Monday, November 1, 2010

I Accuse Chris Christie

I penned the following editorial attacking Chris Christie for my graduate school's newspaper, "The Rutgers Observer". Unfortunately, the proofreader responsible for reviewing this piece decided - for reasons about which I don't care to speculate - to utterly mutilate much of its grammar; as a result, the published work has grammar that is actually inferior to that of the article I submitted.

Here, thus, is a grammatically correct version of my Chris Christie editorial.

As a historically-minded Jew, I am very familiar with the story of the Dreyfus Affair. In an incident that rocked the foundations of turn-of-the-century France (the last century, not this one), a Jewish military officer was falsely accused of treason, framed for the crime even after his innocence had been proven, and ultimately had his case become a rallying point for liberals throughout the world fighting against corruption and injustice.

Along with this, the Dreyfus Affair is noteworthy for having produced one of the most memorable letters in the history of Western politics. Written in 1898 by the esteemed author Emile Zola, it was addressed to French President Felix Faure and, under the title “J’Accuse” (translation: “I Accuse”), accused the French government of sloppy criminal prosecution, wrongful imprisonment, and blatant bigotry. Ever since then, the term “J’Accuse” refers not only to Zola’s work, but to any piece composed with the intent of exposing injustice by pointing a finger at those responsible for perpetrating it.

Needless to say, I mention all of this because I think it is high time for a “J’Accuse” letter.

The man who needs to be accused is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

When he took office at the beginning of this year, Christie claimed that the state’s budgetary crisis required him to demand sacrifices from all of that state’s citizens. Before long, thousands of school teachers and other state employees lost their jobs in the name of fiscal solvency; thousands of retirees found their medical benefits reduced and their pensions forever frozen; and public schools lost $1 billion of funds, depriving an entire generation of children of the education they’ll need to be economically competitive.

All of this, Christie and his supporters insisted, was necessary, perhaps even heroic. These were not the actions of a callous man casting countless of the very citizens he had sworn to protect to the wolves, but a valiant warrior fighting for fiscal sanity. His legacy was not the snatching of vital support systems from the elderly, the denial of a fair future for the young, and the infliction of terrible financial hardship on the working class by tossing thousands of them onto the unemployment rolls during the nadir of the worst economic crisis in more than six decades. No, his legacy was the attainment of an ideal so magnificent that responsible men and women should ignore such trifles as massive human suffering – that ideal, of course, being a balanced budget. As Christie and his acolytes would have us believe, the old and infirm, the young and helpless, and the workforce itself should feel honored to have been sacrificed at the altar of this idol.

Of course, a handful of observers noted that one group was not being asked to make any such sacrifices. When legislation appeared before his desk that would have raised taxes on the wealthy, Christie promptly vetoed it. Middle-class owners might have had their property tax rebates taken away; college students may have watched as tuition rates rose and scholarship opportunities fell; but it was simply not right, as Christie saw it, for the wealthy to also spend more money.

For one thing, they were clearly much more sorely afflicted in these trying times than the working class, the middle class, the elderly, the young, and the college bound; for another, to paraphrase the great economist John Kenneth Galbraith, stuffing the feedbags of the rich with piles of oats meant that some might fall on the road for the sparrows (that is, everyone who isn’t rich). Before we could protest, we were patronizingly assured that this was the best of all possible ways to feed the birds.

Even if one somehow found all of this objectionable, however, comfort could at least be taken in appreciating the purity of Christie’s motives. The budget would be balanced – perhaps not at a fair cost to everyone, but balanced nevertheless.

Now Chris Christie has announced that he is going to fight for a massive tax cut for the rich, one that – if passed – will blow a giant hole in his precious budget, destroying all semblance of balance.

What could this mean? I don’t envy the cognitive dissonance that Christie’s supporters (at least the self-respecting ones) must be experiencing as they try to rationalize this. Nor, for that matter, will I try to plumb the depths of their no doubt tortured psyches. Instead of continuing to promote excuses, it is time to bluntly state what common sense makes clear to all but those too devious, dense, or deep in denial to admit it.

Chris Christie does not care about the best interests of the average New Jerseyite. His primary concern is with the self-interest of this state’s wealthiest residents, of which he is a member and from whom he receives the bulk of his campaign funds.

As such…

I accuse Chris Christie of being a tool of big business. No matter how shiny and colorful the ideological wrapping paper with which he covers his real agenda may be, the reality is that his motivation – as made undeniably clear by the policies he has pursued – is to increase the wealth and influence of the rich right-wingers who backed his last gubernatorial campaign and can be expected to bankroll his next one. Indeed, the only meaningful difference between Christie’s conduct and that of the type of prostitute viewed less favorably by society is that the former wears a business suit and allows its conscience rather than its body to be violated in exchange for money.

I accuse Chris Christie of being a liar, an assertion I can support with the simple act of comparing his claim (that his primary goal is to balance the budget) with the truth (that he is now ruining the balanced budget so as to give more money to the wealthy).

I accuse Chris Christie of betraying his oath. The oath to which I refer is the one he took while being sworn in as Governor of New Jersey, in which among his other pledges, he vowed to promote, to the utmost of his ability, “the peace and prosperity… of the said state.” He did not swear to promote the peace and prosperity only of the young, or only of the old, or only of one group or another group. His promise was to promote the peace and prosperity of the entire state – and because he has focused only on the interests of the wealthy, I accuse Chris Christie of failing to uphold that oath.

Sadly this article can’t end here; a movement exists, as I write, to run Chris Christie for the American presidency, and barring a drastic unforeseen development, there is every reason to believe it will arrive at its goal in 2012, 2016, or 2020. That is why I have one last accusation:

I accuse Chris Christie’s non-wealthy supporters of stupidity.
The rich right-wingers who govern this governor at least know that, when doing so, they are making advances for their own personal cause, even if the philosophical core of that cause is the triumph of greed over basic human decency. Non-wealthy Christie supporters, however – the ones who cheer at his speeches, wave placards at his rallies, sign petitions urging him to run for president, and mouth variations of his rhetoric throughout the nation – are guilty of abandoning elementary powers of discernment and self-preservation in the name of believing that solidarity exists between themselves and the men who write their pink slips, and that they are being moral when they share in the contempt of the upper classes for the vulnerable and the less fortunate.

Had these Christie supporters been alive in the days of Robin Hood, they no doubt would have denounced the merry men as Communists and hailed the Sheriff of Nottingham as a freedom fighter.

For the molested version of this article as published in "The Rutgers Observer", see:

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