As we have been anticipating for days, Chris Christie, formerly a Republican favorite, currently a wannabe comeback kid, has finally stood behind a lectern at his alma mater, Livingston High School, and announced his run for the presidency. Like most high-school functions, the announcement was awkward, riddled with mildly embarrassing technical difficulties, and set to the tune of Jon Bon Jovi.
In keeping with his courtship of Big Pharma, Christie used the rhetoric of the armchair psychologist, claiming that America was not angry at congressional inaction and executive overreach, but rather, like a wallflower at prom, “anxious.” He assured the crowd that he was the one who could “sweep the country’s anxiety away,” by working with Democrats in order to fix the broken system.
From the great bag of Republican talking points, Christie chose defense and Obama-bashing to shore up conservative support. He called the United States the only good force in the world, and, echoing Machiavelli, said that as a nation we must stop wanting to be loved by other countries and start wanting to be respected, despite the fact that he closed this morning’s speech with the cuddly phrase, “I love you all.” In a departure from GOP 101, the New Jersey governor's voice rose toward the end of the speech as he seemed to proclaim a desire for expanded executive power, saying, “We need to have strength, decision-making, and authority back in the Oval Office.”
The major narrative that Christie was trying to pitch was that of the hometown hero who started from nothing and became a two-term governor of New Jersey and a presidential candidate for the United States. He cited his gubernatorial achievements as evidence of his readiness for the presidency. This claim made the presence, just outside the school, of a thousand people loudly protesting Christie's broken promises to fund pensions for state workers all the more awkward.
As the New York Times reported, back in 2010 Christie asked state employees to devote more of their paychecks to their benefits in exchange for a larger payout to pensions. Christie followed through on this promise for two years before claiming the state couldn’t afford to do it anymore. Christie cut the payouts by almost 60 percent, but the state employees still had to keep paying the increased amount for benefits.
State employees argued that they were entitled to the payouts under the law Christie signed himself. A lower court agreed with them, but then earlier this month the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed that decision, saying that it wasn’t the court’s place to intervene in budgetary issues.
Besides lower pensions and a loss of trust in Christie, the result of this pension mess was a downgrade of New Jersey’s credit rating, which has happened nine times since Christie took office. (This, presumably, was not among the achievements enumerated in his announcement speech.)
Add this pension controversy to Bridgegate, and his lack of transparency as governor, and you could almost describe Christie's campaign slogan “Tell it like it is” as disingenuous. If he’s accomplished anything positive in his home state, its citizens don’t seem to know about it. Right now Christie's approval rating is hovering in the low 30s, down from the mid-70s he was enjoying two years ago.