BY PAUL SCHINDLER | With less than 10 days to go before the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, America was deep into the political silly season when a massive nor’easter put much of the Mid-Atlantic and points north deep into the snow drifts.
And no matter what you think of democratic socialism, it’s likely you’ll agree that the Republican side has plunged us further into the silliness than have the Democrats — though it’s typically difficult to move much down the list from Donald Trump’s shenanigans to consider, say, Ted Cruz’s shameless cozying up to Christian right fundies or Carly Fiorina’s bald-faced mistruths about Planned Parenthood.
But, let’s take a break from the Trump watch (even if it’s hard to stop rerunning clips of last week’s Sarah Palin train wreck) and focus on our neighboring Republican governor — Chris Christie of New Jersey.
After originally saying he would stay in New Hampshire while the Garden State’s coastline was once again battered, on Friday he thought better of that and hightailed it back to Trenton, perhaps hopeful of generating some free media showing him battling Mother Nature without Barack Obama by his side.
Before rejoining the campaign trail on Sunday, Christie gloated that his state managed to avoid major impediments to snow removal without “having to use the heavy hand of government to put mandatory travel bans in place.”
You know, the kind of mandatory travel bans that New York Democrats — both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio — used to ameliorate the impact of a storm that dumped about three times more snow than predicted.
What Cuomo and de Blasio did, however — first in curtailing bus service, then in banning non-emergency car travel, and finally in shutting down elevated transit and commuter rail service — was a thoughtful response laid out in deliberate fashion with reasonable notice in the face of a rapidly escalating storm situation. The city’s handling of the snow was not perfect — witness the many Queens streets unplowed for two or three days — but even with the second largest snowfall in history, the aftermath was surprisingly benign.
Christie may be pleased that his state also performed well — though don’t ask the Republican mayor of North Wildwood to back him up on that — but his silly rhetoric about the “heavy hand of government” is just not helpful in talking about large scale public challenges that could easily spiral into crisis.
Let’s remember that the roads and highways — and the coastal barrier protections — we’re talking about also reflect the product of government’s “heavy hand.” And if the government doesn’t get to it but quick in using its heavy hand — or heavy plows — in cleaning up the mess brought on by a storm, we’ll all hear no end of it.
Christie’s language is of a piece with a corrosive attitude encouraged by his GOP presidential rivals that government can do no good. To name just one pressing challenge, the nation faces a massive infrastructure crisis that demands we acknowledge what government can do well — and, in fact, what only government can do. It takes nothing away from the promise of American free enterprise to acknowledge that part of why we all gather together in a society is to produce the types of common goods and benefits that we can only create together in cooperation.
I, for one, am glad that New York’s governor and mayor — working, apparently, in uncommon harmony — used the powers of their offices to make this past Saturday and Sunday and the work week that followed a little easier to manage.