Memo to self: Don't take a three-day weekend if you're trying to stay on top of the Gov. Chris Christie beat. Since I last sat at my newsroom desk Wednesday night, New Jersey's Most Convenient News Source™ has released a report that was commissioned by Chris Christie -- and paid for with your tax dollars -- that found that Chris Christie had absolutely nothing to do with the Chris Christie Bridgegate scandal, tangled with reporters, accepted the resignation of Port Authority chairman David Samson (who, by the way, had nothing to do with David Samson's Port Authority scandal), then flew his Lear jet to Las Vegas to see the total eclipse of the sun to seek the 2016 presidential nod of casino gazillionaire Sheldon Adelson, only to crash in apologies and bickering over his view of Israel on the West Bank and Sharia law. (Thus proving that right wingers do believe in "political correctness"...when it's their politics.)
Anyway, I caught a few snippets of the weekend political shows on cable, and most of the Christie chatter still centered on the George Washington Bridge retribution scheme and on charges of politics in shorting Hoboken on Sandy recovery money. Those things are very important, and the hope is that lawyers who are not on the Christie administration payroll will eventually get to who is telling the truth, and who is lying. But sometimes we fail to see the forest for the trees. The events of the last four or so days have opened a giant picture window into Chris Christie's character -- a flaw so large you could drive a Mack truck though it, assuming the orange cones are down.
There may be a more polite way to say this, but politeness is not called for. Chris Christie is a male chauvinist pig.
I know some people were shocked when the $1 million report filed by the Christie-friendly law firm of Randy Mastro found that after interviewing scores of people and (possibly) reading reams of documents, emails, texts, etc., that this entire misunderstanding -- let's just call it a misunderstanding, OK? -- was the result of an emotional, scorned woman. The truth is that nobody should have been surprised at all -- that the foul odor of sexism, larded with misogyny, has followed Christie and the men with whom he has surrounded himself long before the boys even rolled into Trenton.
Even if you just started paying attention to Christie 10 weeks ago, the governor's sexist attitudes were hiding in plain sight. At the governor's infamous, 109-minute press conference, you could see the divergence as the one female aide linked to the scandal -- Christie's deputy chief of staff Bridget Ann Kelly -- was fired on the spot, immediately branded as "stupid," and singled out for lying. Meanwhile, Kelly's predecessor in the job who then became Christie's campaign manager and had been in line to run Christie '16, Bill Stepien, was also cut off but in much kinder terms; the governor made a point of stating "I am sad today to have to take this action." He didn't seem sad about poor Bridget at all -- but at the time you could at least argue that 1) Kelly was the one (known) scandal figure in Christie's direct employ and 2) her actions -- emailing "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" -- were, arguably, worse.
But then the Christie-commissioned Mastro report took things to a new, different -- and frankly a little weird -- level. As the New York Times noted in an excellent piece on the issue, the report describes Kelly as "duplicitous, weeping frequently and dependent on men for approval and stability" -- and the primary driver of a scandal where all the other people involved just happened to be men. Even though both Kelly and Stepien refused to talk to the Mastro-led commission, the panel -- without naming their sources, naturally -- went deep into the personal life of Kelly, a divorced mom, in revealing that she'd had a romantic relationship with Stepien (also single) that it claims was ended by him.
Then she did what most women do after a breakup -- she closed two access lanes to the George Washington Bridge. OK, the report doesn't really say that. but it does repeatedly suggest -- despite a lack of hard information, or logic -- that it was Kelly's emotional state that was somehow linked to her job actions (and not pleasing her boss, Gov. Christie.) For example, the report uses the word "emotional" five times -- four times regarding Kelly and once in a positive sense about Christie and his supposed sadness at his betrayal by his aides but especially by that woman, Ms. Kelly. Thank God the Mastro commission didn't have subpoena power over Kelly's monthly cycle, or we probably would have learned all about that, too.
The funny thing is that the report has nothing to say about the emotional state of the men in the scandal -- including the two Port Authority higher-ups who carried out the scheme, David Wildstein and Bill Baroni, or about Stepien, nor does it deem their personal lives relevant except where Stepien's intersects with Kelly's. Indeed, the sexism of the report is so ingrained -- and so clearly meant to be a distraction, especially for the tabloid segment of the press that simply can't ignore the first hint of sex in any scandal -- that Mastro, Christie or their inner circle didn't even seem to anticipate the obvious backlash.
There's another reason they were so clueless, I would argue. Sexism isn't an odd new twist in the Christie plotline, It's interwoven into every chapter, present on every page.
Look, for example, at Christie's sometimes contentious relationship with the Democrat-led state legislature in Trenton. The governor has had bitter clashes with lawmakers over issues from reapportionment to the appointment of judges -- yet there is just one legislator about whom Christie actually said to reporters, "“I mean, can you guys please take the bat out on her for once?” Do you think it was Steve Sweeney, the hard-bitten ironworker union leader who actually runs the state assembly? Or was it Assemblywomen Loretta Weinberg, a 76-year-old grandmother.
Who do you think it was?
Christie's entire tenure has been marked both by a frat-house style atmosphere at the top, and by a particularly aggressive posture towards women who seem to be in the way. It started in his very first successful campaign for political office, during his brief stint in the 1990s as a Morris County freeholder., Christie accused the female on the incumbent slate, Cecelia Laureys of lying -- with such intensity that she later said she felt “intimidated” by him. During his stint as U.S. attorney, a female lawyer named Gina Mendola Longarzo who dared to challenge Christie's handling of a case was actually then barred from entering his office. She later told the New York Times: "“It’s not a good idea to butt heads with him publicly.”
Not if you're a woman, no sir. Ask the everyday citizens of New Jersey. This is a governor, you'll recall, who built his fame -- and remarkably, his case for the presidency in 2016 -- on the back of his "blunt," combative style. Most of the combat was against...women. When a female teacher named Marie Corfield asked Christie how teacher layoffs were helping the middle class, the governor responded dismissively, "If what you want to do is put on a show and giggle every time I talk, then I have no interest in answering your question.” And remember that time that Christie wagged his finger at a teacher on the boardwalk at Seaside Heights and shouted. "What do you people want!?" Yup, "you people" was a woman, Melissa Tomlinson.
Then there was another time that Christie's staff helpfully posted a video, "Chris Christie Gets Into a Shouting Match With an Idiot.” This time, though, it was different. It was later reported that the male law student that Christie had bullied in public was a former Navy SEAL -- and the governor immediately apologized. Apparently, a male Navy SEAL rates higher in ChristieWorld than a female teacher.
THEN there was this time in 2012, when a female protester affiliated with the Occupy movement challenged Christie in New Hampshire where the governor was campaigning for Mitt Romney. His response: "Something’s going to go down tonight, but it ain’t going to be jobs, sweetheart!"
I wouldn't even know where to begin.
The blatant sexism of Chris Christie would be unacceptable under any circumstance -- but it might be mitigated if his actual policies were beneficial to the women of New Jersey. Except that they have not been. Indeed, Christie has been unrelentingly tough on the teachers' union in the Garden State -- and a whopping 75 percent of the state's teachers are women -- while not so confrontational with other government-employee unions that are more male-dominated. The supposedly moderate Christie has flip-flopped over the course of his career against reproductive rights for women and sensible gun-safety measures, toward the stances of GOP presidential primary voters and away from what's favored by a majority of New Jersey women. In Christie's first year of office, he slashed $7.5 million for women's health programs at the same time he was vetoing a tax on millionaires.
At least Christie is consistent. The man who can't hide his contempt for women who challenge him at a town hall meeting also can't hide his contempt for them when he wields his gubernatorial pen. To me, this is an even bigger problem than what the governor knew about the lane closings on the bridge. In the 1970s, at the dawn of the women's movement in this country, there would have been little doubt of what to call Christie: A male chauvinist pig. You don't hear that term much anymore, but I hope that's because some men actually got the memo.
Unfortunately the memo is still waiting in Chris Christie's in-box. The man is sexist, pure and simple. Whatever you think about Christie's handling of the bridge or Sandy relief money, or what he thinks about Sharia law, that pales to the fact that he has such little regard for 51 percent of the American people. That's not just wrong -- it disqualifies him from serious consideration to be our next president.