We spend so much time lamenting the poisonous nature of today’s politics. “Why can’t the other side even acknowledge when our side agrees with them?” We ask. “Why can’t we show simple human courtesy? Why can’t politicians set aside their partisan squabbles and do what is right for the country?” You want to know why? Look no further than the media frenzy and cynical sneering in response to Governor Chris Christie’s effort to set aside politics and do the right thing in the face of disaster.
So we have N.J. Governor Chris Christie, a staunch supporter of Governor Romney, setting aside politics for a day and doing the right thing. NJ was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. Obama, as President, did his job working with Governor Christie to deploy federal aide and coordinate the state and federal disaster response efforts. They avoiding the partisan sparring over “whose in charge” that frustrated relief efforts in Louisiana after Katrina. And at the press conference the next day, Christie gave credit where due and thanked Obama for doing a great job. He and Obama will tour the damaged region of NJ together and do all the stuff that a President and a Governor are supposed to do when a disaster strikes.
A lesson for all of us, right? When the chips are down and disaster strikes, a conservative Republican Governor beloved of the Tea Party, a key note speaker from the Republican convention, works side by side with a Democratic President and behaves like <i>mensche</i> about it. So what has been the reaction in the media?
“Romney Has A Christie Problem” declares New Yorker reporter John Cassidy, who judged Christie’s praise too effusive. Christie has been forced to defend himself in the media. “This is bigger than politics,” Christie told Piers Morgan on CNN. “When the President does things that deserve praise, I will give him praise. When the President does things that deserve scorn, I will give him scorn.” Which should be an otherwise unremarkable statement but is now judged as either cynically false or naively quaint. Even those outlets not trying to manufacture controversy cannot help but speculate endlessly on the political ramifications. It is as if horse race coverage of politics has become the high-fructose corn syrup of news coverage: it goes into everything, people find it hard to resist, and constant consumption has really bad long-term health consequences.
I wish I could say that my fellow Progressives rise above such a thing, but that has sadly not been the case on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. “Christie is hedging his bets.” “Christie is preparing for 2016.” “Christie is throwing Romney under the bus.” Couldn’t it just be “Christie is behaving exactly like we say we want politicians to behave, working with political opponents in time of crisis, setting politics aside when needed, and acknowledging the virtues of opponents where warranted?
If we want a world of less poisonous politics, we need to create it. We can start by saying: “It’s OK to say ‘thank you.'” We can start by saying “We like it when a Republican Governor works with a Democratic President on disaster relief. That’s not a political thing, that’s how grown ups in both parties are supposed to act.” And if we can’t stop the chattering class of pundits in the media from turning everything into a political game where one team wins and another team loses, we can at least try to remind ourselves and reenforce it through our social media that we want to see more of this kind of teamwork in the face of crisis, not less.
It’s O.K. to say thank you. Really. Romney does not have a “Christie Problem.” The media, on the other hand, has a serious political coverage problem and totally needs an intervention and some time in a nice bipartisan clinic.
Stay tuned . . . .