Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jon Stewart's Words on Humility Come Back to Haunt Governor Chris Christie
Photo David Weigel

Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you. Sometimes comedians have an uncanny knack for exposing a person’s Achilles heel. Jon Stewart interviewed Chris Christie in early December 2012 and asked him about humility in politicians.

Jon Stewart: "The storm seemed like it humbled you to some extent—"

Christie: "Of course it did—"

Stewart: "…My point is... thinking about other people’s circumstances sometimes, while it doesn’t seem as catastrophic as Sandy, is sometimes important to humble politicians, to understand that maybe people aren’t mooching… lazy…[or] looking for government to support them—"

Christie: "By the way, all these things that you’ve just said are not things that I’ve said. I will be very harsh on people who I think are out of line and stupid. And I’m not gonna— and I’m from New Jersey and so are you and we don’t mince words and everybody who watches this show knows that you don’t mince words, that’s why there’s so many beeps—"

Stewart: (Playing along, laughing) "...I’m a word mincer—"

Christie: "The point from my perspective is, if somebody stands up at a town hall meeting and asks a question and won’t let me answer it and I keep trying to answer it and they keep interrupting. There’s two ways you can deal with this. You can be a phony politician and say ‘well, jeez, I’m really put off by the way you’re treating me’… or you can say ‘sit down and shut up you idiot and let me answer the question.’ Right? That doesn’t make me non-humble, it makes me honest. It’s saying ‘listen, you’re being an idiot and if you are an idiot I’m gonna call you an idiot and if you don’t like it then stop acting like an idiot.’"

Jon Stewart’s laughter wasn’t about amusement. Which Christie didn’t seem to understand. He got a rise from the audience and that’s what he registered. In fact the seriousness of Stewart’s line of questioning seemed to have evaded him completely.

An honest man? It’s debatable. Because when Christie calls somebody an idiot, this is how it plays out. He’s at a town hall meeting and somebody who is angry with his policies because they’ve been personally affected, wants to ask a question. Christie gives them the go ahead but everything in his body language says ‘you’re an idiot’. His facial expression is very unaccommodating. It’s intimidating and anybody who’s experienced that and been affected by it will know that it’s hard to remember everything you wanted to say.

Anyway, the person will ask their question as best they can. Christie will listen until they’re finished. Again with the body language. Nothing about it that says ‘I really want to hear what you’ve got to say’. Then he’ll launch. If they disagree with anything that he says along the way he shouts them down and says ‘I respected you enough to listen to what you had to say. So you need to respect me enough to listen to what I have to say.’ And that’s when he calls them an idiot and humiliates them something awful. It’s shocking to watch. It’s also when he really comes alive.  The Ed Show has a couple of sickening examples. 

In the Jon Stewart interview Christie made as if it’s all a joke and just the New Jersey way of doing things. But he’s not joking when it happens, and it’s not funny for his victims. It’s about power and abuse of it.

As to Christie’s comment that he and Jon Stewart are both from the same state, where people don’t mince their words, it wasn’t smart. Jon Stewart is a comedian; it’s his job to not mince words. Christie is an elected official, whose role is to listen to his constituents and take their problems seriously.

Now Christie is facing a hearing that has recently flooded his administration with subpoenas. Christie first said he would co-operate fully in the interests of truth and transparency then has hired what Bloomberg Businessweek calls a “smash-mouth” defense lawyer – Randy Mastro. Mastro has gone against the Mob in New York, but he’s currently representing Chevron in its civil racketeering lawsuit against plaintiffs’ activist attorney Steven Donziger in an attempt to overturn a 2011 multibillion-dollar verdict in Ecuador awarded to poor rain forest residents who sued Chevron for environmental contamination. He’s fearless, ruthless, and expensive. There must be a reason why Christie needs him. Innocence doesn’t somehow spring to mind. 

And Christie’s problems keep piling up. He had planned to campaign for Senator Lindsey Graham in South Carolina in Spring, but the New York Times reports that the Senator said  last week that Christie wouldn’t be welcome because the focus would be on him and not in a good way. Kenneth G. Langone, Christie’s biggest funder and a huge supporter, expressed disgust at the GWB fiasco, saying “it upset the hell out of me”. He hasn’t said he’ll withdraw his support but he has told Christie to be smarter about those he surrounds himself with. 

The man who thought he could conquer the US with his brand of bragadaccio has dropped it and is avoiding public speaking as much as possible. One wonders whether now he knows what Jon Stewart was talking about regarding humility.