Is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a GOP turncoat? Is he Barack Obama's new BFF? Or is he just a blunt, walking symbol of what has happened to political discourse in the country?
Some conservatives are a little miffed at the heavy praise Christie has lavished on Obama in the aftermath of super-storm Sandy. Obama, Christie said, has been "wonderful," keeping in direct contact, cutting red tape, and basically doing everything he can to help the victims of the storm. Christie got very testy when it was suggested that either he or Obama was concerned with the election next week. "I don't give a damn about Election Day. It doesn't matter a lick to me at the moment. I've got bigger fish to fry," Christie told reporters. And when he was asked directly by a Fox News host whether he would take Mitt Romney on a disaster-tour through the ravaged Garden State, Christie looked more than a little annoyed, saying he didn't know, didn't care, and really did not have time to think about anything other than helping his traumatized and homeless constituents.
This is quite a switch from what Christie said about Obama just weeks ago. Then, Christie described the president as:
a man wandering around a dark room, hands up against the wall, clutching for the light switch of leadership, and he just can't find it.
What's Christie's political agenda here? Disappointing as it may be to die-hards in both parties, the likely answer is that Christie doesn't have a political agenda. The coincidence of the storm happening right before Election Day isn't forcing the straight-talking Christie into politicizing the tragedy. He's just doing his job as governor. And doing his job means working with the president, no matter which party he is in, to rebuild and repair.
That hasn't stopped the distasteful talk about whether the storm helps Obama, since it shows him looking presidential (which only happens if people believe he is doing a good job handling the storm), or whether it hurts him because he can't spend as much time campaigning. The question is, somewhat understandably, vexing for the Romney campaign. There's not much he can do. If he does nothing and continues campaigning in what is a very gettable win for him, he looks callous. If he tries to appear as though he actually is the president (he's done a bit of this, calling FEMA and governors), he looks a little opportunistic and self-serving, since he has no authority to do anything for the damaged areas. And if he criticizes the president's response, he just looks silly, especially since the governors—including his own party's Christie—have been complimentary of Obama, at least regarding the response to the storm.
Romney held a relief event in Ohio, which was well-meaning, perhaps, but a little transparent. First of all, he had a biographical video and campaign music, so it looked sort of like a campaign event (and it was held at the site where a campaign rally was originally scheduled). Secondly, he collected canned goods—exactly what the Red Cross says it does not want, since such items must be sorted and transported. If anything, the gesture by Romney made him look like he's stuck in some earlier, "father-knows-best" era, where the story line is one of one family made homeless by a fire, and the church-going local community coming together to feed and house them. This is an enormous disaster, affecting millions of people, and collecting cans and used clothes won't do it.
But none of that matters, since government continues, even in a heated presidential campaign. Obama's put politics aside, and so has Christie. The rest of us should follow suit.
- Read Robert Schlesinger: Mitt Romney's Electoral Problem and the War on Nate Silver
- Read Ford O'Connell: Barack Obama's Failed Campaign Strategy
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