Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Chris Christie’s Lessons for School Children

By definition a leader is “one who shows the way.” Citizens, including school children, look to their leaders for lessons in terms of character, doing the right thing, behavior in public and how to treat those less powerful. Since the moment that he entered office, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has provided lessons that no parent or teacher would wish on school children. Here is a sampling.

Lesson 1: Be a bully

In a recent Rutgers Eagleton poll, New Jersey residents used the terms bully, arrogant, selfish and aggressive to describe the Governor. Apparently, Chris Christie flunked kindergarten. These are hardly the words one would hope people used to describe a leader and role model for children. The Washington Post, noting that Christie has a video crew follow him around to capture moments in meetings when he bullies a New Jersey citizen so that his bullying reputation can be bolstered by You Tube videos, says simply, “The reason Chris Christie is so good at this is that Chris Christie is actually a bully… He's someone who uses his office to intimidate people and punish or humiliate perceived enemies.”

Bridgegate is, of course, the most famous bullying incident, but bullying tactics have been central to Christie’s leadership style from the beginning. These incidents include stripping a former governor of his police security at public events, taking funding away from a Rutgers professor who had somehow offended him, disinviting a state senator from an event in the man’s own district, stalling another state senator’s judicial appointment and of course, berating citizens at town hall meetings and even chasing one down the boardwalk yelling, “Keep walking, Keep walking.”

It is ironic that the man who signed the Anti-Bullying Act in New Jersey in the wake of the Tyler Clementi suicide, embodies the characteristics of a bully that that legislation was designed to address in and around schools. Here is the definition of bullying in that act:

"Harassment, intimidation or bullying" means any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication, whether it be a single incident or a series of incidents, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic…
·         [an act] a reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, will have the effect of physically or emotionally harming a student…
·         [an act that] has the effect of insulting or demeaning any student or group of students…
·         [any act that] creates a hostile educational environment

By this or any other definition, Chris Christie shows the school children of New Jersey it is good to be a bully.

Lesson 2. Talk back to your teachers

Teachers are a favorite target of Christie’s bullying. He has been videoed angrily berating teachers on several occasions. New Jersey teachers Marie Corfield and Melissa Tomlinson have both felt the steam of Chris the Bully. Both women, both teachers, both asking the Governor simple questions about school funding and his inflammatory rhetoric in a public place, both shouted down by an angry faced bully.

Teachers have made a convenient scapegoat for Christie’s unwillingness to tax the wealthy of the state to meet pension obligations or to fully fund schools. As New Jersey teacher, Mark Weber, points out in an article in The Progressive,

He accused teachers of “using the students like drug mules to carry information back to the classroom.” He claimed teachers were “standing in front of classrooms, and lying about and excoriating the governor.” He told a group of Trenton high school students that if their teachers cared about learning, they wouldn’t be at the annual teachers’ convention.

Christie’s message to children? No need to show your teachers any respect. If a teacher questions your efforts or corrects you, feel free to shout them down.

Lesson 3. Ignore your commitments

By his own account, Christie’s “biggest government victory” was pension reform. In 2011, Christie negotiated concessions from public employee unions that required the union members to accept reduced benefits and pay more into their pensions. Christie agreed that the state would end years of underfunding the pension when he signed the bill and pledged that the bill would “bring to an end years of broken promises.” Christie has ridden this agreement to national prominence as a Republican who can work with the “other side.”

Faced with a budget shortfall this year, however, Christie broke his promise. When the unions sued for him to follow his own law, Christie sent his lawyers to court to argue that this “signature achievement” was unconstitutional. Rather than raise taxes to meet his commitment, which would have damaged his presidential aspirations, Christie reneged on his promises, something the public employees, who continue to meet their obligations to the pension fund, were not allowed to do.

For a school child the lesson is clear. Stick to your agreements as long as they are convenient; once the agreement is not working for you, well – never mind.

Lesson 4. When in trouble blame your friends

Christie says he has been “exonerated” for Bridgegate, the scandal that broke over a nasty little retribution scheme aimed at the mayor of Fort Lee who had the audacity to decline to endorse Christie in his re-election campaign. When the story broke, Christie was quick to throw his friends under the school bus. These were all people he knew well and who he had appointed to important positions. Christie threw the full weight of the blame on these people, never acknowledging that he was the person responsible for setting the climate of bullying and intimidation that ruled in his office.

Christie has clearly modeled for school children that the best way to deal with getting caught doing something wrong is to look around and point the finger at any convenient target and never, ever accept any personal responsibility.

So there we have it, four clear lessons for school children from the leader of their state. I am sure Governor Christie, like all leaders, would like to think of himself as a role model. Well, Governor, I have seen some role models in my day, and I would say unless you are auditioning for the role of Tony Soprano, you are no role model.