JONATHAN CHAIT MARCH 4, 2011
It took me a while to read the New York Times magazine profile of Chris Christie, but this anecdote struck me:
Last April, for instance, Christie claimed to be infuriated by a joke memo circulated by the president of the Bergen County chapter of the union. “Dear Lord,” it read in part, “this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, and my favorite salesman, Billy Mays. I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor.”
In a 15-minute meeting, the union’s president, Barbara Keshishian, apologized to Christie for the memo, but she refused to fire the Bergen County president, which further infuriated the governor. If his chief of staff had sent out such an e-mail, Christie told her, he would have been fired immediately. “That conversation embodies the elitism and the double standard that the teachers’ union thinks applies to them,” Christie told me last month, recounting the confrontation. We were sitting in the restaurant of the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, where state troopers and aides with cellphones buzzed around the empty dining room. Christie was in town to headline a dinner for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. “And you know what? I can’t entirely blame them for it, because politicians have treated them differently than everybody else, because they’ve been scared of them. And so part of the blame goes on the political culture of New Jersey that has helped to enable this elitist, double-standard attitude.”
The death-wish incident instantly became lore in Trenton and proved politically advantageous to the governor. It gave him a pretense to break off all communication with the union; he has refused to meet personally with Keshishian or her deputies since. And he has repeatedly used the ill-advised memo to portray himself as the courageous victim of unhinged union activists. At least once a week, it seems, he reminds some audience that the union once “wished for my death,” as if he were Robert Kennedy staring down the Teamsters.
The piece makes a reasonably compelling defense of Christie's policies. But, boy, is he a jerk. And a specific kind of jerk. I don't especially mind the blunt, confrontational personality type. But when you combine that with hypersensitive victim-seeking, the combination is unbearable. This is a man whose trademark form of public expression is abusing ordinary people in public. Playing the victim over a functionary's private (and fairly mild) joke is pathetic.