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“How The Media Created Chris Christie”: Sloppy And Power Mad, He Never Was A Scandal-Free Moderate

Poor Chris Christie: It gets worse. If you don’t pay close attention to politics, it’s got to be stunning how quickly he’s gone from the great “moderate” presidential hope of the mainstream media and Republican establishment to embarrassingly sloppy, power-mad and quite possibly corrupt governor. Let me explain.

But first, let me recap the latest in Christie scandal news. In the last day alone: CNN reported a federal probe into why Christie spent $4.5 million of Hurricane Sandy aid on what was essentially a political ad for himself (instead of just over $2 million on a New Jersey tourism ad that didn’t feature Christie and his family). MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki identified what looks like the real impetus for the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal: a huge real estate development. That was almost inevitable: All politics is about real estate.

New email and text message evidence emerged that Christie lied last Thursday when he said bridge official David Samson had nothing to do with the lane closures.  Oh, and I love this one, from Friday: Christie’s old baseball coach seemed to refute his pettiest and most predictably refuted Thursday lie, that he wasn’t friends, wasn’t even acquaintances, with key bridge scandal player David Wildstein: He and Wildstein were both on Livingston High’s baseball team, according to their old coach.

Now, Wildstein was the team’s nerdy stat guy while Christie was a player, but given other evidence that links them, the coach’s story makes Christie’s Thursday claim that he wasn’t even acquaintances with Wildstein in high school look extra petty and vindictive and, well, just plain mean.

But nerdy stat guys tend to like data and documents and have long memories. Wildstein displays evidence of all three traits, as proven by the 2,000 pages of documents he’s already dropped relating to the bridge scandal. So, as I’ve already written, twice, Christie’s 2016 hopes are dead, and his governorship is in real jeopardy.

Still, as the bridge scandal unfolds, and brings with it renewed media reporting on all sorts of old Christie troubles, from his playing ugly politics with state Supreme Court nominees (Rachel Maddow’s novel theory for raining punishment on Fort Lee) to the lingering controversy over his use of Sandy aid (and it’s not only about commercials), it’s hard not to be shocked anew that Christie was ever considered a leading presidential candidate. It’s also shocking that he coasted to reelection just two months ago, crushing state Sen. Barbara Buono – but the two phenomena are connected. Christie’s strong national reputation convinced local and national Democrats and even liberal media figures to either ignore the New Jersey race or, in some cases, back Christie.

My colleagues Alex Pareene and Blake Zeff do a great job explaining some of Christie’s outsize media appeal. As Zeff notes, though Christie is a hard-line conservative, not a moderate, he took a page from other blue state Republicans, most notably Rudy Giuliani, and picked a couple of issues on which to break with his party and/or buck extremists – for Giuliani, it was abortion and to some extent gay rights (or at least abstaining from homophobia); for Christie, it was abstaining from Islamaphobia and then, of course, seeking Hurricane Sandy aid, for which he literally and figuratively embraced President Obama.

It didn’t hurt that both men are larger than life bullies, because for odd reasons, media folks seem to like bullies and mean guys, as long as they’re mean to the right people.  As Pareene points out, the central fetish of the mainstream pundit class has been fiscal austerity and rolling back the welfare state. So as long as Christie hummed Bruce Springsteen songs while sticking it to the union workers and struggling folks Springsteen sings about, he was a Beltway hero.

I think there’s something else at work, something psychological, maybe, and harder to get at. I think the mainstream media and its dominant pundits are unable to take in exactly how far to the right the Republican Party has swung in the last decade, and so they need to invent “moderates” to keep from writing over and over about the party’s departure from political sanity. And when their moderates either show themselves as extremists, as Christie has repeatedly, or else as severely flawed politicians, as Christie has lately, those pundits either ignore it or rush to rescue them over and over.

Mark Halperin is, as always, a good example. Now, to be fair to Halperin, the biggest news he and John Heilemann broke in their “Game Change” sequel had to do with the Romney team’s misgivings about Christie as a running mate in 2012. They weren’t just about his temperament, as in Christie’s self-promoting loose cannon, though there was some of that. They were ethical, going back to investigations he endured into abuse of power as well as overspending back when he was U.S. attorney. It was fascinating reading.

Yet Halperin immediately praised Christie’s Thursday press conference, otherwise known as his two-hour pity party, as a “virtuoso” performance. And on Sunday Halperin Tweeted:

Best ’16 political news for @GovChristie : no one else in the field is strong/rising or had a great ’13. He remains as strong as anyone else

— Mark Halperin (@MarkHalperin) January 12, 2014

Sadly for Barbara Buono, the Halperin-Heilemann book came out the day of her landslide loss to Christie. It belatedly opened the door for the national media to reexamine Christie’s ethics problems; then came the bridge scandal. Looking back, I think even I was taken in by Christie’s Hurricane Sandy performance and the perceived inevitability of his reelection.  I didn’t write one word about Buono’s campaign, though I may have said one or two nice things on MSNBC.

I saw Buono at an MSNBC studio last week, and I apologized to her for not doing my job – for assuming Christie was a shoo-in and mostly ignoring the New Jersey gubernatorial election, paying attention to closer races. I hope a lot of Democrats are doing the same. Mostly, though, I hope the media can learn a lesson from its Christie fever, but that’s even less likely.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, January 13, 2014

January 16, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unlimited Spending”: This Is How The Koch Brothers Plan To Win The U.S Senate

The Koch brothers* are hiring.

You’ll find job listings for campaign staff positions in Koch-funded groups in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Virginia. Some of the ads call for experts in social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, YouTube, Google, and OutBrain to effect a strategy that’s both agile and overwhelming.

And you’re already seeing $20 million worth of TV ads from the Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) targeting incumbent senators in Alaska, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Louisiana for supporting Obamacare. Similar ads are now up Michigan and Iowa, where veteran Democrats Carl Levin (D-MI) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) are vacating their Senate seats.

Now Democrats are sounding the alarm to their donors in a moment that’s reminiscent of the note the Obama campaign hit with an email in which the president said, “I will be outspent.”

“Democrats need money at this early stage in order to fight back against the limitless spending from the Kochs,” Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told The New York Times. “The limitless spending from the Kochs means we need Democratic donors to step up in a bigger way immediately.”

Republicans need six seats to take over the U.S. Senate and the Kochs are trying to expand the map to put even the states that twice voted for President Obama in play. And they’re building on a model that they perfected in 2010 when right-leaning groups hammered the president and Democrats in Congress for a year over the “failed” stimulus before it even had a chance to work.

With Democrats holding virtually every swing seat in the nation after the landslide of 2008, they defended on all fronts and avoided trying to nationalize the race, even though the choice was made for them. As the midterm election hit, in the midst of the worst job market in 60 years, Republicans won more elected offices than they had at any time since before the Great Depression.

The right tried to reprise this strategy in 2012 with dismal results. But in an off-year election, without President Obama on the ballot and with Obamacare disapproval soaring in red states, there’s a clear opportunity to use health care reform to define Democrats early.

And that’s what the Kochs are doing wherever they see an opportunity.

With former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land polling better than expected against her likely Democratic opponent Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI), especially in polls that under-sample African-Americans, Michigan presents such an opportunity. Land supported Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) in his plan to privatize Social Security and Medicare in previous budgets, but she’s unlikely to produce the sort of gaffes that cost Republicans Senate seats in Missouri, Indiana, Nevada and Rhode Island.

Land recently touted outside groups supporting her run right as AFP’s ad targeting her opponent began a $1 million three-week run — even though collaboration between candidates and these groups is illegal. Wink, wink.

Democrats also hope to expand the Senate map to Georgia — where Obama only lost by 8 percent without spending a dime in the state. Michelle Nunn, the daughter of the state’s former beloved senator Sam Nunn, will likely be the Democratic nominee and could easily end up facing Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) who was voted “Most Likely to be the Next Akin.” His primary opponent, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) — who recently said that children would benefit from working — was a close second to Broun.

While Karl Rove is actively trying to influence Republican primaries to ensure the most electable candidates win, Americans for Prosperity retains its Tea Party credibility by aiming its fire only at Democrats and sticking to the issue that will preoccupy the right for the third national election in a row — Obamacare.

So if you’re in one of those 13 targeted states, expect to hear about #fullrepeal of a law that’s been on the books for almost four years now on TV, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, email and anywhere the Kochs can find you.

*The Kochs go out of their way to obscure how they spend the millions they invest in Republican politics. Americans for Prosperity is a 501(c)(4) social welfare group that doesn’t have to release the names of its donors — though we know David Koch helped to found the group. These non-profits, which are limited in the amount of resources they can apply to political efforts, were the subject of the controversy where the IRS used political keywords to identify conservative and progressive groups for extra scrutiny. Big groups like AFP and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS avoided such scrutiny, until recently, at least.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, January 15, 2014

January 16, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Another Bad Day For Benghazi Conspiracy Theories”: Still No Evidence To Bolster The Far-Right Paranoia

The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, better known as the Senate Intelligence Committee, published an 85-page report (pdf) today on the attack that left four Americans dead in Benghazi in September 2012. Its findings will likely seem pretty familiar.

The State Department’s failure to heed warnings and requests for more security by diplomatic staff left the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, and its CIA annex vulnerable to the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks that ultimately took the lives of four Americans, according to an unclassified Senate Intelligence Committee report released Wednesday.

The report, which the committee approved by a voice vote, concluded that the attacks could have been prevented and makes several recommendations for improving security of U.S. diplomatic facilities in areas where U.S. personnel are likely to face threats.

If this seems to cover familiar ground, that’s because previous investigations have led to very similar conclusions. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake noted that Republicans, especially those eager to tear down former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are likely to be “sorely disappointed” by the findings.

That’s clearly true. As Adam Serwer’s report makes clear, there was no “stand down” order; Susan Rice did nothing wrong; and there was no White House interference with the creation of post-attack talking points. Indeed, of all the various Republican allegations about a conspiracy, there remains literally no evidence to bolster the far-right paranoia.

Indeed, if GOP officials who tried to destroy Susan Rice’s reputation apologize now that their attacks have been discredited, I remain confident that she’d be gracious about their misguided smear campaign.

All of this, however, leads to a larger question: just how much more will it take to convince the Republican conspiracy theorist they were wrong?

I did a little digging this afternoon and found that over the course of the last 15 months, the deadly attack in Benghazi has now been investigated by:

* the independent State Department Accountability Review Board, led by former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and career diplomat Thomas Pickering;

* the Senate Intelligence Committee;

* the Senate Armed Services Committee;

* the House Intelligence Committee,

* the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee;

* the House Armed Services Committee;

* the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform;

* and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

And those are just the official investigations, led by current and former U.S. officials, and don’t include investigative reports from journalists at major news organizations.

After all of this scrutiny, there’s still no evidence of a cover-up or a conspiracy. None. The allegations raised by the Obama administration’s fiercest and angriest critics are still without substantiation.

Given the latest report, which reinforces the previous reports, are Republicans finally prepared to move on to some other alleged conspiracy? Of course not. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) saw the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee and said, “It should be clear, even to my critics by now, that Benghazi is bigger than Watergate.”

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) added, “I’m familiar with cover-ups throughout history, the Pentagon Papers, Iran-Contra, all of them. This is gonna go down as the greatest cover-up in history because the president and Susan Rice both knew it was an organized terrorist attack and deliberately sent Susan Rice to tell the American people it was not.”

It doesn’t matter that they’re wrong; they don’t care. They start with the conclusion and try to work backwards to find evidence that satisfies their goal. If the evidence doesn’t match the preconceived answer, then there’s a problem with the evidence, not the assumptions.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 15, 2014

January 16, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Conspiracy Theories | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Guv Loves Himself”: Yes, Chris Christie’s A Narcissist

No one knows exactly how Chris Christie spent every hour of the four days in September when the people of Fort Lee, N.J., were being punked by members of his staff who decided that it might be fun to toss traffic cones on the George Washington Bridge and see what happened. It’s certain the governor wasn’t sitting in any of the all-day traffic jams the stunt caused. It’s certain he wasn’t fretting at home while his kids tried to get to their first day of school or waiting for emergency medical care that couldn’t get through the manufactured gridlock.

But he suffered all the same. And if you don’t believe him, ask Chris Christie.

“I am a very sad person today,” he said at his marathon press conference last week. “That’s the emotion I feel. A person close to me betrayed me … I probably will get angry at some point, but I’ll tell you the truth, I’m sad.”

But sad was only part of it. Christie was tired too, since, as he took pains to mention, he’d had very little sleep the night before. He was also “blindsided and “humiliated” and found it “incredibly disappointing to have people let [him] down this way.” So all told, the governor had a very tough week, thank you very much.

If you got the sense that Christie has seen the unfolding mess mostly in terms of how it affects, you know, Christie, you’d be justified. Google the words Christie and narcissist and you get 3.3 million hits. Salon.com calls his press conference “a mix of narcissism and bullying.” New York Magazine, writes of “The narcissistic drama of Christie’s apology.” In a Washington Post piece, “New Jersey narcissist,” Dana Milbank actually counts the number of first-person references Christie made in his endless presser: I led the field with 692 repetitions; me, my and myself were next at a combined 217; I’m clocked in at 119; and I’ve was last at a still-impressive 67. So, a lot of verbal selfies.

But it’s not language alone that makes Christie the narcissist he is. It’s not his loudness and largeness or personality either, nor is it his history of bullying or his disdainful impatience with those he appears to think of as his lessers — though all of those things are certainly part of the narcissistic profile. I’ve spent the past two years deep in the literature of narcissism for a just-completed book, and if there’s a sine qua non that turns up again and again in the personality of the narcissist, it’s a wholesale lack of empathy — an inability to see any suffering but the narcissist’s own, even when the narcissist has caused real suffering in others.

Some of America’s most florid narcissists have been jaw-droppingly good at this very bad tendency. “How could they f-cking say this? How could they do this to me?” wailed John Edwards when press reports of his career-wrecking extramarital affair began appearing, according to Game Change, by John Heilemann and TIME’s Mark Halperin.

“I don’t believe it, first it snows and now this,” moaned baseball bad girl Marge Schott, former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, when a storm threatened to delay Opening Day and, after the game did start, umpire John McSherry suffered a fatal heart attack behind home plate.

“Others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself,” a teary Richard Nixon counseled his White House staff on the morning after he resigned the presidency — affecting the pose of the wronged leader who was rising above the pettiness of his attackers, rather than the constitutional vandal getting out of Dodge before he could be thrown out.

The utter absence of the empathy app in narcissists like Nixon, Edwards, Schott and, it seems, Christie, is in some ways a mystery, since it’s one that usually gets downloaded and booted up very early in life. Empathy is hardwired in the brain at birth in the form of mirror neurons which, as their name suggests, help us experience what others are feeling in a powerful — and sometimes painful — way.

Researchers cite studies, for example, showing that while crying is always contagious in a roomful of newborns, it’s not the noise that appears to be responsible — at least not always. Babies can distinguish between the sound of a real cry and the sound of a recorded one, and will respond with their own tears mostly to the genuine one — presumably because it’s a sign of equally genuine suffering. “Infants show empathy from the very beginning,” says psychologist Jean Twenge of San Diego State University.

Psychologist Mark Barnett of Kansas State University similarly cites the sweet if unscientific phenomenon of toddlers who will respond to the sight of an injured or unhappy adult by racing to bring a plush toy or one of their other favorite comfort objects. It works for them, so why shouldn’t it work for a grownup? “It’s called emotional mimicry,” Barnett says. “It’s not true empathy, but it’s a start.”

Christie did bring his own version of a stuffed teddy to the mayor of Fort Lee, visiting him directly after his press conference to offer his apologies and his sympathy. But it was a small, late and self-preserving gesture, and only to true Christie partisans did it read like real contrition. To most others, it looked like Christie looking out for the man he cares about most, which appears to be Christie.

Narcissism is not all bad. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela may have been among the greatest, bravest, most virtuous men of their era, but if you don’t think they got a deep and primal charge out of being cheered by crowds that numbered in the hundreds of thousands, you don’t know human nature. Diffident people don’t change history. But petty people, self-interested people, people who are very good at feeling their own pain but poor at feeling others’ don’t either. Christie is learning that lesson this week. Like other narcissists who have fallen before him, he may find he’s learned it too late.

 

By: Jeffrey Kluger, Senior Editor,  Time Magazine, January 13, 2014

January 16, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Freedom’s Just Another Word For Guns”: Honor Lincoln And MLK By Getting Yourself An AR-15

Let’s say you’re a local Republican party organization in a Democratic state, and you want to think creatively about how to get media attention. You could put up a “Kiss a Capitalist” booth at the county fair, or hire a local graffiti artist to spray-paint portraits of Ronald Reagan on the homes of poor people in order to inspire them to take a firm hold of those bootstraps and pull. Or, in honor of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, two liberals who got assassinated with guns, you could raffle off an AR-15. That’s what the Multnomah county GOP is doing, and you have to give them credit: people are noticing! Here’s part of their press release:

Multnomah County Republicans recognize the incredible time of year we are in. In successive months to start the year, we celebrate the legacy of two great Republicans who demonstrated leadership and courage that all of us still lean on today: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. In celebrating these two men, and the denial of the rights they fought so hard against, the Multnomah County Republican Party announces that we have started our third raffle for an AR-15 rifle (or handgun of the winner’s choice).

For the record, Martin Luther King was not a Republican, and Abraham Lincoln’s Republican party was the liberal party of its day; just ask yourself what side the average Tea Party Republican of today would have been on had they been alive in 1864. And let’s try to unpack that last sentence: “In celebrating these two men, and the denial of the rights they fought so hard against…” So wait, are you celebrating the denial of rights? And which rights did they fight against? I’m confused.

Grammatical puzzlers aside, this is some high-grade, industrial-strength trolling. For some people, freedom’s just another word for … guns. That’s really all it’s a word for. Freedom is guns, and guns is freedom, and if a historical figure sought to correct injustice, then obviously he would have been opposed to the worst injustice of all, which is when you have three AR-15s and you want to get a fourth one, but you have to get a background check to get it instead of just buying it out of some dude’s trunk at three in the morning in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly like James Madison intended.

And here’s the best part of that article about the raffle: “The winner will be given a background check before receiving the weapon.” Wouldn’t want any nuts getting their hands on it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 15, 2014

January 16, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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