Because images and preceding narrative matter in the world of government and politics, some prominent figures in the arena have been stymied in their efforts to continue sailing on, or perhaps move up to the next level, all because past transgressions or indiscretions returned with a vengeance to do some serious spoiling. After 1969, for example, any outstanding contribution as politician and statesman originating from Ted Kennedy was pretty much guaranteed to be limited to his role as senator from Massachusetts, and not the office of president, for which he as well as others evidently thought him well equipped. Republicans remained forever prepared to make certain that the god-awful happenings at Chappaquiddick in the summer of ’69 would be Kennedy’s permanent barrier to further political elevation.
These days, the guy whose prospects for political ascendancy may be generating the most chatter is New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie. Whether, right out of the starting gates, it was part of his own design of a personal arc in electoral politics or his “handlers” immediately saw the governorship as a mere stepping stone to the biggest stage of all, we won’t speculate. What’s clear is that soon after Christie began his first term in 2010, he was being projected as hot stuff, with an obviously calculated effort to sensitize folk beyond New Jersey’s boundaries to the GOP’s great new hope. The mechanism was put in place to swiftly ensure Christie’s pop culture stardom. Video clips of “performance” bits by the governor, taken primarily from his celebrated town hall meetings, became regular You Tube features, the Christie promotion machine always ready to crow about how many hits they received.
With Superstorm Sandy last year came a new bunch of Christie images. Of these, we suspect that those of the governor making nice with President Obama when he visited the state’s devastated areas won’t come in for much use when Christie jostles with other GOP hopefuls for the 2016 nomination. Practitioner of bare-knuckled political street fighting as he is, Christie isn’t about to forget what a demonstration of warmth toward the president did to the political fortunes of another governor, Florida’s Charlie Crist. So when the Christie mill turns in earnest to his beating back the others to emerge as the GOP’s 2016 candidate, they’ll be dialing up images of him as New Jersey’s consoler-in-chief following Sandy and anything else that looks to burnish his conservative credentials.
Who knows, they may even revisit, as part of a P.R. offensive, scenes of the governor lambasting one of his favorite whipping boys, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and its members. It seems Christie has had the NJEA in his gun sights, if not before, certainly since he ran for governor in 2009 when the union dedicated a goodly sum, reportedly some $3 million, in support of Christie’s opponent. All of which sounds like politics as usual…except for the governor’s undisguised wrath against teachers. There is something rather unseemly about anyone opting to make pariahs of teachers. Teaching being the hallowed profession it is and teachers being generally regarded as underpaid for the awesome responsibility they have, casting them collectively in a negative light is unbecoming, particularly of a top public official. Some would say, though, that it’s hardly a surprise, given the “bully” reputation Christie has, consciously or otherwise, cultivated for himself.
The web site nj.com, in chronicling the many run-ins Christie has had with the NJEA or individual members, reported on one teacher who contended that Christie had told her, in response to a question, “I’m tired of you people.” Christie later said, according to the report, what he told the teacher was: “It’s never enough for you people. No matter how much money I give, it’s never enough for you people.” Even in that “corrected” version of what went down, a tone reflective of those teachers being perceived as, at best, irritants, is unmistakable.
But it is in some of the governor’s interactions with common or garden constituents along the way that are to be found video highlights of which the Christie crew won’t be particularly enamored. Like the poor slob who asked a question at a town hall meeting and Christie insisted he be escorted on stage so he could subject the guy to some up-close hectoring. Or the woman at another town hall who asked the governor where his children went to school (an educational standards disparity continues to be a big issue in the state) and was told by Christie: “That’s none of your business.” Shame on the guv for not knowing (one would hope he knows by now) that in the position he holds, where his children are schooled is very much the citizenry’s business. Worse than that, however, is the very idea of reacting in so uncouth a manner not to some politico with whom he’s doing battle, but a member of the public.
Supposedly they are legion, those images of Christie in full flight as the Garden State’s baddest bully. We don’t know if they constitute some of whatever baggage, as reports have suggested, the Romney team unearthed in its vetting of Christie for the No. 2 spot last year. But as for 2016, Christie’s so-called “tough guy” schtick affords opportunities aplenty, both within the GOP and beyond, for influencing electoral assessment of how much of a fit he really is for that coveted role.