New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is set to face a podium once again today–this time, to deliver his second inaugural address and attend festivities in New York. The speech, whose audience will be far larger than just Christie’s constituents, will extol the virtues of bipartisanship as Christie stands accused of extorting Democrats.
Christie’s inauguration speech promises what The Star-Ledger, who posted the excerpts, calls “sweeping rhetoric,” and appears to leave out any mention of the multiple scandals that have plagued Christie’s office all month. Christie calls upon the state to “take on what is politically unpopular,” and multiple times calls for a smaller, more manageable government. Perhaps as a nod to those who do not see Christie as an ideological conservative, he makes note that he does “not believe that New Jerseyans want a bigger, more expensive government that penalizes success.”
But much of his speech focuses on uniting the state through partisan and socioeconomic divides. After a campaign focused so heavily on acquiring bipartisan support from prominent state Democrats, Christie makes sure to hint at his victories in the Latino and black communities, saying, “This election has taught us that the ways we divide each other – by race, by class, by ethnicity, by wealth, by political party is neither permanent nor necessary.” He does not, however, address racial inequalities occurring under his administration, like the decreased likelihood of receiving Hurricane Sandy relief aid if the victim is black or Latino.
Christie addresses bipartisanship directly. He insists that “we have to be willing to play outside the red and blue boxes the media and pundits put us in; we have to be willing to reach out to others who look or speak differently than us.”
Even Christie’s biggest detractors cannot deny that Christie seems to be developing a healthy record of “play[ing] outside the red and blue boxes the media and pundits put us in,” though some accuse his office of doing so illegally. The motive alleged for closing down the George Washington Bridge was to damage the Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s reputation after Sokolich refused to endorse Christie.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer alleges that she was approached by a number of Christie associates to approve a real estate project in her town of Hoboken. The mayor accused the governor’s office of threatening to withhold Hurricane Sandy funds if she didn’t approve. Zimmer’s telling of the story turns humanitarian aid delivery into a quid pro quo that very much requires thinking outside of those pesky red and blue boxes.
And herein lies the problem with Christie’s very subtle mentions of these scandals in his speeches. His reputation is so damaged and he has become the punchline to so many corruption jokes that the word “bipartisan” coming out of his mouth means only succumbing to the iron will of his administration or facing consequences. Phrases like “the strength of our diversity” ring hollow, with the silent addendum “…when everyone does what I want.”
Before this month, Democrats had been throwing darts at Christie, trying to paint him as a bully based on YouTube videos of him yelling at journalists and teachers. He played it off as attitude successfully for two reasons: yelling at a journalist at a town hall has no policy consequences, and Christie had a clear record of bipartisan work with the legislature that undermined the idea that he was too stubborn and loud to work with the other side. Now the latter record is close to entirely shattered, because no one can be sure that any Democrat working with Christie was not, at some point or another, made to fear what could happen if they did not comply with the governor’s wishes.
With that backdrop, Christie’s attacks on “the attitude of Washington, DC,” ring hollow. Christie’s speech decries “the attitude that says I am always right and you are always wrong… the attitude that puts everyone into a box they are not permitted to leave. The attitude that puts political wins ahead of policy agreements.”
Two months ago, when the bridge incident was but a quirky obsession on the part of the Bergen Record, perhaps Christie was a credible voice in objecting to “I am always right and you are always wrong” attitudes. One month ago, when Dawn Zimmer was still among Chris Christie’s biggest fans, maybe Christie could get away with claiming to put “political wins ahead of policy agreements.” But now, when even Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis is claiming to have been roped into the web of intrigue surrounding operations at Camp Christie, crying “bipartisanship” at every question facing his administration will not be enough.