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Opinion: Gov. Chris Christie has bullied his way to 'free ride' from national media

The Times of Trenton Newapape
By Irwin Stoolmacher

Gov. Christie is a gifted politician who, most experts agree, will easily win re-election. Achieving a job approval rating in the mid-70s in one of the nation’s bluest states while governing as a right-wing conservative is extraordinary.

How has Gov. Christie been able to do it? The first reason is former Gov. Jon Corzine. Christie’s in-your-face Jersey-style persona is a refreshing contrast to the low-key personality of his predecessor, a generally ineffectual governor who failed to address the state’s deficit and kowtowed to organized labor.

The second reason is his ingratiatingly self-deprecating sense of humor, which has served to counterbalance his frequent over-the-top verbal outbursts and periodic abusive name-calling.

The third is that Gov. Christie has benefited immensely from his exemplary, inspirational handling of Hurricane Sandy and his periodic demonstrations of compassion, e.g. expanding funding for his drug court initiative and signing the Overdose Prevention Act.

The fourth and the most important reason for his popularity is that the national media have fawned over his “take me as I am or leave me” style and, with rare exceptions, given him a free ride. Instead of exposing his cantankerous, combative, often abusive bullying personality and very conservative record, the national press has heaped plaudits on him and painted him as a conciliatory moderate. It turned his foibles into virtues, and since New Jersey does not have its own commercial television station, national coverage has been salient.

In a 2010 article in Inside Jersey, “What Should Freud Say?” the following appeared: “‘Bully’ is the label that pops up more than any other” when talking about our governor. James Harris of the NAACP tagged Gov. Christie as “the biggest bully in the state,” and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman called him “a classic school-yard bully.”
Let’s contrast this characterization in a New Jersey publication with what has been written and said about Gov. Christie in the national media.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd indicates that Gov. Christie’s persona is viewed positively by voters: “Americans are intrigued by unpolished, unvarnished, impolitic, knock-some-heads-together, passionate, chesty, even hefty. ... Christie can be a bully, but that may seem better than the alternative: a president who lets himself be bullied, and who lets the bullies run wild.”

New York Times columnist Matt Bai wrote: “Christie, as it turns out, has a preternatural gift for making the complex seem deceptively simple.” The governor and the national media have attributed much of his success to his ability to be flexible and bipartisan. (The New York Post in 2011 editorialized: “He’s focused and determined but also flexible, and those are qualities sadly lacking in Washington these days.”)

In his much-heralded 2011 speech at the Reagan Library, the governor said this about his performance: “We compromised on a bipartisan basis to get results. ... Our bipartisan accomplishments in New Jersey have helped to set a tone that has taken hold across many other states.”

In the January Time cover story “The Boss,” Michael Crowley wonders: “He’s big, he’s brash, and he’s not afraid of picking fights with Republicans or making allies of Democrats. Can Chris Christie bring his wayward party back to the center?”

What Gov. Christie and others label as bipartisanship is described by some as an “unholy alliance.” The governor got the votes for his legislative program by striking a deal with the state’s Democratic political power brokers (George Norcross, Steve Adubato Sr. and Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr.). This is what Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the leader of Democrats in the Senate who worked with Gov. Christie to pass pension/health-care reform, said about bipartisanship and the governor: “You know who he reminds me of? Mr. Potter from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ the mean old bastard who screws everybody.” The notion that bipartisanship is alive and well in New Jersey is a myth, as demonstrated by the governor’s inability to forge any sort of bipartisan consensus on filling vacancies on the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Gov. Christie has clearly governed from the right. He has increased taxes on working-class families to subsidize tax cuts for the wealthy, increased tuition at state colleges, reduced the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor, vetoed minimum-wage increases, abandoned support for women’s health care, failed to support bipartisan legislation to improve gun safety, continues to oppose abortion, vetoed a gay marriage bill and all but abandoned his one-time sympathy for global warning initiatives.

Make no mistake about it: If Gov. Christie emerges as the Republican presidential candidate in 2016, his Democratic opponent will not be as deferential to him as the national press corps has been. He or she will make it abundantly clear that he has not governed as a social moderate in New Jersey.