Something like that is happening to President Obama, for complicated reasons that few people will openly discuss, beginning with the fact that he is black, and that his father saddled him with a name that has been hard to live down. Being black makes it difficult to deal with the largely southern extreme right, but the problem goes beyond that. He understands the politics of getting elected, but is unclear on the politics of getting things done in Washington, which today involves a remarkable congress effectively controlled by the other party. Harry Truman faced such a congress and beat them at their own game. He was a fighter. This congress is worse: on Obama’s election, its most prominent member, Mitch McConnell stated that his goal was limiting the president to one term.
That was a remarkably unpatriotic and destructive statement, and set him up for a fierce rebuttal. The only reasonable goal of this congress (and the government in general) was digging us out of the horrific nightmare of two hopeless wars and a fiscal catastrophe that began under Clinton with the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act. Obama’s failure to respond definitively with all the power at his command was an extremely serious mistake. He had the full mandate of the American people, us, the Great Beast, and he tried to make nice with a man who knew nothing but politics. His weakness rallied his enemies, and raised doubts in supporters like myself who voted for him.
Obama is first of all a civilized, decent, and highly educated man, but very much a lawyer. The law operates at a different pace than the political battlefield. It makes a point of appearing leisurely, logical, and civilized. Many politicians are lawyers, but most leave that style of thinking behind when dealing with the Great Beast. They know what Obama has not learned during his presidency: Some things can’t be lawyered.
Which brings us to Mr. Christie, bad-tempered, right-leaning, and a born infighter, perfect for the blood sport that politics has become for us. He is, in his handling of money and taxation, a classic Republican, and goes against much that I hold dear, but we don’t know how much of that is hard-coded and how much is negotiable. As much as I detest some of his thinking, I respect his guts and common sense. Only Mrs. Clinton can match him there. Think sports. If it was boxing, Christie would be along the lines of Smokin’ Joe Frazier; Obama fights Olympic rules and pulls his punches. If it was basketball, he would be a smart pencil-neck shooting guard, not physical, a little slow. The Great Beast wants to see knockouts and hard fouls – it’s a beast. It wants to see a man who can come back from a bloody diplomatic loss to a Nikita Khrushchev, grow in office, and face him down in the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Beast likes a good speech, but it liked Eisenhower, too, who was deadly dull and deadly effective. It can’t abide a boxer who won’t go inside, or handle a dirty one like McConnell.
Politics is the art of the possible, a fact Christie probably knew from birth. It requires the common touch, a kind of love and understanding of humanity that quiets the beast. It also requires guts and instincts for quick un-lawyerly arrangements with power, like the one he forged overnight with Obama. The man is sane and practical, and knows how to close a deal. Like it or not, he’s a winner.
The Republican party doesn’t like it, or him, and he has profoundly disrupted them by presenting the possibility of victory and a sane party. It sends the Tea People and zealots into a hissy-fits. Unlike Reince Priebus & Co., he would not throw us into chaos by defunding the government, because he knows what happened last time. If it were not for Mrs. Clinton he could probably jump parties and become president. He could win as a Republican too, if it weren’t for the crazies. He could win because he has what Obama and Congressman Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and almost every other potential candidate lacks, which is a real connection with and dedication to those who elected him, and a determination to do business for them. He can scare the brownies out of most politicians, which is useful; Obama scares no one. Cruz, the Pauls (father and son) and the other Republicans know how to get elected. What they don’t know is how to govern – how to work for the people who put you in office, as Christie has in New Jersey.
A lot of people might just jump parties and vote for the man because – well, because we’re really tired of all the pussy-footing and chickenshit and second-rate appointments like our Attorney General. Lincoln had dangerous enemies in his cabinet and Kennedy’s closest advisors were often men of stature that he was at odds with. These presidents weren’t afraid. Whatever else, Christie is not afraid, and there’s a strangely democratic love of The Great Beast in him that appeals to me.