Christie is Latest Victim in System that Values Style over Substance

What we settle for in our elected leaders shocks the conscience. People actually defended George W. Bush by saying (apparently with some level of seriousness), “Well, you may not agree with what he does, but at least you know where he stands.” Bush actually repeated the same line to defend himself.

In what other occupation could a worker defend his incompetence by citing his honesty? Could a bus driver with three on-the-job DUIs tell his employer, “You may think I conduct my job in an unsafe manner, but at least I’m not hiding my problem?” Or could a chef tell his patrons, “The food is overpriced and undercooked, but we expect you will become a regular patron of our substandard establishment because we are straightforward about our lack of quality and high prices.” Of course not. Only in politics can a worker completely fail at his job, but still hold his head high because he claims to hold some ill-defined moral high ground.

As politicians get worse, what we will accept as a good leader just keeps sinking with them. Take Chris Christie. Here is a guy we can’t even say we know where he stands on most issues like we could Bush. Governor Christie is still placed on a pedestal, however, because he comes across as a straight-shooter. He may be incompetent, or perhaps not even a straight-shooter, but he appears to be a straight-shooter and that’s enough. That is how desperate we are to find a redeeming quality in our elected leaders. Or to put it another way, people are willing to accept a liar if the liar states those lies in a straight-forward manner.

George Carlin had a bit after the 1996 election in which he said people liked Bill Clinton because Clinton “was honest about being completely full of shit.” While Mr. Carlin was saying this presumably to get a laugh, it seems that Governor Christie has successfully personified the joke.

One can readily observe the problem with a society that relies on such superficial grounds when determining who to throw its political capital behind. When a politician is exalted for being a straight-shooter and little more, the moment it comes out that said politician acted in a manner that was not straight-forward, the large but vacuous support for that candidate collapses. We have seen that with Governor Christie. Two weeks after the bridge scandal surfaced, the governor’s job approval rating fell by 20 points, and that was a few weeks ago. I think it’s safe to say that number has not gotten any better for the governor. A more recent poll showed that nationally, Governor Christie’s two-point lead in December over Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical match-up had become a 21-point lead (!) for Hillary Clinton.

In case you wanted a visual illustration of just how on the outs Governor Christie is, I recently came across this laugh-out-loud photograph of the governor a few weeks ago with Governor Jan Brewer, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Mayor Bill DiBlasio. This is such a great depiction of what political kryptonite looks like.

Image

Governor Christie channelling his inner social pariah.

In a more mature republic, our support for elected leaders would be multi-faceted and complex so that if a candidate did something you didn’t like or was caught doing something shady, his or her career would not instantly vanish. Instead, that revelation would become just one factor of many in our analysis of the candidate. And barring a truly heinous act (e.g., abuse of a child), one single act or error in judgment would not forever banish the person from elected office.

We don’t have that. Instead we have an electoral system that builds political superstars overnight and destroys them the next day (remember the 2012 Republican Primary?). And those politicians that thrive in such a system, die there as well. Chris Christie is quickly finding out just how true that is.

– Dylan

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