Riding a wave after his comfortable re-election as governor of New Jersey on Nov. 5, Republican Chris Christie is finding himself receiving more nudges from within the party to sweep up any remaining traces of the Romney debacle and be the GOP’s chosen standard-bearer in 2016. Christie publicly postures himself as a man’s man -— someone you could sit down and have that proverbial beer with. He’s a red governor of a blue state. His blunt retorts and grounded persona supply plenty of fiery conservative sound bites. His electoral appeal also extends to women and minorities, votes perennially short in supply in a party dominated by white men and overt contempt for reproductive health. Don’t forget his dismissal of pesky civil libertarianism from the national dialogue. What’s not to love?
Christie, as we see him on TV, is a refreshing change from Mitt Romney — he doesn’t have the rigidity (or jawline) of an action figure, and I never get the impression that he snaps a puppy’s neck over his knee to let off steam before appearing in public. His snappy comebacks and swaggering down-to-business rhetoric even draw parallels to Ronald Reagan, the messiah of American conservatism. Personability is political gold, and Christie has plenty of it, padding his appeal as a national candidate. The Republican Party wants a figurehead that gets votes from Joe the Plumber and other red-blooded Americans. Isn’t that who they say they’re here for, the industrious little guy?
Sift through the regurgitated talking points about big-wig Washington liberals or union kingpins and it becomes increasingly evident that Christie’s perceived populism is a facade. His allegiance lies on America’s top shelf and panders to the homophobes, Drug Warriors, and phone tappers that work to keep the population obediently prostrate. This summer, Christie met Rand Paul’s criticism of the NSA with an emotional appeal to 9/11’s widows and orphans. Voiced skepticisms of carte blanche spying were written off as “esoteric, intellectual debates,” which, in today’s America, is a political insult. Christie’s tug on collective heartstrings is yet another display of neoconservative fear-mongering, the same phenomenon that littered American history with a litany of crimes, from Japanese internment camps to the Iraq War. These threads of logic eschew dialogue in favor of submission and venerate security over personal freedom, the purported foundation of Christie’s party. Where is the optimistic relatability in that?
Part of Christie’s reputation as an American for all Americans also comes from his more moderate stances, such as reluctant approval of a stringently restrictive medical marijuana bill (it sat unsigned for two months) and a separate measure which made gay conversion therapy illegal in New Jersey. The marijuana legislation was criticized as neglect of vulnerable children (see: fear-mongering). The latter was decried by social conservatives in the Garden State as a progressive attack on religious freedom, which increasingly seems to be the license to dissolve all other freedoms. These, along with in-state Medicaid expansion and praise of Obama’s management of Hurricane Sandy are painted as testimony of his ability to work outside the confines of party lines and weigh pragmatism over ideology. While willingness to cooperate is a virtue starkly absent from politics these days, and any espousal of it is admirable, I’m not sold.
The Republican Party of the Bush years, still dominant today and exhibited in Christie, frames itself as a champion of character and individuality, slayer of the big-government dragon. The same party, often joined by the Democrats they construe as insidious flying monkeys borrowed from “The Wizard of Oz,” is leading a persistent assault on all of those same stated principles. Civil liberties are brushed aside with gusto by one hand, the constitution held up in the other. Freedom to drink a Big Gulp is foundational, but smoking a joint is anathema. As an entity, the Republican Party has no interest in limited oversight or individual sovereignty. Don’t be fooled.