Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Briton on the Boss

I’ve had lots of questions from curious Britons about the continuing saga engulfing Chris Christie, Governor of the (great) state of New Jersey. I would not claim to be an expert in American politics by any stretch, but I did, of course, work on the campaign that saw our candidate, Governor Corzine, lose to the then largely unknown, but uncommonly large, Republican.

There is of course a lot of visceral emotion wrapped up in my response to the mess over the myriad of scandals that grow day by day. This was a man who put some of my dearest friends out of work, and defeated a man who, although not whiter than white and by no means a socialist, was a compassionate politician who stood up to established interests. Underneath the grey beard, grandfatherly demeanour and oh so boring ‘sweater-vests’ of Jon Corzine sat the model politician on paper. Polite, unassuming, good with figures, and an ego smaller almost all of his staff, Corzine was (despite everything else) a good governor.

More importantly, I saw Christie's cruel and unnecessary pledges and heard from the people that they affected. In the ‘Wild West’ of the American political system, removing the requirement for mammogram coverage in health insurance kills people, and I held crying women who feared that they would now die. I saw Camden, a tragic hell-hole, full of the most generous but desperate people – a forgotten monument to failed capitalism, but receiving none of the gloating coverage that East Berlin received after the fall. Christie’s response to the ongoing Camden crisis was to slash state aid and support, bolster their corrupt political establishment, and deprive their police force (who faced as much violent crime per head as Haiti) with a pay cut. New Jersey has the greatest gap in wealth in the United States, and more than a childhood in Birmingham or a job in Scunthorpe or the economic crash, the faces of her poor have made me a socialist.

It’s these policies that mean there should be no great surprise at the fall of Christie as a presidential contender, and possibly even as governor, or a free man. I’ve met lots of people who are more right wing than him, but expressed views I hold as flawed with compassion and love for their fellow man. Christie has had none of this – he was always an unprincipled political operator whose sole belief was that things would be better if he was in charge. This infuriated me, of course, but has also infuriated Republican ideologues, whose glee in Christie's demise I feel dirty sharing in.

So let’s not get excited about the personal scandals. For a start, half the Democratic Party in the state was complicit, either directly through their working with a man who trampled their voters, accepting his grace and favour or indirectly through the trashing of Barbara Buono (gubernatorial contender in 2013) like Corzine before her. Who cares if the world is now hearing about his dodgy personal relationships and childlike temper? He is a bully, unlike Corzine, but I could have told you that five years ago.

More disgusting are his hollow policies which already showed this side. His contempt for working people – teachers in particular – is far more damaging than the bruised egos of self-important individuals and a traffic jam. It was this contempt that was endorsed by Democrats by failing to keep scrutiny of him, and by failing to get our people to the polls. Look at this man, so easy to bring down, and yet he has an almost complete four year term to run. For shame.
And to this end, I love The Boss’ skit on it all, if only for the last verse. There’s nothing funny about that, so thank heavens Bruce sees it. 

For a more balanced, but totally accurate, take on Camden: