‘Sit down, shut up’ is no strategy

I’m fairly sure Southern heritage has me genetically predisposed to scrappiness.

I love a good debate and have sometimes purposefully taken on the role of Devil’s Advocate just to stir the pot and increase discussion. In fact, I used to carry a handmade sign, “my dog urinates on the carpet,” which I used to gain access to a variety of demonstrations. It’s amazing how many people never read the sign of the person next to them, and what they’ll divulge to a stranger.

What I’ve learned during these excursions is people don’t generally stand up because they have nothing else to be doing. They are there because they feel some deep-seated connection to an issue or want to bring added awareness. Their motivations are born of a certain level of need and desperation. Their final decision to put themselves on display has little to do with event organizers, and everything to do with their values.

Perhaps that is why the outburst by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie against a demonstrator is disturbing, despite my scrappy proclivity. Although former Asbury Park Councilman James Keady claims he did not say a word, he held a sign — “Stay in New Jersey, finish the job” on the front and “Get Sandy families back in their homes, finish the job” on the back — and that drew Christie’s ire.

After referring to Keady as a “show off” who had done nothing positive toward recovery, Christie demanded any conversation take place later. “But until that time, sit down and shut up,” Christie said.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (left) talks to reporters in July as he stands with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad at MJ's Restaurant in Marion.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (left) talks to reporters in July as he stands with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad at MJ’s Restaurant in Marion. (Justin Wan/The Gazette)

The statement was forceful, and others at the event “whoo-hooed” their support.

Keady founded a group called “Finish the Job,” which has been critical of the pace of rebuilding assistance after Hurricane Sandy. The business owner told the media he “stopped work for a month” and volunteered in his hometown of Belmar, where Christie’s two year anniversary event was being held.

It’s hardly the first time Christie, known for his temper, has berated a critic. Just this week, he told a nurse involuntarily quarantined for possible Ebola contamination who was threatening a lawsuit, “Whatever. Get in line.”

Although I’ve not yet tuned in to national news coverage of the event, I’m sure there’s speculation on how Christie’s style is going to play here in the world of “Iowa Nice.” If the 2014 midterms are any indication, he’ll fit in just fine.

We’ve watched as a governor, ahead in the polls, felt it was reasonable to dictate terms of debate and shirk Iowans’ concerns — even outright refusing calls for a meeting of the lieutenant governor candidates on the same ticket.

We’ve had our radio and television stations overrun with some of the most repugnant and shameless political advertising money can buy, and at least one of the candidates benefiting from the debauchery avoiding situations that might result in vigorous questioning.

And, through it all, a small, vocal group of Iowans have perched on the sidelines, “whoo-hooing” support for candidates willing to “stick it to the man,” too partisan or ignorant to realize they are the ones being pricked.

So, are we ready for a Christie 2016 Temper-Tantrum Tour? Whatever. Get in line.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Nov. 1, 2014. Photo credit: Justin Wan/The Gazette