By Bob Cesca: I’ve been extraordinarily critical of Chris Christie since he first emerged as a gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey back in 2010. In most cases, I feel that my criticism has been valid (though I sometimes regret the, shall we say, more ad hominem attacks).
After all, he entered the national spotlight as part of the midterm wave of far-right tea party candidates in 2010 and has since operated as promised with an agenda of tax cuts for the rich, tax increases on lower income residents, and extreme austerity, with significant cuts to education, $7.5 million cut from women’s clinics, cuts to healthcare for seniors and Temporary Disability Insurance, and Christie vetoed a same-sex marriage bill while taking steps to enforce the existing discriminatory law. Unemployment in New Jersey is higher than the national average — the fourth worst in the nation — and has gone up during Christie’s first term.
As a governor, he’s a mess. But he should be applauded for his actions and conduct during and after Hurricane Sandy, regardless of our disagreements with his policies.
His remarks in the immediate aftermath of the storm when he appeared on MSNBC and praised the president’s response, as well as his bipartisan cooperation with the administration were, admittedly, shockingly refreshing to observe, especially considering his performance up to that point and the continuous inability for Republicans to cooperate with the president. Christie’s embrace of Obama as a management partner during the hurricane required integrity and toughness, especially given the shitstorm from the fire-eaters on the right he was surely due to receive as a consequence. That said, there are probably quite a few Republican voters right now who wish that Christie was their presidential nominee and not Mitt Romney.
The contrast couldn’t be more striking. Again, I don’t expect Romney to swoop in and personally organize bucket brigades to drain the subway tubes in Manhattan, but the actual Republican presidential candidate appears to have been barely phased by the fact that there was a national emergency.
On one hand, Christie was out front from the moment the hurricane loomed on the coastline and was unafraid to reach out to the president. Romney, on the other hand, spoke briefly about the hurricane on Monday, while awkwardly tying the emergency to Ohio’s 18 electoral votes. Then, while government workers like firefighters and police officers who Romney once claimed he wanted to fire, were scrambling to mitigate the catastrophic damage, Romney staged a “canned food drive” in Ohio (18 electoral votes!), which was, in reality, a campaign rally complete with country music singers and Romney’s convention video. And just after I posted my column about this topic yesterday, we learned that Romney/Ryan staffers purchased $5000 worth of granola bars and diapers from Walmart as props for the non-rally rally — I mean, relief effort.
The whole thing echoed Paul Ryan’s phony-baloney soup kitchen photo op during which he washed pots and pans that were already clean. Two displays of totally fake selfless volunteering from two wholly fake candidates. Not only do they utterly lack authenticity, but their photo ops appear to be torn out of the George W. Bush playbook — the “Give a Fake Turkey to the Troops” chapter.
At a time when we’d expect to see Mitt Romney at least attempting to be the leader of the Republican Party and potentially the most powerful political leader in America, it turned out, instead, that the governor of New Jersey outshined Romney in every way.
While Romney continued to lie about the president’s record on welfare reform and the auto industry throughout Wednesday afternoon, Chris Christie went out of his way to reach out to the president and ignore policy differences or any mandatory far-right hatred of the president. Finally a Republican who could cooperate with the president when it was most important.
By the way, we witnessed once again the president’s mensch-like ability to reach out to any political enemy who’s willing to return the handshake. It’s a character trait for which he’s never given proper credit by many in the press and on the right. Stack this up alongside his rock solid leadership and management of the crisis — his steady, constructive efforts to make sure federal emergency aid was expedited to the places that needed it most. But this should come as no surprise to anyone who’s rationally observed this president in action from the 2008 financial collapse on through Hurricane Sandy. The president has repeatedly proved his leadership skills and crisis management acumen while Romney bungled his response to the Benghazi attack and staged a phony food drive for a couple of hours in Ohio then resumed his campaign strategy of lies and shape-shifting. But because Romney comported himself well-enough for 90 short minutes in the first debate, he’s given a pass by voters who possess backwards priorities, and so the race has become much closer that it ought to be. A 90 minute debate performance (in which Romney mostly lied and shift his positions) should not be confused with actual leadership skills. Romney has displayed none of those skills and can’t even get a grip on his flailing staffers.
And when even the governor of New Jersey outshines the Republican nominee for president on overall comportment and willingness to set aside partisan disagreements during a major crisis, voters ought to take a very serious look at their ballots and vote accordingly.