Without genuine bravery, all of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s brashness amounts to nothing more than the predictable disrespect and petulant tantrum throwing of a standard issue bully.
Chris Christie has a reputation for being a tough guy. It’s kind of his shtick. The image he has spent cultivating throughout his career is one of unwavering fortitude, based on the notion that he is his own man, that he doesn’t take crap from anybody, and that while some politicians will kiss your ass and tell you how pretty you are, Chris Christie will keep things real, hurt feelings or not.
Keep in mind, this is no more reflective of reality than any other politician’s contrived image management. It reminds me of John McCain’s fictional “Straight Talk” persona, or Newt Gingrich’s professorial “scholar of the party” nonsense, or the cartoonishly absurd rootin’ tootin’ cowboy act George W. Bush cultivated over 8 years. In reality, John McCain proved himself every bit the flip flopper people used to accuse John Kerry of being, these brilliant “ideas” Newt cooks up tend to be of the “we should live on the moon” variety, and as you will note, the minute George W. Bush stopped being president he abandoned that ridiculous prop of a ranch in favor of a proper Dallas, Texas mansion. Perhaps it was the crippling brush problem at Prairie Chapel Ranch, which could somehow only be cleared in the presence of photographers.
Chris Christie has chosen to take the lemons of his generally unpleasant demeanor and turn them into tasty, “I’m a freewheeling tough guy” lemonade. Be sure not to mistake any of this tough guy posturing for reality. He is every bit the craven, wobbly politician everyone else is. He just phrases his conservative boilerplate in the form of an insult. For example, this statement he made regarding his abortion stance:
I am pro-life, I believe in exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. That’s my position, take it or leave it.
That is a completely non-controversial standard issue Conservative statement, but by tacking that “take it or leave it” thing on the end he comes across as an independent thinker who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. It’s like saying, “I don’t care what people say, sweatpants are comfortable.” Yeah. Not really breaking any new ground there.
How then, did this plain spoken bad ass respond to the New Jersey Legislature sending to his desk a bill that would legalize gay marriage in the state? With hard edged “I don’t take no crap from nobody nohow” gravitas? Hardly.
Back in 2009, when Governor-Elect Christie was asked about the issue, he made it clear that he wasn’t just inclined to veto a marriage equality bill, he was enthusiastic about the prospect.
“If a same-sex marriage bill comes to the desk of Governor Christie, it will be returned to the legislature with a big red veto across it. Because, one, I believe that and I made it very clear to people during the entire campaign that that was my position and so there will be no surprise for the 1.2 million people who voted for me that that was and that is my position.”
How brave of Christie, to take such a clear and controversial stance during a time when absolutely no one was actually asking him to do anything. It’s easy to look tough when no one is trying to fight you. I can say “If current UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silvia came in here right now and tried to start a fight with me, I would totally whip his ass.” This in no way prevents me from urinating on myself and crawling in to the fetal position should such a scenario actually occur. Regardless, Christie had taken a clear pro-hate stance on marriage equality and wasn’t afraid to be kind of a jerk about it.
Fast Forward three years, and with polls showing far more public support for marriage equality, Christie seems to be willing to consider his options. In early January 2012 he said this regarding a potential vote in the legislature:
“They have a right to set their agenda, I’ll set mine, we’ll see who gets there first,” he said today in Camden . “When forced to make a decision, if forced to make a decision on it, I’ll make a decision.”
No mention of the big red veto. In fact, he avoids making any definitive statement. When it became evident that Democrats weren’t going to back down, he tried to dodge it again, this time by attempting to talk New Jersey lawmakers out of passing the measure in favor of putting the question to a referendum.
“I think this is not an issue that should rest solely in my hands, or the hands of the Senate President or the Speaker or the other 118 members of the Legislature,” he said. “Let’s let the people of New Jersey decide what is right for the state.”
Aside from the fact that the people of New Jersey elected those 118 members of the Legislature to make exactly those sorts of decisions, as that is sort of the entire point of representative democracy, this was an attempt on the part of Christie to escape the corner he had painted himself into. This is the same corner the entire Republican Party currently resides in. On one hand, his base, those Christie warriors who love telling the Governor all about how tough he is, have made it clear that they are taking anti-gay bigotry to the grave. They will never be letting up about it, ever ever ever, and will expect nothing less than 100% compliance on the matter if their support is to continue. When he had made his comment about the big red veto, marriage equality enjoyed only lukewarm support. Three years later those same polls showed substantial public support for equality. Suddenly, cheerfully vetoing equality legislation ran the risk of alienating independent voters. Displaying some of that patented Christie Toughness, the Governer did everything he could to slink out of the fight. It almost sounds like he is about to cry in this quote.
If the majority of the people want [same-sex marriage] prove it. Put it on the ballot, let it be voted on….I’ve told every Republican in the state legislature to vote to put it on the ballot. They need three-fifths to put it on the ballot. The Republicans have two-fifths in the legislature. So that means the Democrats only need to come up with one-fifth of the legislature…this is the bargain of your life. I’m giving you two-fifths! And the polls they show me say that if it goes on the ballot, it will lose. How much more magnanimous can I be? What else do you want me to do? Go campaign for it too? Look, I’m doing the best I can here!
By which he means, “I am too cowardly to sign this bill. I am going to go cry now.”
In the end, real bravery and genuine toughness could only be found in the legislature, who despite knowing that the bill would face a sniveling, pandering veto from the office of Governor Christie, passed the measure anyway; both because it was the right thing to do, and because it was going to be hilarious to watch Mr. Tough Guy bitch and moan about having to veto it.
As promised, Christie promptly applied his veto, cementing his legacy as one of a thousand politicians too morally insolvent to buck their party’s short sighted and bigoted views and side with equality. Christie chose to be small minded and unremarkable. Rather than do what is right, Christie has successfully avoided the wrath of his base by choosing to do what is wrong. The true measure and depth of his cowardice can be shown in the statement put out by his office in the wake of the veto. Calling his move a “conditional veto” he said this:
Today, I am adhering to what I’ve said since this bill (S-1) was first introduced – an issue of this magnitude and importance, which requires a constitutional amendment, should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide,” Christie said. “I continue to encourage the Legislature to trust the people of New Jersey and seek their input by allowing our citizens to vote on a question that represents a profoundly significant societal change. This is the only path to amend our State Constitution and the best way to resolve the issue of same-sex marriage in our state.
I have been just as adamant that same-sex couples in a civil union deserve the very same rights and benefits enjoyed by married couples – as well as the strict enforcement of those rights and benefits,” the governor added. “Discrimination should not be tolerated and any complaint alleging a violation of a citizen’s right should be investigated and, if appropriate, remedied. To that end, I include in my conditional veto the creation of a strong Ombudsman for Civil Unions to carry on New Jersey’s strong tradition of tolerance and fairness.
Screw you, Governor Christie. You don’t get to have it both ways. You can’t intentionally deny civil rights to the LGBT citizens in your state, and still get lecture everyone about how important equality is to you. Actually doing these things at the exact same time is positively appalling. Trying to pander to everyone simultaneously is the work of Mitt Romney, not someone who is supposed to be the down to earth, straight talking hero of the Republican Party.
Christie has sided with bigotry, and no amount of pathetic equivocation is going to change that. Equality has no middle ground, and the quest to find one is a temptation only the weakest and most pigeonhearted among us fall prey to. Without genuine bravery, all of Christie’s brashness amounts to nothing more than the predictable disrespect and petulant tantrum throwing of a standard issue bully. At some point New Jersey will see equality, and it will be due to real strength and authentic moral fortitude. Then we will know what real backbone looks like.
Image, top, by boris.rasin
Benjamin Phillips is a Humor Writer, Web Developer, Civics Nerd, and all around crank that spends entirely too much time shouting with deep exasperation at the television, especially whenever cable news is on. He lives in St. Louis, MO and spends most of his time staring at various LCD screens, occasionally taking walks in the park whenever his boyfriend becomes sufficiently convinced that Benjamin is becoming a reclusive hermit person. He is available for children’s parties, provided that those children are entertained by hearing a complete windbag talk for two hours about the importance of science education, or worse yet, poorly researched anecdotes PROVING that James Buchanan was totally gay. If civilization were to collapse due to zombie hoards or nuclear holocaust, Benjamin would be among the first to die as he has no useful skills of any kind. The post-apocalyptic hellscape has no real need for homosexual computer programmers who can name all the presidents in order, as well as the actors who have played all eleven incarnations of Doctor Who.
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