“The Great Dictator” of New Jersey crosses a bridge too far

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – “The Great Dictator” of New Jersey, GOP Gov. Chris Christie, has held that office for the last four years. He gave the keynote address at the last Republican national convention, where he was touted as both a future presidential nominee and as a “moderate Republican.”

In terms of policy, no one who is knowledgeable about New Jersey politics knows of a more reactionary governor, a more anti-labor governor, and a more personally abusive governor in the state’s modern history. His demagoguery has been as unbridled as his appetite.

For example, he called the National Education Association the “National Extortion Association” and, early in his administration, defined the “class struggle” in these terms: “There are two classes of people who live in New Jersey. Public employees who receive rich benefits and those who pay for them.”

In his attempts to privatize public education, gut pension benefits for the lowest-paid public employees, coerce communities into budget cuts under the threat of ending state aide, Christie has been as bad as Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and many others in the Rogues Gallery of “Tea Party” Republicans. Fortunately, a Democratic legislative majority has blocked many of his worst initiatives, although his deals with powerful South Jersey Democratic machine bosses, more than anything else, explains his “successes.”

If Christie didn’t exist, the late Charlie Chaplin or perhaps Mel Brooks would have invented him. In our media-saturated society, he combines the general world view of Archie Bunker with the screaming and general physical appearance of Ralph Kramden, two classic characters of American situation comedy. 

In fact you might say that the people of New Jersey are victims of Bunker-Kramden syndrome, which individually may lead to weight gain and possible high blood pressure, and collectively always leads to less teachers, police, fire and other public servants and a government that acts like it has turette’s syndrome, that is hysterical and sometimes foul-mouthed outbursts when confronted with real situations.

New Jersey, traditionally, is an old fashioned liberal labor state, a state with both a clear Democratic majority but also Democratic party machines, especially in the South near Philadelphia, who are blasts from the Tammany Hall past,  more at home with Republicans like Christie than with progressive Democrats in their own ranks.

In last year’s election, they sold out a courageous progressive Democratic gubernatorial candidate, State Sen. Barbara Buono, and either covertly or overtly supported Christie, who has been more than willing to pay them off and buy them off.

Politicians like Christie operate in a double standard world. As representatives of wealth and privilege, they can get away with violating the rules until, of course, like Joe McCarthy or Richard Nixon, they go too far.

Christie hopefully went too far when it was revealed, thanks to “smoking gun” emails, that his administration deliberately closed lanes of the George Washington Bridge to create four days of traffic nightmares for residents of Fort Lee, New Jersey and other Bergen county communities, and everyone else unlucky enough to be in traffic, as an assault on elected Democratic leaders who refused to play ball with him on various issues, especially his attempt to emulate Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush at the state level by packing New Jersey state courts with rightwing judges. If Christie were a progressive governor, I imagine that Fox News and “conservative media” would be comparing this to the Soviet’s Berlin Blockade (1948) and calling for an “airlift” to aid stranded motorists.

But this really wasn’t just another scene from the Christie sitcom. Ambulances and other emergency vehicles were seriously delayed, contributing to the death of an elderly woman.

Christie’s “response” was that it was stupid (not of course the actions of a petty tyrant) and a few heads have rolled, which has always been standard operating procedure in his administration.

He obviously hopes that the whole thing will blow over and he can get on with his business as usual, dividing public and private sector workers, resisting legislation to raise minimum wages and restore progressive taxation, while forcing increases in all regressive taxes and fees-making daily life harder for the majority of people who live in New Jersey.

The Democratic leadership of the Assembly is talking about launching an investigation of this latest scandal. Without the collaboration of powerful Democratic state machine bosses, Christie’s bullying of anyone and everyone who opposes him would have been his downfall long ago. Usually, when the tide turns against politicians like Christie, politicians who operate through fear and intimidation of both his opponents and even members of his own party, it turns quickly, as opponents and victims of such politicians unite against them.

Hopefully, that will be the case here. If the state’s majority Democratic party acts now to defend what people across the political spectrum used to call responsible and honorable government.

Photo: Chris Christie. Mel Evans/AP


Norman Markowitz
Norman Markowitz

Norman Markowitz is a Professor of History. He writes and teaches from a Marxist perspective, and has written many articles on a variety of topics, including biographical entries on Jimmy Hoffa, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the civil rights movement, 1930-1953, and poor peoples movements in U.S. history.