This month’s Quinnipiac poll asked New Jersey to choose: is Gov. Chris Christie a ‘bully’ or a ‘leader’? As if the two are mutually exclusive! Teddy Roosevelt was both a bully and a leader. (The guy was probably even shouting, “Bully!” whilst leading people.) For anyone who’s been following state government lately, the answer is undeniable: the Republican mammoth is both bully and leader.
Because Christie grasps what Jimmy Breslin calls the essential truth of political power: it’s smoke and mirrors. An illusion. “If people think you have power,” writes Jimmy The Great, “then you have power. If people think you have no power, then you have no power.”
Breslin got this idea from that Brit philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who carved his name in the tree of enlightened political thought when he called the human condition “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Kind off like Gov. Christie, except he’s not poor and about average height.
For the Bully-Leader atop Trenton is nasty, brutish and certainly solitary. He has no equal in Garden State government. All who dare challenge him soon find tha… well, um, hold on a moment. ‘All who dare challenge him?’ Yeah, not so much. Now, Christie’s got enemies, believe you me. But none of them wield elective office. His only near rival is a South Jersey ironworker with a high school diploma, state Senate President Steve Sweeney. A boss-backed pol with conservative tendencies, Sweeney hardly seems like the face Democrats would want to put on their stands against the governor’s wrecking ball. But a funny thing happened on the way to the statehouse: everyone else stopped thinking they had power. And for that reason, they have no power (even though Democrats hold large legislative majorities and corner offices in major towns and cities).
Most prominent in this group is the Democrat that the almighty Conventional Wisdom has anointed to challenge Christie in 2013: Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Only Booker seems to have no interest in leading statewide. He’ll follow the Front Office as long as Christie keeps the special state aid flowing.
In fact, it’s been the Bully-Leader and his Buddy-Lackey from the get-go. Mere hours after Christie unseated one-term Gov. Jon Corzine, Booker was buddying up with him to tour a Newark charter school. Both Christie and Booker think pouring public tax-dollars into privately owned for-profit education is a good idea. And they agree on Christie’s plan to permanently cap property tax increases at 2.5 percent by amending the state constitution. That way, towns would only have so much leverage in managing their finances—forever. Booker thinks this is a great idea, even though it takes away his and other mayors’ power. But what do they care? They’re not using it!
Christie’s been stumping throughout Jersey for his constitutional cap with a huge blue sign that seems to have a hidden message. It is the picture of an arrow pointing up, with a smaller arrow inside of it, pointing down. Perhaps the big arrow is a reference to Christie (large and climbing) and the smaller arrow is every other state politician (gobbled up and going down). Because while Christie enjoys the support of Mayor Booker and other prominent Democrats, they are totally expendable to him.
He is, after all, the lead bully. Bullying is Christie’s rationale for imposing a permanent cap. The budget-tightening will have such a negative impact that municipalities will be coerced into making the decisions they’ve avoided for so long. Towns will consolidate, libraries will be closed, personnel will be laid off or see their compensation slashed. Pain will be inflicted via town leaders via constitutional amendment via Bully-Leader Christie. It’s enough degrees of separation for him to avoid complicity when quality of life plummets. And yet, as Blue Jersey’s Jason Springer points out, he’ll still be able to claim credit for the tax cuts. The sausage gets made and Christie’s apron stays clean.
It’s strikingly similar to the governor’s position on the Democrats’ national healthcare reform, where Christie’s toying with joining other Republicans from around the nation in a lawsuit to challenge it in court. Their basis is that it’s unconstitutional to mandate the purchase of health insurance—a flawed argument to be sure, but a popular sentiment since it’s an anti-tax gesture.
Though while Christie slags the way that reform gets paid for, he’s reaping its benefits. When he came into office in January, the governor cut prescription drug funding for senior citizens so he could give new tax cuts to New Jersey’s millionaire-billionaire set. But then in March, the healthcare reform law sent the state new federal aid, allowing Christie to restore the seniors’ prescription funding. He claimed as much credit as he could, which is dishonest since he opposes the law.
But who expects a bully to set a good example? Probably why they don’t always make such great leaders.