I spent the last few days reading commentary on the president’s visit to storm-ravaged sections of New Jersey and critiques of our governor’s very public wooing of the president during the visit and after.
The pundits have pontificated nearly non-stop on the meaning behind Gov. Chris Christie’s effusive praise, speculating alternately over a possible rift with the campaign of Mitt Romney, for which Christie is a lead surrogate, a cold calculation by the governor to help himself in next year’s re-election bid and an admission that Romney can’t win on Tuesday.
There is likely nobody left in New Jersey and few across the nation that would deny the governor is a master politician. And like all great practitioners of the art, his mind probably never stops calculating leverage and openings.
But all of that said, I believe the reason behind the so called “bromance” with the prez is far, far simpler.
I can’t claim to know the governor personally. In fact, I hardly know him at all. But he and I grew up in the same home town. And like probably 99 percent of the kids who grow up in Northern New Jersey, I’d lay odds the governor spent a lot of time in places like Seaside Heights and Belmar, sitting on porches and at wobbly kitchen tables playing quarters and laughing with his friends.
He might have driven to Point Pleasant on a Saturday to watch the Nerds at Jenkinson’s or maybe his family headed down to LBI for a week, where the Christies hit the rides at Fantasy Island and had ice cream at the Skipper Dipper. Whatever his experience, as a kid growing up in Livingston there’s a good chance he was at some point in his life a shore rat.
Fast forward to Tuesday morning. Seaside and Belmar were under water. The damage to Long Beach Island was “beyond description,” as one resident told the Star Ledger, and the general consensus was New Jersey’s gem would never be the same.
Enter Obama, he of the extraordinarily fat wallet and the guy with the resources of the U.S. government at his disposal.
I believe the only calculation Christie made at that point was to figure out how to pry that wallet open to help New Jersey’s struggling residents.
And so Christie did what he does best. He related on a human level to another man who makes his living off empathy. He called it like he saw it and in the process attached himself to the one guy who had the juice to fix things.
And it worked. Christie got the early disaster declaration he sought and yesterday announced the feds are picking up 100 percent of the tab to restore power and transportation to the sodden state. Christie himself called the president’s announcement “unprecedented.”
So before Republicans vilify the governor for costing Romney the election, they should give thought to the kick in the gut the governor felt Tuesday when he realized his dire warnings issued pre-storm might have even understated the damage to the beloved shore. Those who would chastise the governor clearly did not pay attentiion to the aerial views that have circulated that show houses swept off their foundations or ripped apart board from board by the encroaching flood waters. Christie not only has seen it, but he’s had to face the owners of those homes, who are naturally and rightfully desperate for help.
Christie likes to tell a story about the night he learned of the death of Clarence Clemons, “The Big Man” who played saxophone for the E-Street band. As the governor tells it, his wife asked him why he was down over Clemons’ death.
“My youth is over,” Christie told his wife , according to an interview the governor gave to The Atlantic. “He’s dead and anything that is left of me being young is over.”
My guess is Christie had a similar feeling on Tuesday.