Christie: Crossing the line

By Bill Schneider
January 15, 2014

Back in the 1970s, a Jewish organization commissioned a poll to investigate anti-Semitism in the United States. The poll included several open-ended questions. One asked, “Is there anything in particular you like about Jewish people?” The answers were recorded verbatim.

One respondent — a worker from Pittsburgh — answered, “What I like about them is that they are hardworking, aggressive and know how to get ahead.” The next question asked, “Is there anything in particular you don’t like about Jewish people?” His answer: “They’re too pushy and aggressive.”

The puzzled interviewer asked, “Isn’t that what you just said you like about them?” The respondent answered, “Yes. What I like about them is also what I don’t like about them.”

Now, consider New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican who just won a landslide re-election in a Democratic state. And a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

What people like about Christie is his forcefulness. He is not a guy to be trifled with. People like that in a leader.

What people don’t like about Christie is his bullying. He punishes anyone who gets in his way.

Consider, after a Democratic state senator crossed him, according to the Washington Post, she claims the governor asked his people “to take the bat out on me.” (She now keeps two baseball bats in her office, one with Christie’s name on it and one with her name on it.)

People don’t like leaders who get what they want by bullying.

Forcefulness and bullying are different sides of the same quality. What people like about Christie is also what they don’t like. A Republican communication strategist told the Post, “If Governor Christie were anyone else, he’d have to change the way he does things. But because this is the defining part of his persona, he needs to stick with it.”

The good turns into the bad. That’s not unusual in politics. During his first term, what people liked about President George W. Bush was his resolve (“The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”). During his second term, what they didn’t like was his stubbornness. In 2006, when Bush spurned the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s recommendations for a new course in Iraq, the Democratic National Committee called him “the most stubborn man on earth.”

President Bill Clinton’s empathy got him elected in 1992. He “felt your pain” at a time when millions of Americans were hurting. Incumbent President George H.W. Bush was famously out of touch. But when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke during Clinton’s second term, his empathy turned into slickness (“It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”).

President Jimmy Carter’s moralism had the same effect. It was a welcome breath of fresh air after the Watergate scandal. During the “malaise” crisis of 1979, however, it turned into sanctimoniousness. (“Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.”)

Then, Barack Obama’s thoughtfulness was a great relief after the impetuousness of President George W. Bush. But too much thoughtfulness can make a leader seem ineffectual. William Shakespeare, the greatest observer of human nature the world has known, made just this point with “Hamlet.”

Ronald Reagan’s political journey, however, was in the opposite direction. At first, Reagan’s radicalism made voters wary of him. Yet, by the end of the 1980 campaign, they began to admire Reagan’s conviction — a quality missing from Carter, the wishy-washy incumbent. Reagan turned the bad into the good.

It’s called crossing the line. There’s a fine line between conviction and radicalism, between moralism and sanctimoniousness, between thoughtfulness and ineffectualness, between resolve and stubbornness.

Christie may have crossed the line between forcefulness and bullying. What won Christie 60 percent of the vote in November is now turning off most New Jersey voters. According to a new Monmouth University poll, Christie’s favorability rating among New Jersey voters has dropped from 70 percent a year ago to 44 percent.

Christie’s misfortune is that the good turned into the bad before he could even run for president.

The odds of the controversy dying seem slim. Huge numbers of Americans have to deal with traffic problems. The idea that someone would deliberately cause a four-day traffic jam is outrageous.
As an act of political retribution, it doesn’t even make sense. Thousands of innocent people were hurt. The politician reportedly being targeted — the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, who failed to endorse Christie’s re-election — had no idea that that this had anything to do with politics. Or with him.

If the person you are taking revenge on doesn’t even know it, what’s the point?

It’s hard to believe that Christie knew nothing about what his aides were up to. There will now be investigations, lawsuits and possible criminal charges. The staff members accused of setting the plot are likely to cooperate with prosecutors who hold the threat of prison over their heads. They will talk, and they may say things that could doom Christie’s political prospects.

The story of Christie’s fall has great dramatic potential. It could make for the best New Jersey political movie since “American Hustle.”

How about John Goodman starring in “Trafficking in Revenge’’?

 

PHOTO (TOP): New Jersey Governor Chris Christie greets a member of the assembly as he arrives for his annual State of the State address in Trenton, New Jersey, January 14, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

PHOTO (INSERT): President-elect Bill Clinton reaches out to the crowd gathered to greet him after his acceptance speech in Little Rock, November 3, 1992. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

 

18 comments

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I take offense to how this article is opened up. Really, was it necessary to kick this off with the specter of antisemitism when the article has nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with the subject? I recognize that the mechanism was dropped in to illustrate how people could love and hate the exact same qualities concurrently, but that could have been done any number of ways.

The example in this article seemed to be used to be controversial, and needlessly so. The primary topic is controversial enough without left-field cheap shots to give the piece more juice.

Posted by DwDunphy | Report as abusive

Christie is only a governor – not a senator, representative or president. Yes, this is a mess of the higher degree in state politics, but we have a larger mess looming in federal government. When a president says he will ignore a branch designated to pass laws and use his “executive orders” to bypass it, that is a much bigger problem.

We have three branches of government for checks and balances. Each has its designated powers and should not be ignored or bypassed. It appears that even Reuters is giving Obama a pass on this latest example of hubris since the “I have a pen” remark was not even headlined on the politics page.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive

NO! aggressiveness is NOT the same as bullying…

Aggressiveness is going hard after something — BUT FOLLOWING THE RULES OF HONESTY, DECENCY AND ETHICAL BEHAVIOR.

Bullying involves picking on a weaker person who can’t fight back — and it is particularly bullying behavior when it is done to scare and intimidate the other person.

Bullying is a close cousin to extortion, not aggressiveness.

Christie crossed the line into bullying and extortion by holding the residents of Ft Lee hostage when their leaders did not toe the line that Christie had set for them.

Posted by GeorgeBMac | Report as abusive

The only line Christie crossed is the one from corruption to the side of professionalism. Christie is the best thing NJ has had in a long, long time and his record of how the state has improved is proof. Corzine was a crook and was backed by Pallone and the rest of state democrats and let us not forget about that. Christie is aggressive and that is what NJ needs as a leader. If you want a creampuff and corruption then go back and get Corzine.

Posted by Bighammerman | Report as abusive

Oh yeah, the aggressive executive orders of Obama bypassing our system of gubmint! I wonder where these people were when the other presidents were issuing such orders. Guess they were disrobing at the time.

http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/exe cutiveorders.asp

Posted by pyradius | Report as abusive

It is amazing that the news cycle is covering this inanity 24/7. Both liberal and conservative commentators are foaming at the mouth at every drop of useless information. The bridge closure is important—to the people who cross it. The other 99 999/1000 of America could care less. We have a president ruling the country by executive fiat, changing laws to suit his convictions, a justice dept that enforces laws before the Supreme Court even decides them, does not enforce Federal drug or immigration law, a situation where more people are uninsured today than six months ago and the hysterical news is about a bridge that only concerns a tiny, tiny fraction of people nationally, a dis-functional state staff relationship. And this is 24/7 news????

Posted by desertares | Report as abusive

This is just silly. I really cannot believe the media all the way up to Reuters has latched onto this and turned into anything close to a *real* story. This article reads as if Christie has already resigned and as if this is even close to the kinds of shenanigans that are going on around this country at the state level, let alone the federal government.

I find it pretty insulting that a trusted news source like Reuters would put out such poor quality journalism like this. I use Reuters above the rest simply because it’s less biased than any of the other print news sources (I won’t even talk about TV or radio). Bill Schneider should apologize for publishing what he wiped his rear end with this morning.

Posted by stevenhelferich | Report as abusive

Christie is a minted version of the same filth in congress that is destroying this country. Political payback is divisive and Christie has it written all over him, his past and his future. This type of man is the last person who should be in power.
We need leaders empathic to the plight of citizens in this country, not ANOTHER narcissistic vengefully bully who will only continute to sell the citizen short to corporate interests. He’s backed by two billionaires for a reason – because he’ll do what they want.

Posted by UScitizentoo | Report as abusive

He’s a fat lazy slob that has to bully to get anything for himself. He would be a failure in a merit based society. He has no skill, talent or ability that is of any practical use. And, that is why many US and particularly New Jersey people like him, because they can only have asperation similar to his. He provides an example of how a useless person can get ahead. Yell, yell, yell, and yell some more.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Whether Christie knew what was going on is irrelevant. His character set the tone for his administration. His aids acted as they expected him to act. He was sandbagged by being who he is. “Fate is the consequence of character,” said Epicurus. It isn’t Karma: It’s getting back what we put out. Moral: Nobody likes a bully.

Posted by JamesSutton | Report as abusive

Bullies are bad, but fat bullies with b.o. and bad breath are another thing entirely.

Posted by jimst | Report as abusive

Well, if it comes down to him or Hilary, I’ll vote for him.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

If Chris Christie was running for president today I would be running to the polls to vote for him. Ever had to deal with any of the administrators at the NY/NJ Port Authority? There had to be a reason the events took the turn they did that tied up the traffic. If the investigation is thorough and not politically biased, we should find out exactly what happened and who or what was the true cause.

Posted by alwayslearning | Report as abusive

Christie would make a horrible President just as he has been a horrible Governor. His uncouth approach to governance and disdain for those who challenge him would only make him a laughing stock on the world stage just as his buffoonery has added to negative comments about New Jersey. No Hillary, no Chris in 2016. Let’s have a President who puts the needs of the Country ahead of their own hubris.

Posted by cleverboots21 | Report as abusive

So Gov. Christie plays hardball? So what? No hu-hu with it by this FL voter. Moreover, I’ll vote for him in the primary if he runs. Especially if it comes out he knew his what his aides were up to. Why?

Simply because I’m tired of sanctimonious prudes like Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and other wannabes of their moral ilk running my party. Basically, I’m fed up with their religious agenda dominating real world issues like jobs and the economy.

For example, when their antigay positions took up 20 minutes during a debate, I knew it was over for the Republican Party in 2012. It made me sick to see how this was more important than getting the country back on its feet.

As far as I’m concerned, the GOP needs to root out all the crap candidates, e.g. those who know best what’s good for me and my fellow citizens. Especially those whose belief systems smack of trumping our personal liberty. Why do you think the Tea Party has risen so fast? It’s because people are fed up! Libertarian ideas are taking root because the Republican Party is hostage to those who would tell others how to live.

Further to the point, what’s the difference between what the Taliban does in the Middle East and Rick Santorum’s blue-nose morality if he had power over me? Not much in my view. In fact, I’d rather vote for a Democrat if presented with another ‘morality’ type Republican-candidate for office – any office!

Doesn’t the GOP get it? There’s a darn good reason religion doesn’t belong in government. It’s just as true now as when Thomas Jefferson put pen to paper.

Further to this, I don’t give a hoot if Bill does Bob. Neither do I feel it’s my business if Jane wants an abortion. I also don’t care if Jill fires up a doobie after work while Jack sips on his Scotch.

Why not? It’s because these are private matters and have no bearing on me and mine. You know . . . life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!

What I want in a candidate is someone who works to get things done. Period. What do I mean?

Well, a good start would begin with building a parallel 10-lane interstate – call it I-94 – and build it in close proximity to I-95. Why? It’s because it would facilitate the movement of people and goods up and down the east coast. It would create some needed jobs too. But really it would alleviate the parking lot we call I-95 by offloading some of the traffic. And forget toll roads, I hate those!

Another good start would begin with approving the Keystone pipeline. Why is this not done already? Sheesh!

Another good start would begin with letting contracts to repair, rebuild, and rehabilitate ‘every’ single interstate bridge, which highway engineers have identified as deficient.

And fix the potholes!

Where would the money come from? Gasoline tax. Simply raise it from it’s present $0.18-ish to $0.35 or whatever figure is enough to get the job done. Index it to the fleet fuel economy and this ensures there’s enough to get the job done. After all, gasoline prices fluctuate this much in a given month! Moreover, and quite frankly, we should do this because I’m fed up (and sick in my heart) each time the news breaks of another interstate bridge falling into the Mississippi. Common, this is America!

And no, we don’t need transponders in our cars to monitor how many miles we drive so we can be taxed by road-use. Especially because the fuel tax on a gallon does this nicely – automatically – without needing any extra people, extra hardware, or other intrusive ways for government to monitor me and mine. E.g. with how far I drive, where I go, whom I see, where I stop, etc. because it’s none of government’s business and if the data is gathered, it will be used and abused.

Another good start comes by eliminating regulations. I mean really doing it instead of paying lip service to the concept . . . by eliminating the entire bureaucracies!

For example, did you know a fellow who owns a 1957 vintage airplane worth $15,000 can’t install a $2000 auto pilot, which would improve his safety? Instead, he’s forced to either install a $12,000 FAA-blessed unit, or do without, which puts his very life at risk. Meanwhile, a fellow who spend $15,000 on building his own airplane can install the $2000 autopilot if he so pleases . . . yet both share the exact same airspace. Why? Intrusive and overbearing FAA regulations, which basically ensure the former pilot doesn’t spend any money updating his antique pride and joy the way any citizen who owns a 1957 Chevy can.

There are other examples, but entire bureaucracies like the FAA, FHA, Dept. of Education can be pruned . . . or eliminated altogether.

In short, a candidate who will work with Congress to get government out of our lives – except for things like national defense, building roads and infrastructure, etc. will get my vote. So bring it on Governor Christie . . . we’ll vote for you if you run. Believe me, the nation’s ready for someone to really clean up the namby-pamby ‘we know best’ government.

Posted by jbeech | Report as abusive

I guess he has all the qualifications to be President now.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

The Democrats and Conservative Republicans are following the Rahm Emanuel credo of “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
It’s a lot like sharks smelling blood. Christie haters will go to the mat with rumor and innuendo. Personally I hope they all fall on their figurative swords.

Posted by NHSteve | Report as abusive

Christie does not understand the value of balance in decision making and action. We must have a president that understands the value of balance. I cannot imagine for one minute Christie acting reasonably on the world stage. He’s fine for New Jersey but in world diplomacy? No.

Posted by explorer08 | Report as abusive