Commentary Magazine


The Temptation of Christie: Entitlements for Politicians

As Alana noted, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is taking a pasting from Democrats and the press over his use of a state helicopter to attend his son’ baseball game. But I think this is more than a case of bad optics. Christie, a politician who has rightly earned the admiration of much of the nation for his tough talk about curbing spending on entitlements has come down with a bad case of a different sort of entitlement problem: an addiction to entitlements for politicians.

We’ve all seen it happen before. A man of the people who is elevated to a high political office often starts out humble and down to earth, just as Christie has been. But it takes a lot of discipline and self-denial for anyone in such a position not to start thinking that they are entitled to be treating as a visiting potentate wherever they go. The State Trooper escort, the big car and yes, even the private air transport available to governors starts to seem normal and even ordinary. The temptation to take advantage of these perks even when it isn’t necessary or work-related is great. The tendency to think that one is indispensable and worthy of special treatment becomes second nature.

This is not the first instance when Christie acted as if the normal rules of political life didn’t apply to him. Last December, he chose to go ahead and fly to Disneyworld rather than to stay at his post as a huge winter storm was about to hit his state. While it could have been argued that there was little he could have done in Trenton about the weather, the symbolism of his high tailing it down to Florida while his constituents dug out their homes was not good. Moreover, Christie’s attitude was far from contrite, even arrogant about the controversy. It was clear that he felt he was entitled to do what he wanted even if it rubbed many voters the wrong way.

But Christie got lucky that week. During the same storm Michael Bloomberg took a similarly high-handed attitude toward snow removal in New York City and the resulting disaster overshadowed any dissatisfaction with Christie on the other side of the Hudson River. But it appears that Christie didn’t learn anything from that incident. If he had, he would have been more careful about playing the great man with his helicopter.

Considering the sacrifices that he rightly asked state employees and teachers to make, Christie may never quite live this down but it is a sufficiently minor offense that he can certainly survive it. Christie needs to take this incident to heart and rethink his attitude toward the trappings of power.

It would probably be  just as well if Christie sticks to his decision not to run for president. It appears that he has a lot to learn about the behavior Americans expect from their leaders. If he expects to go on campaigning, as he should, against the unchecked growth of entitlements, he is going to have to learn to curb his own appetite for the perks that politicians come to believe they are entitled to.