Hurricane Sandy.  It's in use of a portion of the money to advance the political career, inside and outside of the state, of one Christopher J. Christie., the online edition of  the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. observed the Governor "siphoned off money that was intended for victims of Sandy to promote himself in a series of TV ads" as

the Christie administration turned away a qualified low-bidder seeking to produce the series of TV commercials promoting tourism at the Shore, titled “Stronger Than the Storm.”

Instead, Christie’s appointed cronies chose to spend $2 million more for a campaign produced by MWW, a public relations firm based in East Rutherford that’s known for its abundant political connections in both parties.

Why? The governor’s office dances and shuffles around this point, and the woman in charge of this selection process, Michele Brown, wouldn’t comment.

But know this: MWW proposed a series of ads featuring the governor and his family, a move that would be illegal in New York state and should be here. The firm with the lower bid, the Sigma Group, did not.

So maybe Sigma’s plan was flawed in other ways? No, not even according to the committee of insiders that reviewed it. According to records obtained by the Asbury Park Press, Sigma’s bid “addressed the tasks and deliverables specified in the RFQ (request for quotations) ... (and) could effectively meet the requirements of the RFQ.”

Brown, for the record, worked in Christie’s inner circle at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and is now head of the Economic Development Authority. In 2007, while working for Christie, she borrowed $47,000 from him for personal reasons.

Are we supposed to believe this was a detached and unbiased review? That a Christie loyalist happened to pick the ad campaign that featured the governor and his family, and is set to broadcast in other states where he will need votes to win a presidential primary?

Caught in an ideological straitjacket, Paul was offended the Governor captured taxpayer funds to spend somewhere other than on bombs and missiles, money he believes instead should be spent on "national defense."  So he fails to identify the self-serving and vaguely corrupt nature of the relationship, one he could have labeled (playing a little loose with the phrasing) "money laundering for Chris Christie's presidential bid."

And caught in an ideological bind, the Kentucky Senator would not, could not, attack the underlying assumption of "Stronger than the Shore"- that the Jersey shore was saved by New Jerseyans and New Jerseyans alone.

That premise inherent in the marketing strategy is belied by the value of over a half billion dollars in funding from taxpayers of the United States of America.  It is Republican gospel that "I" or in this case, our own state, did it alone.  In the era of Barack Obama, New Jersey's own Cory Booker, and others whose identification as Democrats begin and end with the (D) after their name, the words of an actual Democrat and progressive, Elizabeth Warren, bear repeating:

You built a factory out there? Good for you.  But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Governor Christie took a huge chunk of money from taxpayers all across the nation and converted a part of it for his own political benefit.  Rand Paul, expected to vie for the GOP presidential nomination, might have connected this to Christie's telegenic appearance, aimed at sinking Mitt Romney, with Barack Obama a few days before the 2012 presidential election, combined with a more recent appearance with the president Republican voters love to hate.

Sensing criticism of Barack Obama, and a (valid) bid to attribute the President's re-election in small part to his crass political move, O'Donnell wouldn't have approved.    That alone might have redounded to the political benefit of Rand Paul and turned an inconsequential tactical defeat into a rousing victory.

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