From the moment he was declared the winner in his reelection campaign, Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., has been billed as a new kind of Republican. Is it a fair characterization? Yes and no.
Yes, this likely presidential candidate has done a few things other GOP politicians don't usually do. Yes, he has won reelection in a traditionally Democratic state. And yes, for a few weeks he was actually cordial to President Obama. Even considering the context -- he only won against an underfunded opponent and he was only nice to the president when asking for hurricane relief funds -- these are, indeed, rare accomplishments for a Republican.
That said, these atypical parts of Christie's record have little to do with the concrete policies that he has touted and that he would probably champion if he were elected president. On that score, Christie isn't new at all. He is the opposite -- a Bush/Cheney-esque neoconservative promoting the old politics of division and ignorance.
Take, for instance, Christie's declarations about civil liberties.
A few months ago, Christie alluded to 9/11 when calling criticism of the National Security Agency "dangerous." Then, in truly Cheney-esque fashion, he warned that "the next attack that comes, that kills thousands of Americans as a result, people are going to be looking back." Christie's insinuation, of course, was that if America is hit again, it will rightly blame those who dared to question the NSA's mass surveillance programs.
Yet, in his eagerness to instill fear, Christie failed to address the serious constitutional concerns about the NSA programs. Worse, he didn't mention that, as ProPublica recently reported, "there is no evidence" that such surveillance has stopped terrorist attacks or is making the country safer.
It is a similar situation when it comes to budget issues. Christie has pushed a Bush-like agenda of tax breaks for the wealthy and cuts to social services, education and retirement benefits. He has portrayed this agenda as proof that he is fearlessly "advocating for the taxpayer." Yet, as the New York Times recently reported, Christie has also channeled Bush by cheerily handing out hundreds of millions of dollars worth of wasteful taxpayer subsidies to huge corporations.
Then there is the fight against climate change. It should be a cause Christie passionately endorses, considering the ample evidence that climate change is intensifying storms, like the 2012 hurricane that pummeled his state. Instead, like a standard-issue Republican politician, he is in the climate-change denial camp.
As the Newark Star-Ledger notes, Christie has "been a catastrophe on the environment, draining $1 billion from clean energy funds and calling a cease-fire in the state's fight against climate change." More specifically, Mother Jones magazine reports that Christie "got rid of the Office of Climate Change and Energy within the Department of Environmental Protection shortly after taking office, withdrew the state from the Northeast's cap and trade plan known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (and) weakened the state's renewable energy standard." Meanwhile, when a local radio correspondent asked him about the scientific connection between climate change and superstorms, Christie angrily brushed off the query by declaring that "liberal public radio always has an agenda."
As he prepares to run for president, Christie is betting that his dangerously outdated policy agenda will be obscured by his seemingly novel style. He is betting, in other words, that the media will ignore his record, fetishize his bluster and thus shower him with all the clichés ("tough," "determined," "straight talking," etc.) that tend to dominate presidential campaign coverage.
It is certainly a cynical bet. But it is not a stupid one in an era that so often replaces inquiry with hagiography and makes the old seem new again.