Monday, October 28, 2013

Turning His Back

Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.

But Virginia is the site of the most (more, actually) closely watched gubernatorial election in the U.S.A. this year, with unpopular Democrat Terry McAuliffe facing off against unpopular Attorney General Ken Cucinelli, whose first name appears to be "tea party favorite" (whatever that means).  MSNBC's Rachel Maddow has been particularly vigorous covering the Virginia election, on Thursday even interviewing Chesterfield County election board registrar Lawrence Haake about voter suppression efforts in the state.

Virginia is clearly a swing state, and one in which the gubernatorial election is very much in doubt, though the Democrat is favored to win.   Neither factor is in play in New Jersey, where Governor Chris (don't call him fat, whatever you do!) Christie is expected to cruise to victory in what is otherwise a Democratic, and strongly culturally liberal, state.

There are many reasons for Christie's strong position, including a lack of awareness in the state of how much of an extremist he is.  In the waning days of the campaign, the governor is exploiting this blissful ignorance, such as deciding not to appeal to the state's highest court approval by a lower court of same-sex marriage, a struggle which would have cost him support in next week's election, which he is determined to win by a large margin.  He also was probably motivated to take off the table an issue which in a presidential election would have detracted from his emphasis on screwing workers unions and lowering taxes on the wealthy, always advantageous stances in Repub presidential primaries.

Continuing to fight same-sex marriage might also have cost him support among editorial boards.  Sunday, the nominally liberal editorial board of The Philadelphia Inquirer noted 

Christie has wrongly demonized teachers and abandoned a school aid formula that attached funding to at-risk children. And he should forget about an income-tax cut that would favor the wealthy and unnecessarily reduce state revenue.

Christie's opposition to same-sex marriage and Planned Parenthood funding are retrograde. And he should improve his poor environmental record by replenishing open-space funds and setting more ambitious clean-energy goals.

Christie has also shown an unfortunate tendency to be self-serving. His scheduling of a special U.S. Senate election for last week seemed calculated to keep the popular Democrat Cory Booker from affecting his race. He was featured too prominently in taxpayer-funded tourism ads. As a possible presidential candidate, Christie must be more careful to keep New Jersey's interests above his personal ambition. And he should kick his habit of publicly insulting other people.

Then it endorsed him for re-election though, admittedly, it had described what it considers favorable aspects of his leadership.  In so doing, it ought to draw comparison to the editorial in the state's largest (and the nation's 21st largest) newspaper, The Star Ledger (of Essex County, N.J., but sometimes inaccurately labeled "The Newark Star-Ledger") .  Last week, the editors of the newspaper, based in the extraordinarily densely populated northern portion of the state, explained

The property tax burden has grown sharply on his watch. He is hostile to low-income families, raising their tax burden and sabotaging efforts to build affordable housing. He’s been a catastrophe on the environment, draining $1 billion from clean energy funds and calling a cease-fire in the state’s fight against climate change.

The governor’s claim to have fixed the state’s budget is fraudulent. New Jersey’s credit rating has dropped during his term, reflecting Wall Street’s judgment that he has dug the hole even deeper. He has no plan to finance transit projects and open space purchases now that he has nearly drained the dedicated funds he inherited from Gov. Jon Corzine.

His ego is entertaining, but it’s done damage as well. By removing two qualified justices from the Supreme Court without good cause, he threatened the independence of judges at all levels, and provoked a partisan stalemate that has left two vacant seats on the high court. This was a power grab gone wrong.

The public gives him top marks for his handling of Sandy, but the record is mixed. Why would his administration park NJ Transit trains in a low-lying area where they flooded, causing $120 million in damage? Why did the federal government have to strong-arm the state to include more relief for renters and Spanish-speakers than Christie had proposed? And why should anyone believe taxpayers got the best price on refuse removal when the governor awarded a no-bid contract through a political friend?

Our own view is that Christie is overrated. His spin is way ahead of his substance.

Then it endorsed him for re-election, arguing that his support for destroying public education  the charter school movement- warranted his return to office.

But few people care about newspaper endorsements anymore.  Of greater importance is the failure of state Democrats and national Democrats to endorse Christie's Democratic opponent, State Senator Barbara Buono.  Both the leading Democratic presidential contender and her husband, the nation's most popular politician, have endorsed- and campaigned for- the Virginia gubernatorial candidate. McAuliffe once was a fundraiser for Mr. Clinton, though one can be forgiven for thinking they could have managed at least a pro forma endorsement of the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey.   (Recall Hillary Rodham Clinton once boasted of breaking the "glass ceiling."  Good for me, not for thee, presumably.)

But the dagger to the heart of the Buono candidacy has come from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.    The Clintons, at least, overlooked also the U.S. Senate race in New Jersey, neglecting to endorse the expected- and eventual- winner, Cory Booker. The interests of arguably America's most famous political couple was 282 miles down Route 95.    But Barack Obama did endorse, and later release a video on behalf of, Cory Booker, who in addition included the President in a campaign ad.  Obama also has taken time to campaign with New York City Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio, who will be elected unless he announces his favorite activity is watching pornographic movies with Anthony Weiner. And then it would be close.

The failure of the nation's first black President even to endorse the party's gubernatorial candidate in a state in which the former remains fairly popular has had a particularly significant impact upon Barbara Buono's standing among black voters.    African-Americans are among the many Democratic office-holders who have endorsed Christie and black voters have appreciated the relationship between the state's governor and Barack Obama, who once ostentatiously praised Christie for "extraordinary leadership."     They (and the rest of us) are not used to seeing a Republican demonstrate any respect at all for this President- a low bar, but one many Repubs appear unable to clear.  Obama's endorsement of the Democratic nominee would, obviously, go a long way in establishing the latter's credibility among black voters, if not also undermining support among some of them for the incumbent.

Disturbing? Yes.  Reprehensible?  Yes.  (Don't you just hate people who ask and answer their own questions? Yes, you do.)  But perhaps most telling is that is not terribly surprising. Barack Obama has spent over four years avoiding supporting progressive causes while maintaining overwhelming support among Democrats partly because the loyal opposition has been relentless, extreme, on occasion racially prejudiced, and sometimes not even loyal. And now, in his fifth year, he is just plain gutless.

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