Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cuddly Egomaniac

In his article in New York magazine this past summer, Benjamin Wallace-Wells gets a lot right about Chris Christie, whom many media figures (not only prematurely) already have crowned the 2016 GOP presidential nominee.   He explains, for instance,

Politics, everywhere, is a consequence of geography, but with Christie the effect is more pronounced than with most. New Jersey is a very specific place, with its desolate cities and fortified suburbs and an extreme economic privilege that is both widespread and barely acknowledged. Christie holds conventionally conservative positions on many issues—he’s against gay marriage, pro-life, opposed to government programs for the poor and supportive of cutting taxes on businesses and the rich—and can voice anti-elitist grievances as sharply as any leader on the right. But his anger is directed at different targets and serves a different politics—more cosmopolitan, less alienated, less stringently individualistic; he offers an alternate idea of what conservatism might have looked like during the Obama years, had it been fed by the frustrations of the suburban middle class rather than those of the suspicious, disempowered fringe. With characteristic humility, Christie has spent his summer on the campaign trail offering himself, and his state, as a national ideal.

He knows also New Jersey

has 565 municipalities, most of them small enough to sustain the illusion of classlessness. This proliferation of tiny fiefdoms—distinct, politically isolated—is a quirk of the state’s political history and is kept in place by its system of taxation. New Jersey’s state income tax is the lowest of the 43 states that have an income tax, and its local property taxes are the highest in the nation. (One consequence is that the state taxes fall more heavily on the rich and the local taxes on the lower middle class, and so as Christie has vetoed attempts to reinstate a millionaire’s tax, cut business taxes, and severely diminished a program for property-tax relief, he has shifted the tax burden downward.) The promise of this system is that resources can be kept close to home, where they will be plentiful, and used to build little utopias, and often this has actually happened: The state is filled with superlative school systems.

Because power is concentrated locally, anger can be, too. One Democratic pollster who ran focus groups in the state during the recession told me he’d found less rage than he expected at banks and plutocrats and more directed locally at the schoolteachers and cops whose pensions drove local property taxes higher. “I had one guy in a focus group go on a rant about the pension his father, who was a retired cop, got from the town, that the pension was way too generous,” the pollster told me. “His father.”

This (lack of) generosity of spirit characterizes Christie himself, who once compared students to "drug mules," which unfortunately proved to be a popular remark in a state in which most parents were convinced he couldn't possibly be talking about their own children.   Christie is also emblematic of a state which, Wallace-Wells notes, has both major "class cleavages" but whose "iconography.. is the site of working-class aspiration."  That allows many residents to relate favorably to a guy who claims he is an average Joe from the depressed city of Newark, but who moved out at age 5 with his parents to what has become a wealthy suburb.

W-W fails paints a disturbingly inaccurate picture of the response of people most affected by Hurricane Sandy when he writes

I found myself talking about the shore with a ­Christie-endorsing union official, Greg Lalevee. He has been going to the shore ever since he was a little kid, he and his cousins “stuffed into bungalows” by his grandparents. But what moved Lalevee, when he visited the shore after the storm, was the devastation of the mansions in Mantoloking. When he was a kid, his grandfather would tell the grandkids silly, made-up stories about the rich people who lived in those houses. “You knew coming from a working-class family that your family was never going to own one,” Lalevee said. But still they were something to dream about. Now they were off their foundations, split in two. “It’s very hard not to get emotional about it.”

What Sandy did for Christie was to reveal him as an unexpectedly moving ­middle-class sentimentalist. A few days after the storm, flying over the damage by helicopter, Christie had pointed out the “dumpy little house” he’d crammed into with “like, twelve guys”; he also lamented the loss of a favorite sausage-and-pepper stand. At an event in Highlands last month, a local school superintendent turned to Christie and said, “You’ve been here so much, we’re going to make you a volunteer fireman,” which was hyperbole, but not by much. Every time he could, he emphasized the people who were still homeless, the work that remains to be done. “I know how much this means to you,” Christie said a few days later. “It means that much to me.”

The residents of the Jersey shore slammed by Sandy, however, are far less sentimental about the governor than the writer or Lalevee whom, one notices upon a close read, goes to the shore and visited it after the hurricane.  If he were living there, he might have reacted as did a resident of Union Beach, a woman with the magnificent name of Andrea Kassimatis.  She told Chris Hayes on All In that Christie's show of concern about the hurricane's victims is

very frustrating to me. It almost disgusts me in a sense, because of the fact that when he brags about all the people that are back in their houses, he neglects that the people broke the bank. They tapped into their 401(k)s, their retirement. They now have to work an additional 10, 15, 20 years to pay off the loans that bring them back into those houses.

Additionally, Kassimatis stated

We`re still waiting (for) our RREM grants, we were one of the preliminarily accepted for the grant, I filed for the grant an hour after the grant had opened on line, went in for the filing of the paperwork, I took three separate days off to go file the paperwork, sign the documents they requested. Bring the same documents back a second, a third time, sign them over and over, and just you know, haven`t had any movement since beginning of August, end of September.

This program, which provided federal funds to help primary homeowners repair or rebuild, ended in August, though the location of much of the $1.8 billion from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development remains a mystery.

That may be why Kassimatis is not alone among victims to be skeptical of the awesomeness of  Governor Christie.  You probably hadn't heard the news on October 28:

Three-quarters of New Jersey residents severely impacted by superstorm Sandy surveyed in a new poll said that the state’s recovery efforts have forgotten them.

The poll of 683 residents by the Monmouth University Polling Institute tracked residents who were displaced from their homes for at least a month by the Oct. 29 storm. Most of those surveyed were residents of the Jersey Shore counties of Monmouth and Ocean.

The survey conducted over the last month found that 39% of respondents were yet to return home, while 19% planned not to move back. Another 20% reported being displaced for six months.

Among those surveyed, 61% were somewhat or very dissatisfied with the recovery efforts. Only 7% were very satisfied.

“New Jerseyans who were displaced by the storm, even if they are now back in their homes, are significantly more negative than other Garden State residents about the pace and focus of recovery,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Chris Christie is little more than, as Steve M. characterizes him, "a white guy kicking down, with swagger."  I prefer "a big man kicking down, with swagger" because if he were a little man, it would not have the same political affect, especially among the adoring members of the press corps.   Not all of Christie's Greatest Hits have been carefully scripted, for he is not always able to control his temper (video, below).  Shortly before his re-election, S.M. observed Christie has

been playing down the anger in this campaign and playing up the (alleged) cuddliness, but the anger is still there -- but now that he doesn't want to put it in the foreground, the fawning press doesn't want to, either. And Democrats, shamefully, have let him get away with this, rather than goading and needling him on the campaign trail, which, if it didn't lead to any "macaca" moments that would have brought him down this year, might have led to embarrassing video that could have hurt him in a 2016 general election.

Wallace-Wells u intentionally highlights the contrast between the myth and the reality of Christopher J. Christie when the former claims "the storm gave Christie a national spotlight for his bipartisanship."    There is no one more bipartisan than a team player who boasts "I don't think there's anybody in America who thinks my personality is best suited for being Number Two."

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