Chris Christie: Brittle, like Nixon

In Chris Christie’s cold affirmation of disinterest in Saturday’s 35,000 person State House rally, I heard the same thing 12mileseastofTrenton did: Nixon.

In the Fall of 1969, American protest against the Vietnam War ramped up. Earlier that year, the officious Richard Nixon inherited the costly and failing war from Lyndon Johnson. Nixon installed Henry Kissenger as Secretary of State, and though he announced Vietnamization, military personnel peaked  and by autumn word had leaked out about the crimes of Lt. William Calley, and the inequity stirred more people.

On October 15th came the first Moratorium to end the war; tens of thousands of people walked silently past the White House, breaking only to shout the name of a dead soldier. Nixon was unmoved, saying afterward he expected protest, “however under no circumstances will I be affected whatever by it.”

Days later, America tuned in to watch Nixon’s considered response: an Oval Office speech, which he ended by calling on the “great silent majority” to support him as he continued the war he had promised to end.

Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” is the resentful and strapped New Jersey that Chris Christie counts on now. He is running a strategy, as Nixon did then, of dismissing vast and vocal protest to his spending priorities by marginalizing the participants. Nixon dispensed Spiro Agnew (in speeches by Pat Buchanan & William Safire) to hurl alliterative insults at protesters – “nattering nabobs of negativism” – while he himself rigidly denied the protesters mattered at all. Christie sends Drewniak, or drops that hammer himself.

Christie should heed history. In an autumn of his own rigidity, Nixon didn’t count on how his refusal to deal fairly would impact the peace movement. It grew exponentially, and took on new constituencies of people who hadn’t railed at the War before. Days later, came the Second Moratorium, on November 15, 1969. And Nixon’s arrogance made that the largest political rally in American history, even as Saturday’s was the largest political rally in Trenton history. And again, Nixon, like Christie now, made his disregard clear, telling reporters he watched a football game that night, and never looked out the White House windows.

12mileseastofTrenton – in a Comment titled His Arrogance is in good company – heard the same bells ring that I did (listen to this audio clip 12miles found). Christie’s arrogance reveals a brittle political force, too deeply invested in his own direction and his own words.

In a generation since President Nixon, the GOP has become a laboratory for smarter, stronger communication than in Nixon’s day. Christie learned from sharp mentors. And so his pugilistic swagger looks different than Richard Nixon’s sweaty-lipped and uncomfortable superiority.

But make no mistake, nothing that brittle stands without breaking. In the discussion we’ve been having post-rally, my suggestion is gather constituencies unmoved by this struggle before – NJ’s teenagers have already given you an opening – and build on that. That’s my 2 cents.

Comments (9)

  1. ken bank

    I’ve considered the comparison in that both have tremendously fragile egos.  However, Nixon was always smart enough to use his attack dogs like Spiro Agnew, as you pointed out, while seeming to act more statesmanlike.  It is ironic that Bret Schundler, whom one would think would be Christie’s attack dog against the NJEA, seems statesmanlike in contrast to his boss.  Watching Christie and Schundler working over the NJEA is like watching a “good cop – bad cop” beating up on a suspect with Christie as the bad cop.

    Nixon, OTOH, internalized his anger which really led to his downfall.  Maybe if Nixon had publicly been more belligerant and gotten a few things off his chest at the media, instead of having others do it for him, our history might have been quite different.

    As to the Vietnam War protests it is true that Nixon reacted irrationally in political terms.  But then again, Nixon himself was so full of contradictions that he could say things and do quite the opposite.  For example, as depicted in the Oliver Stone film “Nixon” it is true that Nixon did in fact visit with anti-war protestors who were asleep at the Lincoln Memorial in the middle of the night with no reporters or camera crews around.  Would Christie have done that with his opponents?  And this was the same anti-communist crusader who traveled to China in 1971 and shook hands with Mao, and then the following year went to Russia and embraced Leonid Brezhnov.  Does anyone think President Obama would have the guts to travel to Iran and shake hands with President Ahmadinejad?  I think not.  And if Chris Christie was president I don’t think he would either.

    Finally, keep in mind one very important difference between the two.  Chris Christie is a complete idiot, total dunce, a bag of hot air in an empty suit who was fortunate enough to have a megamillionaire brother who was able to buy the US Attorney’s position for him.  Nixon came from a relatively poor family which struggled during the depression and who lost two brothers to disease for lack of affordable health care.  Ironically it was Nixon who was offered a full scholarship to attend Harvard University but had to turn it down and go to Whittier College instead so he could help out with his family’s store and take care of his sick brother who was dying from tuberculosis.  Historians can always speculate how history might have been different had Nixon been able to take advantage of the scholarship.  Eventually, Nixon did graduate from Whittier and then went to Duke University Law School, wbhere he graduated near the top of his class at one of the most prestigious law schools in the country.  The bottom line is that comparing Christie’s intellect with that of Nixon is like comparing Sarah Palin to Elena Kagan.

    Finally, I strongly reccommend, if one has not done so, watching the Oliver Stone film “Nixon” which I believe gives an accurate three-dimensional portrayal of one of the most intellectually talented, emotionally crippled, and tragically flawed political leaders in US history.

  2. speedkillsu

    actions remind us all of Ronald Reagan especially the way he handled the Air controllers “walk out” …come Jan 2011 ,after Corzine’s pact with the devil expires ,you see massive cutbacks to affordable levels that taxpayer can live with .  

  3. rodrjr

    unfortunately, 49% of NJ voters voted him in (only by a 4% majority), so we are stuck with him for 4 years.  too bad the nj state constituition doesen’t have a recall provision based on signatures collected or at the ballot box.  i think we have not seen the worst yet.

  4. 12mileseastofTrenton

    It’s true Nixon had personal demons that Christie probably doesn’t have (although the weight thing might be a factor).  But they both were, and are, polarizing politicans in the sense that they go out of their way to polarize the electorate.  Unlike, say, recent presidents, who’s very presence polarized.  And to personalize matters.  

    And I wouldn’t take the movie Nixon as the wholly grail on the subject.  If anything, it was too sympathetic to Nixon, and minimized his red baiting and demagoguery.

  5. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

    I think Nixon was self-doubting, which is the source I think for many of the “contradictions” you cite. If you haven’t already – even if you have –  read All the President’s Men swiftly followed by The Final Days, both by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Man, that’s the full contradictions thrill ride. (Then, uh, go here and dive in for full immersion).

    If Chris Christie is self-doubting, he does a good job concealing that. But that wasn’t really the nut of what I was comparing. There are of course differences between the two – start with the fact Christie benefits from a generation of careful and well-researched GOP message strategy development, largely fueled by the crash-and-burn of Nixon.

    What I was comparing is both men’s megalomania, and likelihood that Christie will either retool or snap. SSSSSSNAP!

  6. princetonblue

    LMAO.  If you think CC is anything like RR, you are smoking something serious!

    Seriously, CC is much closer to Saddam Hussein than RR.   I used to be a Republican.  I left when people stopped being able to distinguish between good policies and hate mongering.   CC represents everything that is wrong with the Republican party.  He’s intolerant, lies, and has no empathy.    

  7. Rosi Efthim (Post author)

    Speed … You folks want to align a governor you support with the successful politician who a generation of neo-cons (particularly those who weren’t sentient adults during the Reagan years) revere. I get it. GOP heroes are in short supply, post-Bush years. But sadly, the only major thing Reagan and Christie have in common is neo-conservatism, and the gamesmanship, wealth class protectionism, and manipulation of facts that neo-conservatism carries with it.

    Send us back the paleos and we’ll talk. That conversation might not go well either, but at least it would produce less laughter.  

  8. ken bank

    “And I wouldn’t take the movie Nixon as the wholly grail on the subject.  If anything, it was too sympathetic to Nixon, and minimized his red baiting and demagoguery.”

    That was the “Old Nixon” of the 1940s and 50s.  After his defeat for Gov. of CA and his famous exit line about not being “kicked around” he then did a makeover before he ran in 1968 as the “New Nixon”.  The “New Nixon” relied on surrogates like Spiro Agnew to attack his opponents.  In fact, the “New Nixon” was so desperate to prove that he was not the “Old Nixon” that he did a cameo appearance on the popular “Laugh-In” show to show people how “hip” he was.  Sort of like Steve Lonegan co-hosting “Saturday Night Live” with “Joe The Plumber” as special guest.

    As to the movie, it really begins with the 1960 election and then moves forward from there with occasional flashbacks to Nixon’s childhood, his relationship with his mother and the death of his two brothers.

  9. 12mileseastofTrenton

    It was the same Nixon.  And although he delegated, he still did a lot of the work himself, as witnessed the “Silent Majority” speech and his “pay no attention” remark.


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