the national interest

Chris Christie’s Self-Delusions

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney (R) looks on as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during a campaign rally outside a grocery store in Des Moines, Iowa, on December 30, 2001. Romney on Friday ripped President Barack Obama over his annual Hawaii vacation, painting him as out of touch with Americans' economic suffering. Romney was speaking at a rally four days before this heartland state holds its presidential nominating caucus, the first battle in the state-by-state fight to pick a Republican challenger to Obama in the November 2012 elections. AFP Photo/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

That terrific Jeffrey Goldberg story on Chris Christie’s unrequited love for Bruce Springsteen that Noreen mentioned the other day offers a fascinating window not only into Christie’s particular psyche but the psyche of conservatives in general. Christie is nurturing an absurd and genuinely sad fantasy that the liberal Springsteen would approve of him if only he had the chance to explain himself. (And he’s hurt that Springsteen lets his ideological differences stand in the way of this imagined relationship, oblivious to the irony that Christie himself is defined by the personal animosity he brings to political disagreements.)

More interesting is Christie’s explanation as to why he thinks Springsteen disapproves of him: “He feels guilty that he has so much money, and he thinks it’s all a zero-sum game: in order to get poor people more money, it has to be taken away from the rich.”

Christie dismisses Springsteen’s beliefs about economic justice because he is so rich (it must be liberal guilt.) At other times he dismisses beliefs about economic justice from the non-rich (they’re envious.) It does raise the question of whether there’s just the right income level where you can be affluent enough not to suffer from envy of the rich but not so affluent to suffer from guilt. I suspect the answer is no.

Then you have Christie’s belief that liberals insist that the economy is a “zero-sum game” in which the poor can advance only by taking from the rich. Liberals do not actually believe this at all. Liberals think that economic growth can benefit poor and rich alike, but that policies to help the poor need not come at the expense of economic growth and can sometimes aid it by enabling the poor to participate in the economy.

At the same time, there are contexts in which there really is something like a zero-sum game between rich and poor. Such as when you’re imposing budgetary austerity and deciding who bears the brunt. Christie has consistently chosen to cut after-school education for poor children, low-income health centers for the poor, and a myriad of other programs for the poor. Not only has he insulated the most affluent in his state from sacrifice but has fought to shower them with regressive tax breaks.

It’s very possible that Christie thinks the government just takes too much from the rich and gives too much to the poor, and the fair thing is to scale back the level of redistribution. But the mental process Christie actually uses seems somewhat different. When liberals complain about his take-from-the-poor, give-to-the-rich budget policies, he translates that objection into a general belief that zero-sum transfers are the only way to help the poor. And Christie doesn’t believe that. He believes in upward mobility! Which somehow translates into slashing extended learning time for poor children.

Chris Christie’s Self-Delusions