Tag Archives: Chris Christie

How Not to Solve Real Problems

In a column about the GOP Convention, E.J.Dionne referred to Chris Christie’s speech,which he dubbed “Rousing, if deceptive.”

Dionne noted Christie’s admiration for his dad. “After returning from Army service,” Christie recounted, “he worked at the Breyers Ice Cream plant in the 1950s. With that job and the GI Bill he put himself through Rutgers University at night to become the first in his family to earn a college degree.”

“Good for his dad. But Christie somehow slid over the fact that it was government — through the GI Bill and by financing New Jersey’s fine state university — that gave the elder Christie his chance to rise. Are we to “sacrifice” the next generation by cutting student loans and even arguing, as is becoming fashionable, that some Americans shouldn’t get the opportunity to go to college?”

This convention’s delusional theme–its insistence that successful people “do it themselves”–has been properly debunked by numerous people; for that matter, it’s self-evidently false to anyone who bothers to spend five minutes thinking about it. As a friend remarked, “Do these self-congratulatory types really believe that people in, say, Bangladesh, are less motivated and entrepreneurial human beings? Do they not understand that you can’t sell goods to other people if those others are impoverished? Do they just not notice their own ‘dependence’ on an educated workforce, public safety and functioning infrastructure–none of which would exist without the government?”

True enough, and evident to anyone who hasn’t totally succumbed to ideological BS or irrational hatred of government. But that shouldn’t be our biggest concern with this particular alternate reality.

The problem with this failure to understand our social interdependence and the extent of the role government plays in our lives is that this particular form of blindness prevents us from fixing things that are broken.

I teach college. A college education is a time-honored tool of social mobility (it certainly helped Chris Christie’s father). When that education is successful, it also opens intellectual doors for students who would not otherwise pass through them. A genuine education that goes beyond mere job training enriches lives and enables human progress.

But the cost of a college education is rapidly escalating; it is becoming increasingly unaffordable, leaving millions of students with massive debt that takes decades to pay off. This is a problem we need to address. But like so many other current problems, we aren’t addressing it, because our energies are being consumed by arguments over the nature of reality.

The problem of rapidly escalating college costs is not going to be solved by cutting the programs that help students pay those costs. As another friend of mine likes to say, “you can’t cure a disease unless you diagnose it properly.”

People who don’t understand the problems–or who see problems that don’t exist rather than the ones that do–can’t solve them. They are not the people who move America forward.

NOW I Understand!

A few days ago, in a post about N.J. Governor Christie’s decision to abort a badly needed tunnel linking New Jersey and New York, and his multiple lies about his reasons for doing so, I admitted that I was baffled: there was no scenario I could come up with that made the decision explicable.

Now, Paul Krugman has supplied the answer that eluded me.

I started to quote an excerpt, but his column needs to be read in its entirety. Click through and read it. And ponder.

The degree to which contemporary politicians have substituted delusional ideology and naked self-interest for any lingering allegiance to  the public good is breathtaking. And so very, very depressing.




I Just Don’t Understand

There are a lot of positions conservatives take that I understand, although I disagree with them. There are sincere anti-abortion people who believe life begins at conception, for example. Belief in “fiscal responsibility” leads many people to draw (bad) analogies to household budgets and disputes over what sorts of behaviors actually are fiscally responsible.

I even understand–I think–where less intellectually respectable positions come from. The desire to roll back women’s rights to birth control, equal pay and similar markers of equality, the hysterical response to same-sex marriage (or even equal civil rights) for GLBT folks, the punitive attitudes toward immigrants and similar attitudes are pretty clearly part and parcel of a profound unease with contemporary realities, and a desire to return to a (largely imaginary) past.

But what in the world motivates opposition to mass transit?

A couple of years ago, Chris Christie–the Republican Governor of New Jersey–killed one of the most important transit projects in the country: a tunnel that would have linked his state to Manhattan and relieved the congestion that currently chokes both. At the time, he claimed his reasons were financial–that New Jersey’s share of the costs were simply too high.

Yesterday, it turned out he was lying.  Not mistaken, not misinformed. Lying.

I hope everyone reading this will click through and read the whole report. This is absolutely bizarre behavior, but what makes it worse is a passing reference in the article to the fact that opposition to mass transit has become part of the conservative “creed.”

Why in the world would someone have a philosophical opposition to transit? I certainly understand believing that a particular project is not well thought-out, or too expensive or otherwise flawed, but opposition to all mass transit? To suggest such a belief sounds paranoid.

The tunnel Christie killed is desperately needed, and had been planned for many years. It would have relieved congestion and helped the environment (okay, I realize that conservatives also reject science and the fact of climate change, but still). If built on schedule, it would also have created jobs at a time when those jobs were desperately needed.

I thought Christie was stupid and short-sighted for pulling the plug over up-front costs that would be recouped (many times over) over the long-term. But stupid and short-sighted are explicable; flat-out lying in order to justify an otherwise inexplicable decision is beyond my ability to understand.


What Governor Christie Doesn’t Get

Yesterday, the New Jersey Senate voted to recognize same-sex marriage. Indications are that the Assembly (the lower house) will do likewise. Meanwhile, an equal-protection lawsuit is working its way through the New Jersey courts; it would be mooted by this legislation.

Governor Christie has vowed to veto the measure–no surprise. But his professed reason means he is either dishonest or constitutionally ignorant.

Christie says he’ll veto the bill because so important a matter should be subjected to popular vote.

In the United States, we don’t get to vote on other people’s rights. The whole reason for the Bill of Rights was to protect minorities–not just members of different races or religions but people with unpopular ideas or different ‘lifestyles’–from unequal treatment by the government even when a majority of citizens wanted government to treat those minorities unequally. The Bill of Rights is what we call a “counter-majoritarian” instrument; it protects our individual rights against the passions and prejudices of the majority.

Perhaps Governor Christie should consult the famous explanation by Justice Jackson in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnett. 

The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials, and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.

(Of course, in a consistent world, this principle would also apply to state legislatures. No one would get to vote on whether another citizen was entitled to equal rights. But in case it has escaped notice, this is not a consistent world. In any event, as my mother used to say, two wrongs don’t make a right.)

I don’t get to vote on the Governor’s rights, and he doesn’t get to vote on mine. If the legislature doesn’t override his threatened veto, the courts eventually will. That’s not “judicial activism.” It’s application of a bedrock constitutional principle.