Gov. Jon Corzine had a sweater vest. It kept him warm. Chris
Christie has the Navy Fleece. It turns the heat on anyone or
anything that gets in the way of improving life in New Jersey.
The ancient Greeks believed in the power of the Golden Fleece. Jason and the Argonauts went on a quest for it. In the real world, it is not a golden fleece that holds power; it is a navy one inscribed: Chris Christie, Governor.
In the final hours of the Do-Nothing-But-Obstruct-Democracy- 112th-Congress, House Speaker John Boehner reneged on a promise to pass legislation providing financial relief to the victims of superstorm Sandy. It was an unprecedented, politically based decision made after the fiscal cliff debacle left Boehner supporting new tax revenues. Boehner, it is said, felt like he was left alone holding a bag filled with doggie-doo. Not wanting to take the hit for more spending, he held the emergency relief money hostage.
Boehner thought he had a problem with tax-pledge zealots, but they were mere trade winds compared with the gale force of Christie. Boehner did not anticipate Christie and the Fleece. No, the governor was not wearing it when he called a press conference on Wednesday to attack Boehner's cowardice. It did not matter. He who possesses the Fleece has ultimate power. Christie did to Boehner what Samson did to the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, which, come to think of it, is a biblical metaphorical hat trick for a Republican.
Christie loudly said emergency aid to New Jersey, New York and Connecticut was being held up by politics in general and John Boehner in particular. While Christie was not alone in his indignation -- Long Island Republican Rep. Peter King was ripping mad as well -- King, if he has a fleece, bought his at Old Navy. There is no mythical power at Old Navy.
During Sandy, Christie and his fleece became the subject of endless jokes. The governor even parodied himself and his garment on "Saturday Night Live." But the joke was on us. The Navy Fleece, unlike the Golden Fleece, is real, and so is its power. Elected officials are often photographed during a crisis wearing self- identifying wardrobe. I assume it is because it allows them to jump the line for a porta-toilet when touring a ravaged community.
But with Christie, the Navy Fleece became a symbol of the real power given to him by the people of New Jersey. It doesn't just read "Chris Christie," it reads "Governor." At the 2012 Republican National Convention, Christie was criticized for being all about the "me." Since Sandy, he has been all about the "we." Chris Christie became a very different governor after Sandy.
Christie's indignation with Boehner and the House majority won him praise from most Republicans and Democrats, although some critics noted Christie helped elect some of the Northeast-hating House Republicans who put politics ahead of Sandy relief.
Don't expect Christie to help those same Republicans going forward. Sandy did more than move a roller coaster into the Atlantic Ocean; it firmly moved Christie into the national arena, not as an ice-cream-toting anomaly, but as a serious public official in full control of his power.
Boehner backed down fast not because of Peter King, although King had power to thwart Boehner's run for speaker, but because of Chris Christie. On Friday, the House approved $9.7 billion in Sandy- related aid. Every New Jersey congressman voted for it.
The larger $51.1 billion that Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo seek may be a harder lift. The House doesn't just have Tea Party members, it has fiscal vegans: No pork of any kind is tolerated. What passes both chambers may be a slightly trimmed-down bill. That is not bad if it means that Alaskan projects don't make the cut.
But going forward, there is an opportunity for Christie to keep both Trenton and Congress focused on The People's business. The Navy Fleece will be needed to find consensus between state Republicans and Democrats over what to do over a likely revenue shortfall in projected state revenues.
Equally important, the Navy Fleece is needed to successfully bring Christie to the next level: not as a short-term contract player on the national stage who will fade long before the Iowa caucuses, but as someone who puts office ahead of self and is unstoppable despite the probability of failure.
Hurricanes come and go, scalding hot tea grows cold and stale, but the holder of the Fleece -- Navy or Golden -- is someone worth reckoning. A suggestion to Governor Christie: When you deliver the State of the State address, wear the Fleece. Just look where sweater vests got Corzine.
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