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MSNBC's Bizarre Obsession

Why Go After Chris Christie?

by ANDREW LEVINE

Democratic Party cheerleaders have so little to cheer about that they do the next best thing; they make fun of Republicans.   Republicans are easy prey.

Nothing could be easier: just let them speak for themselves.  This can be entertaining.   It is also useful for scaring the Democratic faithful into keeping the faith.

Even so, somebody over at Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters ought to tell Rachel Maddow and her colleagues at MSNBC, the all-Chris-Christie-all-the-time cable network, to put a cork in it.  The same goes for Christie-baiters in other corporate media.

They are not helping their cause.

This is so obvious that one has to wonder what they think they are doing.  Do they really want to quash Christie’s chances of getting to the 2016 primaries?

It sure looks that way, but it is hard to believe because the man is a godsend for the Democratic Party.  Maddow and the others must realize this.  Then why are they doing it?

Could it be the pressure of filling all that airtime?  Or the need to boost ratings so that advertising revenues flow in?

That makes sense: at MSNBC, they aren’t just shills for Democrats; they are also entertainers.  Still, one can only marvel at their shortsightedness.  They need to keep Christie around.

Who better to make Hillary Clinton look good?

Why, then, doesn’t Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the reigning DNC leader, tell Rachel and the rest of them to just shut up?

Could this be a case where the best is the enemy of the good?   Maybe they want Christie out so that the nomination can go to a certifiable whack-job in the Sarah Palin – Michele Bachmann mold.  Then Hillary would be invincible.

The GOP is full of characters that fit the role; and, as became evident in the 2012 primaries, the party is not shy about putting them forward.  Maybe Wasserman Schultz expects lightening to strike twice.

But this is reckless.  And even if she feels Democrats can afford to be reckless with Republicans for opponents, it still makes no sense to sink Christie now, and not just because he is as much a non-starter as, say, Marco Rubio or Scott Walker.

The Governor is hardly a pillar of the GOP establishment, but, for the time being, there is no other contender more congenial to their interests.  With the primaries still two years off, he is their best – indeed, so far their only – hope.

They need all the hope they can get too — now that the Tea Party, the Frankenstein they concocted, is beyond their control and hell bent on seizing the party that used to be their Thing.

Don’t cry for them, though; their hold on the GOP may be tenuous, but they still represent the miscreants who own a lion’s share of the world’s GDP.  Therefore they cannot be written off just yet.

Indeed, they are beginning to fight back.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently announced plans to donate huge sums to traditional Republicans running against Tea Party challengers in 2014.

Count on them and their class brothers (and sisters) to pull out all the stops when the White House next comes up for grabs.

In 2012, the Tea Party very nearly gave the establishment the boot.  But, in the end, the RINOs (Tea Party lingo for Republicans in Name Only) held on—securing the nomination for Mitt Romney, one of their own.  His hapless performance then hasn’t helped their prospects now.

By now, though, the dimensions of the problem they face must surely have sunk in.  They must realize that if they want to go on calling the shots, they are going to have to work harder at it.

It is possible, of course, that so much fight has been bred out of them – and that they are so unaccustomed to working for the privileges they enjoy — that their useful idiots will indeed prevail.  But this is far from a sure thing, especially as the plutocrats rally round.

But rally round what?  Chris Christie?  It the Democrats’ leaders and propagandists had half the wits they were born with, this would be their hope.

They should realize that in a country of some three hundred fourteen million people, there are bound to be suitable candidates Republicans can scrounge up; candidates who are dedicated to advancing the interests of the one percent, but who are not also lunatics or Democrats.

This is why, where Chris Christie is concerned, enlightened Democrats should boost, not knock.  They should pray that he become, if not the eventual nominee, then at least the main contender for as long as possible.

With his bullying demeanor, corpulence, and Jersey accent, the man is a whole season’s worth of Saturday Night Live comedy sketches waiting to happen.  Think Tony Soprano, but without the Menschlichkeit.

If they knew what was good for them, Democrats would replace their “It’s the economy, stupid” signs, if any are left, with signs reading: “Talk Up Christie, Stupid.  He’s Even Better Than Palin.”

And their Dirty Tricks Department would be preparing to stick yard signs in all fifty states bearing the slogan “Chris Chris, Never Indicted.”  [Apologies to Calvin Trillin who, if memory serves, came up with a similar slogan years ago for use in a campaign by some real or imagined candidate.]

Alas, even if the Democrats and their propagandists lay off, it is a good bet that Christie will trip up eventually, and maybe get caught doing something especially untoward.

But a wise strategist should want to put that day off; not hasten its coming.

And they should get their investigators to come up with a lot worse than a road-rage inducing traffic jam.

I sympathize with the people of Fort Lee, Buono voters or not; and I know from experience how awful it can be when the George Washington Bridge turns into a parking lot.

One time when it happened to me, the culprit, I was later told, was whatever was then going on at Yankee Stadium.  At the time, I would have gladly joined Rachel and Friends to rant about it.

But there is such a thing as a sense of proportion.

It isn’t as if the man kills people, with or without due process; or terrorizes entire populations, endangering the people he governs with blowback.

The Governor didn’t even violate anybody’s privacy rights – much less everybody’s.

Neither did he send troopers to intervene abroad, or pursue imperialist objectives in any other way.

His high crimes and misdemeanors, if any, are all of the old school corruption kind; the kind rampant in state and local politics back in the day.  They have an almost nostalgic appeal.

To be sure, he has practiced austerity politics to the best of his ability, and his commitment to neoliberal economic and social policies is reprehensible.  But in these matters, compared to the objects of MSNBC’s adulation, he is, as they say, small potatoes.

Of course, if he had the chance, his impeachable offenses might be even worse than those of the current occupant of the White House; that is how it is with Republicans, the party of the even worse.

But we mustn’t hold the man accountable for what he might have done or would yet do in another possible universe.  In the actual universe, all he did was inconvenience people trying to cross into New York City or to get around Fort Lee.

Could it be doubts about the gravity of this offense that are behind the latest brouhaha about his handling of Sandy relief funds?

At first, it was that some of the money went into ads promoting post-Sandy tourism on the Jersey shore that also promoted Chris Christie.  How scandalous!  Keep that level of self-promotion up for several decades and you just might find New Jersey plastered with as many politically motivated advertisements as, say, Chicago — with signs promoting the Daley organization.  What Democrat would stand for that!

The latest kerfuffle concerns charges leveled by the Mayor of Hoboken, Democrat Dawn Zimmer, that Christie aides threatened to withhold Sandy relief money if she didn’t approve a real estate deal with developers Christie was courting.

By the way, the developers are the Rockefeller Group, builders of Rockefeller Center in New York; and the Hoboken Mayor was one of many Democrats who had endorsed Christie in the last election.  Odd how she suddenly converted to the Good Government side!  Democrats must be smelling blood.

No doubt, more revelations are on the way; and over at the MSNBC offices around Rockefeller Center, they will be shocked, shocked, shocked that such things go on.

We don’t get very many chances to be grateful that most of the corporate media is either reactionary, like Fox News, or terminally boring and given over to conventional wisdom and pro-regime (though not necessarily pro-government) propaganda, like NPR.

But this time, there is a silver lining.  If they were all like MSNBC has become since the “Bridgegate” scandal broke, we would soon find ourselves in a situation similar to the one that took hold in the summer and fall of 1994, during the OJ Simpson trial – with Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes filling the roles played by Geraldo Rivera and Larry King.

That would not be a change for the better.  Larry can be as hard to take as any of the goody-goodies on MSNBC, but Geraldo at least had a certain charm.

The closest we have come to anything like this after OJ was in the Monica Lewinsky days when Fox News played the role MSNBC is now assuming.

But that had a certain prurient interest and, indeed, some good came from it: Fox’s obsessive coverage damaged Bill Clinton so much that he had to back off from taking steps that might have led to the privatization of Social Security and the undoing of other remnants of the New Deal and Great Society.

The “Lewinsky matter” also blemished the image of the President’s official wife in ways that continue to prove salutary.

Will any comparable good come from pillorying New Jersey’s hapless Governor?  Not only is it hard to see how; it is hard to see how anyone, even mistakenly, could think it would.

ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).