In the music industry, it is called a one-hit wonder; the phenomenon of a recording artist who scores a chart topper only to fade from public view as quickly as the artist became a star. We see a similar dynamic in politics, with the elected official who suddenly appears on the national stage, is widely acclaimed as the second coming, and then plummets back to the ranks of mere mortals after a self-inflicted wound or the public’s awakening from a media induced coma. The list of political flameouts is long and the tales of their sudden downfalls legendary.
The latest of these over-hyped political celebrities is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The trash-talking Republican, former federal prosecutor has been cast into the 2012 presidential limelight due to a lame collection of GOP presidential wannabes and Christie’s brash “take no prisoners” approach to governance. The last New Jersey governor to reach the White House was Woodrow Wilson, a native of Virginia and president of Princeton University, whose “legacy” including segregating the federal workforce and screening the racist D.W. Griffith film “Birth of a Nation” in the presidential mansion. Christie, a political pugilist with no real intellectual underpinning to his agenda, is in stark contrast to another New Jersey governor who was once mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, Jim Florio. Governor Christie is being anointed for simply making noise, while Jim Florio, a real policy wonk, courageously sought to put the state on a proper fiscal course but was widely ridiculed by a fickle electorate, betrayed by some members of his own party, and roasted on the state media rotisserie.
The rise of Chris Christie has more to do with the downfall and disastrous term of his Democratic predecessor, Jon Corzine, than with anything the current governor did to merit election to office. The fawning over Christie by the national media is hilarious, though madding, against the backdrop of the disaster unfolding in New Jersey; particularly for the poor and African-Americans. This is the same governor who blew a $400 million opportunity for federal funding for public education and then cowardly blamed his education commissioner, Brett Schundler, another one-hit wonder. The Chris Christie that the national media has the audacity to elevate to presidential consideration is the same governor who refused to re-appoint the state Supreme Court’s sole Black justice. The state’s major daily newspaper, The Star Ledger, recently ran a front page, above the fold feature describing how the state’s African-American community is suffering disproportionately during this economic downturn and facing historic levels of joblessness. Christie is being credited as an education reformer but the state-run public school districts in places like Newark and Paterson continue to underperform with no real answer in sight from Trenton. So, while Governor Christie, draws raves for “taking on” the teachers union, Black and brown, and many working class white school children, are still stuck in bad schools and denied access to a constitutionally mandated “quality education.” And, the governor’s promotion of charter schools is an inadequate response for a public education system that habitually demoralizes children in poor communities.
Governor Christie’s “I’m the new sheriff in town” routine is only good for the first scene of this political drama. It has worn thin under the weight of the state’s withering economy, rampant unemployment, disgracefully high Black joblessness, failing public schools, a suspect juvenile justice system in which minority youth are detained longer than whites, and taxation that is driving residents out of the state. He doesn’t even pass the supposed Republican qualifying exam as a “tax cutter,” as he has tinkered at the edges and avoided the hard work of confronting the state’s overreliance on property taxes to fund public education. Real courage would have been admitting that the state must bear a greater share of education funding, and that it might require a shifting of the tax burden to state income or sales taxes. Instead, all we get is more boasting, and playing to the crowd in front of friendly audiences throughout the state.
So, if this governor does enter the 2012 presidential race, the national media would do voters a favor and provide a public service by actually reporting on the real conditions in New Jersey and quit the celebrity worshipping of Chris Christie. The governor can also stop feigning disinterest and come clean with his intentions. To impose this governor’s outsized ego and equally large shadow on the nation without qualifying his candidacy is an insult, and hopefully voters will be wise enough to differentiate between silliness and substance. Given the tremendous challenges facing this nation, we don’t need the political version of “Amateur Hour” posing as a presidential election.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.