I give you (once again) The Honorable Governor Christopher James Christie of New Jersey.
One of the more pernicious developments of the past two decades has been the widespread acceptance of the Beltway proposition that there was something fundamentally wrong with disagreement in politics. That a failure to achieve a consensus or “Bipartisanship” on any given issue is a sign of a failure by the parties involved to put “country above party.”
The American people want “moderation”, “centrism” and “compromise” – the Beltway punditocracy solemnly intoned. The American people are “sick of the partisanship”, they want “pragmatism”, they want “Bipartisanship”. The American people are crying out, desperate for “moderate” “centrist” politicians who are not “controversial” or “confrontational” – who “reach across the aisle” to find the “middle ground” and build “consensus” to “get things done.”
As a sidenote; it is not entirely a coincidence that the heavily liberal Beltway circuit really began to push this new conventional wisdom somewhere around late 1994 and early 1995 – right after the Gingrich led GOP made history by winning both Houses for the first time in 40 years. Unfortunately, (or inevitably) as most Beltway conventional wisdom usually does, it found a receptive audience with the GOP’s so-called “moderates”, and some of them even got themselves organized post-cocktail into a group dedicated to “bipartisan legislative results” that was never considered necessary when the Democrats were in the majority.
Ultimately, this new conventional wisdom of the typical American voter crying himself to sleep at night because Republicans and Democrats are not whispering sweet nothings into each others’ ears on Capitol Hill and in the various state capitals successfully established a new “civility” in politics that has made it a faux pas to address issues directly lest it offends some interest group, or effectively criticize the opposition. Turning things on their heads, somehow the punditocracy has managed to convince itself and far too many Republicans all over the country that politics is supposed to be free of strong disagreement.
This perverse new “civility” came with its set of rules, conventions, dos and don’ts, vocabulary, not to mention third rails and sacred cows. Certain subjects were off limits for discussion. Certain policies and programs were beyond debate. Bringing these issues up was “partisan”, “divisive”, “confrontational”, “insensitive”, “wedge-issue politics”, “extreme”, etc. The enforcers of this new civility are the self-appointed elite, the LA-DC-NYC cocktail set – the people the New York Times’ David Brooks reverently refers to as the “educated class.”
Which is why reading Tom Moran’s write-up post the smack down that made both he and Christie (the man he called Governor “Wrecking Ball” – get it?) famous, it is not hard to believe that Moran’s confusion at Christie’s continued “confrontational tone” is not just typical opportunistic partisan hackery but actual genuine confusion. What Christie is doing and the way he is doing it, is simply not done. As he put it;
The political mating ritual usually requires that both sides make nice noises about each other, and describe their differences as manageable. It’s all part of making a deal, getting stuff done.
In other words, there’s a script – and its one that doubly applies to Republicans in Blue states like New Jersey. It says; Don’t make waves. Don’t rock the boat. All those promises you made during the campaign? Put them aside for your re-election campaign and just go with the flow. Lower taxes? Small government? School choice? Those are “divisive” and “confrontational”, “extremist”. Worse, they’re so unsophisticated. They certainly won’t make you popular with the “people that matter”, you won’t get invited to the fashionable soirees to sip wine with the elite, and, worse they’ll threaten your re-election prospects. Instead say things like “Bipartisanship”, “both sides” and “get things done”. Be anodyne, nebulous and non-specific. Play it safe, keep an eye on the polls and take care not to annoy any interest groups (especially liberal interest groups) that can throw significant amounts of cash into an opponent’s campaign warchest.
It’s therefore easy to see why Tom Moran, who as the editor of the state’s largest newspaper, is a charter member of the NJ political establishment, is so flummoxed – Chris Christie not only is not following the script so helpfully written for him by the infamously corrupt, intellectually incestuous and comfortably liberal NJ establishment, one that has been followed so assiduously by his predecessors in both parties, he seems to have torn it up to tiny pieces and scattered those tiny pieces to the four winds.
There are certain things you’re not supposed to say, most especially when they’re true (e.g. public sector unions are wholly destructive parasites killing their states), but Christie is saying them. There are certain things you’re not supposed to do (e.g. slap down asinine partisan hacks masquerading as impartial reporters) but Christie is doing them. Certain people, organizations, policies are supposed to be sacrosanct and beyond question or challenge, but Christie is slapping them around as if the “rules” did not exist.
Worse, instead of sitting back and allowing himself and his policies and decisions to be attacked without hitting back – as Republicans are expected to do (see “New Tone” and Bush, George W. – who thought this would make him a “statesman”) because that’s what the punditocracy assures us the electorate wants, he’s gone all out to defend himself and take the battle to the establishment. Instead of ducking fights, he joyfully unsheathes his sword and jumps into the fray. The word “controversial” does not frighten him. Poll numbers faze him not at all.
And it’s driving the establishment crazy. Christie’s refusal to play ball and call things as they aren’t is wreaking havoc across New Jersey political world and threatens to bleed out to other states and infect others. And people like Tom Moran, including many registered Republicans, long used to and dependent a political culture based on polite fictions, obfuscation, noble lies and self-interested deal making are not liking the new environment they’re finding themselves being forced to inhabit.
All hail Governor Christie.