We all had a good laugh at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s expense over the holiday weekend.
After the overweight chief executive was caught sunning himself on a beach that had been closed by a state government shutdown, he was mercilessly and rightfully ridiculed online. Computer users mocked up hilariously altered photos of Christie in a beach chair in various situations, including the legendary From Here to Eternity scene of two lovers rolling in the surf – with, of course, the seated Christie nearby. Another social media meme had him starring in a parody of the Clint Eastwood movie The Outlaw Josey Wales -- renamed The Outlaw Jersey Whales.
He deserved it. The governor was completely tone deaf enjoying a beach that was otherwise closed to the working-class proletariat. It became a national story.
The sad thing is, with his unforced, elitist blunder, Christie made himself the story. He isn’t.
The real story is yet another group of lawmakers, this time in Trenton, who were unable to get their work done in an efficient and timely fashion. The legislature’s failure to arrive at a budget caused the shutdown (averted on July Fourth eve) that made Christie’s lapse of judgment possible.
The real story is an alarming breakdown in leadership across America.
In South Carolina, the legislature meets for nearly half the year. Yet, lawmakers couldn’t get their work done in even that amount of time. And now the state, and in particular its school districts, have to wait until next year’s session for lawmakers to vote on whether to override Gov. Henry McMaster’s recent vetoes of various legislative bills.
The half-year void, notes the Post and Courier of Charleston, “will delay votes that would decide: if $350,000 in art-related grants and $3.25 million in sports marketing grants can be distributed; whether $20.5 million in excess lottery proceeds is put toward the state’s aging fleet of (school) buses; and if the Commission on Higher Education is stripped of its authority to review college construction projects.
“For students, parents and teachers in Orangeburg County, it also means McMaster’s veto of a separate bill that would consolidate the (area’s) three school districts won’t be reviewed until next session.”
In Illinois, the legislature struggled this week toward a state budget that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes was “supposed to be finished five days ago but is more than two years overdue.” Schools there had been wondering if they would have money to open next month, or enough funds to stay open for more than a few weeks.
The Land of Lincoln has been facing “a $6 billion deficit, and a pension liability that is now upwards of $130 billion,” writes Forbes magazine, adding that “after years of overpromising and underperforming,” and “pressured by public sector unions, state lawmakers boosted retirement benefits, using wildly unrealistic forecasts for investment returns and wage growth to justify them.”
No doubt a little tongue-in-cheek, Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass suggested a couple weeks ago that Illinois should just be dissolved.
“Decommission the state, tear up the charter, whatever the legal mumbo-jumbo, just end the whole dang thing,” Kass wrote.
“The best thing to do is to break Illinois into pieces right now. Just wipe us off the map. Cut us out of America’s heartland and let neighboring states carve us up and take the best chunks for themselves.”
Like New Jersey, Maine suffered a partial government shutdown as the July 4th holiday hit. Several other states missed budget deadlines but did not shut down agencies.
And need we mention the lack of leadership on Capitol Hill? With major health care and tax reform bills stalled, a budget deadline looming and an infrastructure bill desperately needed, your representatives and senators are staring at an August recess that will slash their work days to the bone. Really?
Beyond our borders the leadership is even more lacking. North Korea’s people are famously deprived, yet their leaders go on playing with rockets and threatening the world with nuclear war. The Mideast is a mess and Europe is failing utterly to protect itself from the repercussions. It just goes on and on.
It certainly makes us proud and relieved to live in Georgia, a state that is so well-run comparatively that it finished its legislative session on time and on budget.
Yet how can the world have so many leaders and yet so little leadership?
Chris Christie, as outrageous as his faux pas was, is not the issue. The reason he was able to metaphorically trip over himself on a closed beach is that lawmakers failed to keep it open to the public until the last moment.
It’s time we expected more of our leaders.