For the most part, recent developments in Ferguson, Missouri, have not led to the usual political food fight. Perhaps it’s because Congress has been on another break, perhaps it’s because there’s nothing overtly partisan about Michael Brown’s death, but whatever the reason, the national debate hasn’t led to the predictable finger-pointing.
There are, however, exceptions.
Asked about the violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says that people across the country are deeply anxious because of a lack of leadership and that President Barack Obama is at least partly to blame.Christie made the remarks as he talked to reporters about the aftermath of the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
The Associated Press report was thin on exact quotes, but according to local reports, the New Jersey governor was helping out at a soup kitchen when a reporter asked Christie for his thoughts on Ferguson against the backdrop of Thanksgiving.
“The country has anxiety over a lot of things,” he replied, “and the only thing that clears up anxiety is leadership and direction. And so as everyone figures out what they’re thankful for, hopefully they can also pray for some leadership that will be strong and help bring us together.”
Asked specifically if we was blaming President Obama for developments in Ferguson, the governor said, “I’m suggesting lots of people have responsibility for that … not just the president. He’s just one of them.”
In other words, while reflecting on the crisis, Christie wants to blame a variety of people – a group that includes, but is not limited to, the president.
Christie’s criticisms don’t make a lot of sense, but more important is the fact that he’s clearly the wrong messenger for this misguided message.
For one thing, the violence in Ferguson is complex and part of a broader, more systemic problem involving race, law enforcement, and a breakdown in trust between a community and those who serve it. To connect the violence to nationwide “anxiety” – to be cured by vague “leadership” – is a lazy cop-out.
When Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, this wasn’t the result of the White House failing to “lead.” When the community erupted upon learning that Wilson wouldn’t face a trial, I don’t imagine many protestors were thinking, “I’m feeling anxiety due to a lack of national direction.”
For another, this notion that leading leaders can fix any problem through the power of their awesome leadership may generate applause in a stump speech, and may look nice on a bumper sticker, but without substance, it’s hollow rhetoric – and a poor substitute for meaningful solutions.
But the real clincher for me is the sheer chutzpah Christie is displaying. The scandal-plagued governor has spent the last several months ducking tough questions on a variety of major issues, generally preferring cowardice to actual leadership.
As for national “anxiety,” let’s not forget that the Garden State governor has exacerbated these fears more than he’s eased them.
Look, I realize there’s a larger context to this. Christie is gearing up for a national campaign, so he sees value in blaming the president for just about everything, including racial tensions in the St. Louis area. For the governor, it doesn’t matter whether his arguments make sense; what matters is his ability to get people to believe them.
But that doesn’t make Christie’s line of attack any less ridiculous.