How Chris Christie Earned My Respect

As much as I hate his politics, the guy has heart.

Chris Christie is spitting mad—and it’s his own party in the crosshairs.

After stalling just long enough to drive America over the fiscal cliff before (strategically) relenting on higher tax rates for the wealthy, House Republicans on Tuesday decided to drop the ball on just about every other significant piece of legislation before them, including a multibillion dollar package of much-needed aid for communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. The disaster relief bill would have funneled some $60 billion into coastal communities in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey that were devastated by the winds and flooding that tore through the region in October.  The funding cleared the Senate last week with the support of the President, and House leaders had promised a vote before the end of the 112th Congress. That bill is now dead, and lawmakers in the new Congress, which convened today, will have to start from scratch on a new resolution.

It didn’t have to be this way. Domestic disaster relief is a legislative softball, and aid packages typically sail from the drafting table to the president’s desk with broad bipartisan support. After Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, it took just 33 days for Congress to release funds; Texas started seeing help 17 days after Ike hit in 2008; and, federally funded Katrina clean up began a mere 10 days after the storm receded.

So what happened? House Speaker John Boehner (who was reelected to his leadership post today) chalked the delay up to bad timing. Translation: He and his colleagues were too busy dragging their feet over deficit negotiations to waste time with a little thing like, oh, a few empty lots where houses used to be. Sources told The Hill that GOP rank and file were too pissed about eating it on the fiscal cliff deal to consider a new spending measure, even one that is destined to pass anyway. And, one can’t overlook the fact that Gov. Christie has made few friends of late among the conservative faction of the GOP.

As a concession in the face of criticism, Boehner promised to fast track $9 billion to the affected states by week’s end and to schedule a vote on a new relief proposal by January 15th. In a press conference yesterday, a clearly exacerbated Christie called the House’s failure to act “disgusting” and placed blame on the “toxic internal politics” of his own party:

“Last night the house of representatives failed that most basic test of public service and they did so with callous indifference to the people suffering in my state … Americans are tired of the palace intrigue and political partisanship of this Congress which places one-upsmanship ahead of the lives of the citizens who sent these people to Washington D.C. in the first place.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Is Christie’s anger calculated? Maybe a little. There is political capital to be won by offering the least effective and most disliked Congress in history the public spanking it so richly deserves. But the more I watch him confront the partisan shenanigans of his own party, the more convinced I become that Gov. Christie, for all his faults, embodies the sincerity and conviction of a true leader. In a country torn apart by petty partisanship where barely a fifth of the citizens have faith in their leaders, I’d say that deserves at least a modicum of admiration.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which hit New Jersey just eight days before the general election, Christie dropped the bombastic posture he’d taken during the Republican National Convention, manned up, and resisted GOP pressure to politicize the tragedy inflicted on his state. Then he lashed out at party operatives who criticized him for praising the President for a job well done. After the election, he publicly rebuked Romney for claiming he lost his bid for the presidency because Obama voters are partial to gifts. Even when he’s wrong, he embodies an authenticity sorely missing from American politics today. Pressed on Jon Stewart recently about his decision to vote down a state-run health insurance exchange, Christie explained his (flawed) logic from a place of conviction.

Sure, he’s had some colossal zingers; the old light switch comment comes to mind, as does the time he quoted FDR out of context, telling an AIPAC audience he admired Israel for its proficiency at making enemies. His penchant for low-brow snubs has drawn condemnation from the New Jersey electorate. Yet much of the same could be said about Joe Biden, a similarly flawed but equally authentic character who just happens to share my political views.

While I can find little of value in his politics, Chris Christie brings heart to a profession that is pallid from lack of blood flow; he is gutsy, unapologetic, steadfast and so, so flawed. In other words, he’s human. He’s the anti-Romney, and that’s something I can respect, regardless of where he stands on issues of polity.