Chris Christie, New Jersey-ness, and My Personal Problem with Mitt Romney
This one goes right to the top of the Wish I’d Written It pile: In the latest Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg hangs out with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at a Bruce Springsteen concert in Newark.
In the piece, Christie evinces many of the things — unbridled passion, outspokenness, and, yes, rudeness — I love about the place I’ll always consider my home state, no matter how long I live in the Old Dominion.
A few choice snippets:
Hey, Governor, where’s your pillow?” someone from an upper deck screams. It is the sort of taunt he should obviously ignore, but Christie is incapable of being anything other than his obstreperous self. He screams back, “I didn’t fall asleep! How could you even believe that?” He turns to me. “How could they believe that? I was meditating. It’s a very spiritual song.” I believe him. I’ve spent much of my life as a pro-Springsteen extremist (defined here as someone who has spent an unconscionable amount of money on Springsteen tickets and also refuses to contemplate the notion that Bob Dylan might be the better writer), and I have met very few people who love Springsteen the way Christie loves Springsteen.
You want to know what he’s saying?,” Christie asks. “He’s telling us that rich people like him are f*cking over poor people like us in the audience, except that us in the audience aren’t poor, because we can afford to pay 98 bucks to him to see his show. That’s what he’s saying.”
Wait a second, this is Bruce Springsteen we’re talking about, the guy you adore?
“I compartmentalize,” Christie says.
“There’s a split in the union movement, between the private sector and the public sector,” he answered. “The private sector is where they’re having huge unemployment. You think they want to pay higher property taxes and bloated benefits for their public-sector union brothers who don’t want to make any sacrifices? Those are not the guys Bruce is writing about. He’s writing about the carpenter and the pipe fitter, the bricklayer.” He pauses for effect. “And let me tell you something. Those guys voted for me.”
As Goldberg renders him, Christie isn’t all bluster. He has a surprisingly subtle take on Springsteen (whose body of work for me comes in second only to the Stones) as well as the creative life cycle of artists of his stature:
“There is some of his work that is dour and down,” he says, “but the thing that attracted me to his music is how aspirational it is — aspirational to success, to fun, to being a better person, to figuring out how to make your life better — and you can’t say that about most people’s music. They become successful and then they become self-consumed and then boring and narcissistic.”
Christie seems genuinely wounded that Springsteen more or less shuns him. On the one hand, it’s kind of pathetic that a man who holds a constitutionally powerful office and is successful himself (if not by Springsteen standards) seeks the affection, or at least the attention, of a celebrity.
On the other hand:
The depth of Christie’s love is noteworthy in part because most politicians — certainly most politicians of national stature — are either too dull or too monomaniacally careerist to maintain fervent emotional relationships with artists. And when they do, the objects of their affection resemble them ideologically or dispositionally—think of the loyalty that Pat Leahy, the liberal senator from Vermont, has for the Grateful Dead. Christie’s passionate attachment to Bruce Springsteen is something different, and much more complicated.
As someone with attachments as passionate and fundamentally irrational as Christie’s, I get it. I have an instant affinity for people who have such interior attachments, which compete with the urge to succeed professionally and make money. And for the record, I think Springsteen is acting like a jerk. If Springsteen, like Dylan, had a solid record of forswearing personal involvement in partisan politics, that would be one thing. But that horse left the barn a long time ago. I see no reason why Springsteen can’t at least acknowledge Christie — even if only a “Gov. Christie, I hope you’re listening” shout-out during the brief PSA section of a show he knows the governor is attending.
Personally speaking, I don’t want Christie to hitch himself to the Romney wagon this year. Temperamentally, the two of them represent about as stark a contrast as two politicians could. Something my grandfather used to say has stuck with me as an adult: I don’t trust that guy. He doesn’t drink or curse. He never has any fun. As I see it, this sentiment falls somewhere between what Edmund Burke meant, and what is commonly meant, by the word “prejudice.”
This has nothing to do, I should add, with the phenomenon of a politician seeming more “human” because of character flaws, like a history of infidelity. As far as we can tell from the outside, Christie seems like he’s as good a husband and father as Romney is.
In a word, Chris Christie is Jersey.
Just like, as Mark Bowden describes him, Ed Rendell is Philly, the other end of the axis of my homeplace:
When I thought he had been ducking my calls while I was reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and spotted him from the fourth floor window of the iconic newspaper building marching in a parade down Broad Street, I raced down and caught up to him in mid-strut. He had no security detail or protective phalanx of aides. He greeted me cheerily, and shot holes in my story with profane gusto all the way to City Hall, never missing a wave or a blown kiss.
These are my kind of guys. They inhabit a certain paradigm in my mind. It doesn’t make me proud to say this, but the part of me that feels comfortable with them is the reason why Mitt Romney will always seem like an alien to me.