Democrat. Republican. Liberal. Conservative. Green, Libertarian, Tea Party.
These are labels that the mainstream media apply to politicians. Sometimes they are appropriate. But most of the time they fit like a pair of baggy pants on an anorexic supermodel.
Take our governor. What label fits Chris Christie? Certainly, he’s a Republican, isn’t he? He’s the outgoing chair of the Republican Governor’s Association, delivered a self-serving keynote speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention, and is a top-tier contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
But not all agree. At least by their definition of “Republican.”
Veteran New Jersey political punster/pollster/gadfly Rick Shaftan consistently refers to Christie as a RINO (Republican in name only) for such egregious sins as considering supporting a modest gasoline tax increase to fund infrastructure and what Shaftan calls his “big government record.”
Christie is certainly a Conservative. He favors dirty fuels over the environment. He is against marriage equality. His policies benefit his fellow one-percenters at the expense of the middle class. He vetoed funding for women’s health and legal services for the poor. But that’s not enough for “true” Conservatives.
When push comes to shove, Christie, like most politicians, will momentarily jump out of his comfort zone when it serves his ambitions. Christie had the audacity to appear in public with our “Kenyan Muslim Communist” President in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. He appointed a real Muslim to a judgeship. He even granted tenure to a bona fide liberal Supreme Court justice in a political deal with the state’s most powerful Democratic enabler.
In truth, the labels “conservative” and “tea party” (is there a real distinction?) fit Christie most of the time. But he’s not unique in this respect.
There are many other examples in New Jersey politics where expediency trumps ideology, on both sides of the aisle.
Take the marriage equality debate for example.
Republican Libertarian Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll is a consistent voice for getting government out of people’s lives. Yet when it comes to government control of who has the right to marry, Carroll voted to perpetuate that control. On the other side, Democratic Assemblyman Gary Schaer – whose liberal approach often includes passionate support for the downtrodden and disadvantaged – also voted against his party and against marriage equality because a “yes” vote would not have been well-received by his constituents.
Most of the time labels are not absolute. Sometimes Conservatives surprise us with a “liberal” approach. Sometimes those of us on the left are disappointed with more conservative votes by those whom we otherwise support, like John Adler’s “no” vote on Obamacare. But given Chris Christie’s performance as our governor for the past six years, there’s one label that fits like a pair of skinny jeans on that supermodel. In every sense, Chris Christie can be labeled as an abject failure in his tenure as governor. And instead of the White House, he should move on to become a Fox News pundit, where that label will serve him well.