Over the course of 18 minutes tonight, Chris Christie laid out the plans for his second term as the governor of New Jersey after claiming more than 60 percent of the vote. In his biggest one-liner of the night, he said almost directly into the camera, "I sought a second term to finish the job, now watch me do it." That job is to demonstrate what a functional government looks like. For Christie, it's not Democrats versus Republicans; it's New Jersey versus the rest of the country.
But then again, that persecution-complex attitude isn't new at all. There was a self-deprecation to Christie's speech that tapped into the persisting, national assumptions about the state—that it's the armpit of America, that it's polluted, that it's filled with Jersey Shore rejects, and that anyone who wasn't a Jersey Shore cast member had the last name Soprano. These claims are by no means true, but they are a near-omnipresent lens through which the state is often viewed. At one point responding to an overzealous crowd member, Christie quipped to big laughs, "I guess there is an open bar here tonight—welcome to New Jersey."
Christie's overwhelming victory in a famously Democratic state spoke to his broad appeal. "If we can do this in Trenton, New Jersey," Christie said, "maybe the people in Washington DC should turn on their televisions and see how it's done." In other words: hey, if national punchline New Jersey—teeming with drunks and fighters—can get its act together and find common ground, what does that say about the rest of you?
That idea of an effective political process branching out from Trenton took root most clearly as he moved to talking about the Sandy recovery. The governor promised that he would "not let anyone, anything, any political party, any governmental entity, or any force" stymie the recovery. The Sandy recovery has been Christie's crown jewel, giving him a chance to flex some bipartisan muscle, in particular earning GOP ire by praising Obama days before the presidential election. This past summer, you couldn't listen to a New Jersey radio or watch a Jersey TV station for more than 15 minutes before finding the state's "Stronger Than The Storm," shore tourism campaign. It was a slightly cheerier defiance of Mother Nature than the franker, more Jerseyan messaging Christie might have otherwise employed. (The ad campaign's counterpart? "Get the hell off the beach.")
He continued in his speech, "We're New Jersey. We still fight, we still yell, but when we fight, we fight for those things that really matter in people's lives. And while we may not always agree, we show up." The ideal vision of government presented wasn't one of homogeneity in opinion, but of functionality. The recent federal shutdown loomed large over his speech, though remain unmentioned explicitly. Disagreement is fine, so long as it leads to action. (Although, in reality, the governor's record has not been 100 percent on this front. For example, his veto of gay marriage in order to put it to a referendum instead, knowing full well that the outcome would remain the same.) The point was clear: Christie's metric for success is not how much of his own personal beliefs he is able to impose on others, but simply how much shit he's able to get done for the state.
It's worth noting that Christie's podium featured a "Greetings from New Jersey" logo reminiscent of Springsteen's Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ. It could be read a couple of ways: as a traditional friendly welcome, or given the theme of Christie's speech, a smug rejoinder to the other 49 states.
"Greetings from New Jersey: a polluted, Democratic state filled with argumentative loudmouths that still managed to overwhelmingly agree on a Republican governor."
(In all honesty, New Jersey is a very nice state with a diverse population and some wonderful scenery once you get far enough from New York City. It is not 100 percent loudmouths and fistfights. It is only 93 percent.)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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