Yesterday’s announcement by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie that he will not enter the 2012 Republican presidential field likely broke the hearts of many journalists who have been pining after the overnight sensation. There were likely more than a few bruised egos among reporters who were seduced by the teasing Christie like the high school cheerleader winking at the nerd. The governor showed enough leg to titillate the media and distract news organizations from more important matters. Clearly, the media has a man crush on Chris Christie.
We agree with Governor Christie’s explanation that he is “not ready” to enter the presidential race but wince at his suggestion that it simply is not “his time” to seek the White House. The latter suggestion reveals his egotism, as if the nation simply needs to be patient before it can benefit from his leadership. We don’t know if Chris Christie’s time to serve in the Oval Office will ever come. Nor do we think that should be the motivation for public service. In the pursuit of a Christie candidacy, we have witnessed the worst of our “celebrity” obsession in American politics. Over the last week the media turned the 2012 presidential election into the political equivalent of American Idol, and Governor Christie willingly played the audience favorite.
The tough and brash, trash talking governor from New Jersey suggests he likes his current job and he needs to focus on matters at home. He is right. The state of New Jersey, like so many other states, is in disarray. Public education in the Garden State, though high quality in many affluent communities is sorely lacking for the overwhelming number of poor, Black and Latino school children. It’s collection of cities, small by comparison to other metropolitan centers in the country, have been devastated and the governor has shown little interest in developing a comprehensive plan for urban renewal. Governor Christie has been credited by the media with being an education reformer, his reputation largely built on his bullying of public school teachers. While the media has been giddy over his tough tactics with the state teachers’ union, journalists have by and large given Christie a pass for the dismal performance of state run school districts, the continued deterioration of public education in many corners of the state, and a hodgepodge of state colleges that were anointed “universities” under the administration of the last Republican governor, Christine Todd Whitman. The economic downturn has crushed the African-American community with record levels of unemployment, and according to a recent report, minority youth are literally being held hostage by the state’s juvenile justice system. New Jersey residents are burdened by an onerous tax structure that literally penalizes local communities for striving to provide a quality education to children. The overreliance on property tax assessments to fund public education has crushed homeowners and pitted communities against each other. By and large, Governor Christie has his hands full and even entertaining the idea of seeking the presidency was a tremendous waste of time.
The media has given us the 2012 version of “Lonesome Rhodes,” the overnight sensation turned demagogue in Elia Kazan’s 1957 classic “A Face in the Crowd.” Andy Griffith’s character begins as a humble, “aw shucks,” hobo but is transformed into a power hungry false prophet, drunk with fame driven by the media. In the case of Christie, the former federal prosecutor’s populist rhetoric quickly took a dark turn when it became clear the media, beginning with the Jersey press, was desperate for the next idol. The political newcomer was more than happy to oblige, and his reputation as the Eliot Ness of the State House was quickly sealed by his penchant for bullying the opposition.
We hope Chris Christie has permanently left the presidential stage, but given the instability in the Republican Party, we caution that we may not have seen the last of the New Jersey governor. It is a long march toward the party’s nomination and if it appears the field will not produce a viable candidate to take on the President, we would not be surprised if Chris Christie resurfaces before the GOP gathers for its nominating convention in Tampa.