It is almost impossible to overcome an effective political bully like Chris Christie.
In all societies, public rhetoric involves some measure of lying, and history—political history and art history—is made when someone effectively confronts the lie. But in really scary societies all public conversation is an exercise in using words to mean their opposites—in describing the brave as traitorous, the weak as frightening, and the good as bad—and confronting these lies is the most scary and lonely thing a person can do.
—Masha Gessen, Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot
Hey, listen, Kelly. Politics ain't bean bag, okay? And everybody in the country who engages in politics knows that. On the other hand, that's very, very different than saying that, you know, someone's a bully…I don't hide my emotions from people… Now, that has always made some people, as you know, uneasy. Some people like that style, some people don't. And I've always—I think you asked me the question day after the election, are you willing to change your style in order to appeal to a broader audience? And I think I said no because I am who I am. But I am not a bully.
—Chris Christie, Bridgegate News Conference
Christie inhabits a rare space in American politics: He's a bully. He's followed around by an aide with a camcorder watching for moments in which Christie, mustering the might and prestige of his office, annihilates some citizen who dares question him…He's someone who uses his office to intimidate people and punish or humiliate perceived enemies…What makes Christie unusual is that he's a bully with power. That can be a dangerous combination.
—Ezra Klein, "Chris Christie's problem is that he's really, truly a bully," The Washington Post
The remarkable thing isn't that Chris Christie and his staff have been revealed to be vindictive bullies by "The Bridge Caper." What's remarkable is that anyone had any other impression of the Christie Administration until now.
Chris Christie (along with his brain trust, and most notably now disappeared Bill Stepien) are political geniuses who have created an entirely new political genre—the totalitarian democracy. By successfully presenting himself as a populist through his brusque and bullying manner, Christie has pulled off the tour de force of shifting revenues from the poor and the middle class to the rich, of rewarding mayors and municipalities that line up to support him and punishing those who don't, while producing a landslide victory margin as a Republican in a Blue State.
In doing so, Christie labels "white" as "black" and vice versa. All he thinks about are the people's welfare is his claim. Yet most of his pubic statements are about himself and most of his political moves are based on whether they will enhance his power and prestige and support his priorities and prejudices. Even political opponents kowtow to him, afraid of his retribution, eager for his largesse. To oppose Christie is to take your political life in your hands. Meanwhile, many liberal commentators and media egg him on: New Jersey's largest newspaper, The Star Ledger, considered to be a liberal publication, endorsed Christie for re-election as New Jersey's Governor.
And so did many Democratic politicians. After all, he was bound to win. So why not run up the margin? And who wants to court his wrath and miss out on his benevolence towards his friends?* Thus Democratic mayors in New Jersey fell into line for Christie in order to get funding for local programs, while those who failed to kowtow, like Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, were shut out. No matter that hers was the municipality that was most damaged by Hurricane Sandy, with 80 percent of the town submerged. Christie would give the town nothing if it refused to go along with a development project represented by his political guru and powerhouse lawyer David Samson.
Chris Christie may or may not be headed for political oblivion, although his magical aura is certainly tarnished beyond rebuffing. But he has created a whole new concept of how to manipulate mass political images and impressions, an invention others will surly adopt.
* I lived in New Jersey when Christie initially ran for governor in 2009. I voted for neither him nor incumbent Jon Corzine, but for a third-party candidate. And, as a resident of Morris County, I didn't vote for him when he was elected freeholder (a position he subsequently lost in a Republican primary in which I could not vote). But, now safely ensconced in the bowels of Brooklyn, I am free to speak my mind, unlike New Jersey residents.
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