By certain unimaginative standards, Chris Christie is an employee of the State of New Jersey, with an annual salary of $175,000. But as the New York Times documents today, that doesn’t prevent him from enjoying a lifestyle well beyond those apparent limits.
The New Jersey governor, the Times reports, is a near-shameless and inexhaustible freeloader, who has allowed and encouraged rich people (and the occasional foreign potentate) to ply him with luxuries, on top of the luxuries he can pry out of state taxpayers. It’s all unsurprising but still entertaining: Private jets everywhere? Of course. A $3,000 hotel bill in New Orleans, billed to the state? How about a $30,000 hotel bill, paid for by the King of Jordan? And have the butler draw a warm bath, please!
The story’s placement on the front page of the Times might imply that it represents some sort of scandal, but it illustrates an opposite truth: This behavior is not scandalous, it is just a particularly intense version of how things are done. As the Times notes in one paragraph, Christie far from alone among American public servants in collecting lavish benefits from billionaires:
Mr. Christie is hardly the first politician, in either party, whose embrace of luxury travel has prompted criticism. Hillary Rodham Clinton, for example, a potential Democratic candidate for president, is known for her dependence on private planes often paid for by others.
This is how the world’s true rulers deal with the inconvenience of a system that officially, in theory, allows members of the non-ruling class to claim positions of political power: They make sure those outsiders are comped with all the necessary memberships and privileges of the higher class. Eventually, they put them on the speaking circuit and Bob Barnett sets them up with a book deal, so that they become multimillionaires in real life.
Any would-be politicians who avoid these perks are cranks and are not to be taken seriously.
Whether it’s Bill Clinton starfucking and being starfucked from continent to continent or Rudy Giuliani stuffing the trunk of his car with shoplifted Yankees merchandise, our most successful political leaders understand that they have not just a right but a duty to cast off the old, commoners’ ways of thinking, in which the way you get things is by paying money for them. That’s how you know you’re a somebody: People give you stuff because of who you are.
(Disclosure: I’m married to a New Jersey state employee who has also worked for both Clintons.)
Sure, you could worry about ethics or whatever, if you want to be a nerd. But the point of this sort of thing isn’t some crude quid pro quo. Quid pro quos are for doomed small-timers. As theTimes story notes, after the gambling billionaire Shelden Adelson flew Christie on his private jet to a celebrity-filled luxury junket in the Middle East, Christie went ahead and signed a gambling bill that Adelson had wanted him to veto. Chris Christie is his own man.
The real, valuable corruption isn’t in the goodies: the “Champagne reception in the desert” King Abdullah of Jordan set Christie up with, the luxury boxes at NFL games, the dinner at Jean-Georges with Donald Trump, the “exotic wood interiors” of the Cessna Citation X that Christie demanded from the Romney campaign. It’s in the lesson that the recipient takes away from it all.
Asked for comment on the $30,000 worth of hotel rooms, the Times writes, a Christie spokesperson
described King Abdullah as “a friend” the governor met at a salon-style dinner in New York hosted by Michael R. Bloomberg, who was the mayor at the time.
Everybody is friends! King Abdullah is Christie’s friend. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is Christie’s friend. Donald Trump is Christie’s friend.
And with the help of all these friends, Chris Christie is, in his own words, trying to “squeeze all the juice out of the orange.” The Times makes some noises about how this ought to be at odds with his cultivated regular-guy persona and his demands for austerity, but it’s not at all, really. It’s on brand. The genius of Christie’s scandal-proofing is that his self-caricature of being a regular guy includes being mean and greedy and cutting a few corners. What regular guy wouldn’t grab everything he could, if he got the same chance? He’s not some uptight snob. He is ready for the big time.