The conventional wisdom coming out of Tuesday night’s debate has it that Chris Christie did nothing to either dramatically improve or terribly hurt his quest to prove that a living, breathing New Jersey stereotype can get elected president. He was bombastic, but no more so than any other candidate. He unabashedly lied in the service of his self-aggrandizing narrative, which paints him as a bold anti-terrorist warrior baptized in the fire of 9/11 -- behavior that, in a better world, would disqualify him from ever again showing his face in polite society. In the world of right-wing politics, it will probably get him a few more millions in super PAC funds and a few more months of press until he folds his campaign and slinks off to spend his post-gubernatorial career in the same netherworld to which the GOP has banished that other notorious 9/11 pitchman, Rudy Giuliani.
Until that happy day, though, we will have to endure brazenly stupid comments like the one he made in his opening statement Tuesday night. Referencing the closure of all Los Angeles public schools that day over a bomb threat that turns out to most likely have been a hoax, Christie said,
"America has been betrayed. We've been betrayed by the leadership that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have provided to this country over the last number of years. Think about what’s just happened today. The second largest school district in America in Los Angeles closed based on a threat. Think about the effect that that's going to have on those children when they go back to school tomorrow wondering filled with anxiety to whether they're really going to be safe. Think about the mothers who will take those children tomorrow morning to the bus stop wondering whether their children will arrive back on that bus safe and sound. Think about the fathers of Los Angeles, who tomorrow will head off to work and wonder about the safety of their wives and their children."
Let us set aside the hilarity of Christie, notorious scourge of schoolteachers and their unions in New Jersey, being upset that a school district made the decision to not force those teachers to spend a day possibly being cannon fodder along with their students. Let us also set aside the hilarity of blaming Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the apparent overreaction of the leaders of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
After all, New York City schools received the same threat and properly determined it was a hoax, but Christie didn’t praise that district’s leaders for being brave foot soldiers in the War on Terror who overcame the nation’s weakling of a commander in chief to stay open, perhaps because he knew he was using the L.A. school closures to score cheap political points. It was a stretch that would have challenged Plastic Man.
No, what sets the teeth on edge while watching Christie’s statement is his wrapping himself in clichéd “Oh won’t someone please think of the children” talk on the day after the three-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut. Because over the last decade and a half, America has seen many, many more school shootings by disaffected, angry American teenagers with easy access to semi-automatic weapons than it has seen jihadi terrorist bombings, of schools or anywhere else. Yet efforts that Barack Obama and gun-control advocates have made to limit access to such weapons have been fought by, among others, Chris Christie, when he found it politically advantageous to do so.
It is tough to accurately measure Christie’s views on gun control, since he opportunistically shifts them based on which way the political winds are blowing. In 2013, months after Sandy Hook, he signed a few gun-control measures that, among other things, prevented people on the federal terrorism watch list from buying guns. But he also last year vetoed bills that would have outlawed possession of magazines that hold over 10 rounds and civilian ownership of a .50 caliber sniper rifle used by the military.
It was during the process of vetoing the magazine bill that Christie refused to meet with the parents of a couple of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook, who had lobbied for the bill and gathered more than 55,000 signatures on a petition supporting it. Political observers suggested the governor was plotting a run for the White House and didn’t want to have to explain to the gun-friendly voters of New Hampshire and Iowa why a less rural state like New Jersey might find gun-control measures desirable, even if he was being responsive to the desires of his constituents.
Yet there was Christie on Tuesday night, weeping crocodile tears for the children of Los Angeles traumatized by the horror of starting their Christmas vacation a day early because of a phony bomb threat, for which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are somehow responsible, because reasons. And presumably after a big earthquake in Southern California, President Christie will travel to the San Andreas Fault so he can yell at it.
If – when, really – we have another school shooting, I hope to see Christie explaining how his craven, spineless cowering before the gun-rights lobby is in no way to blame for parents having to explain to their children that they are statistically safe in the schools they will be returning to the next day. Maybe he can soothe the traumatized parents as well. It will be literally the least he can do.