Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Six Year Itch

From where I sit, last year was worse for the Republican Party and for progress than it ever was for President Obama. Yes, yes, I know what the conventional wisdom said about the president's fifth year, but really, I don't necessarily buy it. As a matter of fact, I think that when all is said and done by 2017, many people won't even remember what the fuss was all about.

For example, the health care website was a dud in October and November, but as we speak, over 3 million people have signed up for health insurance through the portal and Medicaid, and the goal of signing up 7 million people by the end of March is eminently attainable. The Republican blahblahgosphere will say that not enough young, healthy people have signed up and that the death spiral will begin any time now, but since they've been wrong about everything related to the law (remember when the election of Scott Brown meant the end of the ACA?), why would we want to believe them now?

On immigration, the critics say that because there was no final bill last year that this was a failure for Obama. Not if we get a bill this year, and it's looking more and more likely that we will. Not because it was a bad idea last year, but because the GOP has finally realized that they are national election toast of they don't do something to help the Hispanic electorate that is running very quickly away from their party.

Likewise for the minimum wage, climate policy, appointees and foreign policy. In every one of these cases, the president won't get Congress to sign on to his initiatives, but he's laying the groundwork for later years or, most likely, for his successor who will most likely be a Democrat. At this point, Obama can do the most for this country by executive order and that's what we're likely to hear on Tuesday.

Most presidents, if they are remembered at all, are usually known for one or two major laws that transform the country. The ACA will be Obama's main accomplishment, but I could see him also being remembered for the Consumer Protection Board and the president who saved the American automobile industry. Immigration would put him in the top ten lists of great ones. The right wing knows this and that's why their last ditch efforts to derail anything Obama wants to do will be loud and scary. But that's all they'll be for years to come.

In the meantime, we are living through a trying time with a leader that history will remember fondly.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

NJ State of Emergency (and it's not the snow)

Chris Christie was inaugurated for his second term as Governor of New Jersey today. It's also snowing quite a bit. That will make his downhill slide easier and the crash at the bottom more pronounced. He's embroiled in two scandals, both of which will turn out to have been his own making, and he made a state of the state address last week that was so devoid of usable ideas, it's probably DOA in a Democratic legislature that is in no mood to compromise with him over controversial issues.

The Bridge issue by itself could probably be chalked up to election year hi-jinx by a guy who doesn't understand nuance and positive energy. Now we have another scandal that cuts even deeper and shows a pattern of behavior among Governor Christie's appointees and running mate that could touch him. The results will not be pretty.

The story involves aid for Sandy storm victims, but is tied up in election year politics and the desire Christie had to win a huge, forty-point plus victory over Democrat Barbara Buono this past November.

His administration chose an ad agency to promote the shore using Sandy funds, which might be OK except that the agency it chose cost $2.2 million dollars more that the other bidder and promised to put Christie and his family in the ads. Not bad in an election year where about the only issue Christie could run on, because the economy was still in a shambles, was Sandy relief. That makes the Hoboken issue that much more relevant, because the city really could have used any or all of those millions to, let's say, help people who were flooded out or needed assistance with programs that might help them get back on their feet. Instead, we get the first-ever Lieutenant Governor making threats against a Christie supporter, Mayor Dawn Zimmer, to help a political friend.

New Jersey is already an ethical sewer. Did Christie and Guadagno really have to flush at that moment?

Christie's office did offer a rebuke to Mayor Zimmer, but never addressed the accusations against Guadagno and attacked MSNBC, the network that's been the main mouthpiece for the story. That's classic Christie and follows the larger Republican strategy when they're challenged: discredit the opposition and call them names. Ouch.

But now Mayor Zimmer is talking with prosecutors at their request. Double ouch.

There will be more subpeonas and an occasional leak of juicy information and the result will be a prolonged period of stalemate where the governor wants to move beyond the scandals and the legislature wants to air every stitch of dirty laundry to lessen Christie's influence.

As for policy, last week's speech in Trenton wasn't just a rehashing of his fight with teachers and other public unions: it was a renewed call to battle against them by proposing to take more of their income and break their power. The governor wants everyone else to contribute more for their pensions and health benefits, which would severely impact those middle class workers, while he works on a tax break for the wealthy and reneges on his promise to make full state pension payments.

That idea would be bad enough, but the real insight into Christie's thinking is his not-even-half-baked proposal to lengthen the public school day and year. His lack of detail was stunning for such a high-profile pronouncement. Clearly, he's going through the motions of checking off ideas from the conservative playbook in an effort to curry favor with the Republican right wing. Needless to say, reaction has not been positive, and for good reason.

First of all, where is the money coming from to install air conditioning and run electrical power for the rest of June and into July? Where is the money coming from to pay teachers past June 30? What will happen to shore businesses, camps, academic programs and enrichment activities that are a vital part of summer in New Jersey? Yes, the governor rightly said that the school calendar is outdated, but other industries have grown around it that are vital cogs in the economic and academic life of students and teachers. He hasn't addressed that, and my guess is that he probably won't. He'll just spend time bashing teachers for not wanting to give up summer vacation, even though the summer is just another two months where most teachers need to find an income so they can eat or not lose their houses.

Chris Christie only knows one speed when it comes to doing his job, and it's going to result in a crackup. A comeback is certainly possible, but the damage has been done.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Christie Time?

Worried about a cold weather Super Bowl in a couple of weeks? Don't be: Now that the subpoenas are out and Randy Mastro is in, there's going to be plenty of hot air to warm the New Jersey Meadowlands and nourish the state and national news media for the game and beyond.

First up is the list of those individuals who have been subpeonad to testify in front of the legislature. This includes people close to Christie's campaign and political offices and reaches into the day-to-day operations of the government. Let's see how much they say, but given immunity, I believe we might hear some evidence that Christie had at least some knowledge of the Bridge lane closings.

Christie's hiring of former federal Prosecutor Randy Mastro is evidence that the governor is taking this scandal very seriously. Mastro worked for Rudy Giuliani, another politician who liked to bully people and thought that he was above the law. Remember Giuliani time? That was when the mayor sent the message that it was OK to do anything to fight crime. We need to hope that we don't see a text or e-mail that refers to Christie time, which would be the desire to win a reelection bid by more than 40 points. Which really sounds like it's the real impetus behind the Bridge scandal.What a waste.

We've had our fun with this, but I don't think the next few months are going to be fun for the governor. And rightly so.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Christie the Vi(ndi)cti(ve)m

If Governor Chris Christie thought that Thursday's news conference, that turned into a two-hour fiasco of alternately blaming others and apologizing without remorse, was going to be the end of the story about the GWBridge lane closures, then he was clearly mistaken. As usual with a scandal, the more we know, the more we want to know.

For example, who actually texted David Wildstein that they were smiling at the traffic jam? This is going to be interesting because presumably it wasn't Bridget Anne Kelly, the Christie aide who went from loyal and brilliant early in the week to "stupid" and "deceitful" at the press conference. And speaking of Kelly, why didn't Christie speak to her before firing her? What kind of prosecutor assumes guilt first and worries about whether they're being just later? Answer: A prosecutor like Christie who obviously doesn't care about the truth.

Questions about Christie's political future are also a main topic, as this scandal shows that he either doesn't have control over his own aides, or that he sent a message to them that this was politically acceptable behavior. In any case, this has severely damaged his national reputation. Conservatives were always wary of him; now moderates might be scared off by a man who has been resolute in the past, but just might have spilled over into vindictive in the national mind.

But the worst aspect at this point is that mayors from across New Jersey are now reviewing events of the past year and wondering if the negative attention they've received from Trenton is a result of them not endorsing Christie or running afoul of him because they disagreed with his decisions. This is the atmosphere that the governor has created for himself. Yes, his YouTube videos were entertaining for his supporters, but they are now a liability because, together with this scandal, they show a man who has no tolerance for opposition. That's dangerous for a man who wants to be president.

It will be interesting to see what new information comes out about this and whether the narrative as we imagine it today has more moving parts to it.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Heavy Traffic: Christie Takes It From the Bridge

A big, messy, tragic, stupid, vengeful scandal had to come to New Jersey during the Chris Christie era, and thus, it has reached us now. Yes, it turns out that the governor's staff knew about and directed the Port Authority of NY/NJ top gum up traffic to the George Washington Bridge on the first day of school in September in order to create massive traffic tie-ups in Fort Lee, NJ because the Democratic Mayor of Forth Lee would not endorse Christie for reelection (here's a handy timeline). A women might have died because emergency workers couldn't get to he for while. Schoolchildren were late for school. The town was paralyzed.

Christie is denying that he ever knew that his staff did this, feigning outrage at the mere thought of any kind of political retribution, tactics that the governor has perfected during his term in office. The episode shows an atmosphere of thuggery that's ugly even by New Jersey standards, and its pettiness is surpassed only by how truly unnecessary it was. Christie was going to win the election by a large margin whether the mayor endorsed him or not, but I guess that didn't matter. Even if we buy the governor's denials, the atmosphere he's created in Trenton is more noxious than any SuperFund site. And the Star-Ledger has it exactly right: this is Nixonian and the governor will pay a steep price for it with no EZPass rebate. 

We are still at the beginning stage of this investigation and there will probably be more damaging revelations, but my sense is that this by itself will not end any chances Christie has for a national run in 2016. if he was not directly involved, that should either come out or his loyal staff will take the fall for him. Stay tuned.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest  


Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Final Push

Far be it from me to argue with one of the greatest historical minds of the 20th century, but we essentially have an executive that serves a six year term, even if we get two extra bonus lame duck years for our efforts. So it has been with most other presidents, and so it probably shall be with Barack Obama. This is his sixth year; if it doesn't happen this year, chances are that none of his high priority agenda items will become law in 2015 or 2016.

That's why 2014 represents the final push for immigration, tax reform, a higher minimum wage, climate policy and every other item on the left-wing wish list. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. History has taught us that the first push rarely results in success when it comes to big change. Look how long it took to get healthcare reform. Sometimes the push is necessary if for no other reason than to get an idea in the public's mind and to prepare them, or to follow their lead, when it comes to legislation.

Like marriage equality, which coalesced into a major civil rights issue in a short amount of time, the push for rights for all people goes as far back as Stonewall in 1969 and the Supreme Court's ruling for and then reversal on, anti-sodomy laws in 1986 and 2003. Progressives have been highlighting income inequality and the rising gap between wealthy and not for decades. Now that cry is becoming a major force in calling for a higher, livable minimum wage that just could pass this year. After all, most people, even Republicans, support it.

The same will most likely be true of climate legislation, immigration, privacy and energy. More and more younger people realize that their world is changing and that the United States either has to catch up to other countries who are already addressing the problems or fall behind to our economic and social detriment. The far right is beginning lose its grip on the Republican Party, and while I don't see a more moderate wing surging anytime soon, I do see a less strident GOP in our future. That's good news.

This year will see one or two major pieces of legislation, with the rest of Obama's agenda left to the next Democratic president and a more willing population. I think we are moving in the right direction, but like anything done well, this will take time.

For more please go to: and Twitter @rigrundfest