CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA – The room is Corn-Belt renaissance, the kind of workplace with plenty of windows and ergonomic chairs, an office drones will hate for decades of their lives, and it’s filled with people you’d see in line at the grocery store sighing as the cashier struggled to keep up. They are dressed in red, white, and blue. Some in flag shirts and blouses, others with blue button-ups under red sweater vests. Babies in star-spangled jumpers. Bankers and farmers and retired elementary-school secretaries.
My guess is that I’m the only one hungover from IPAs turned tall-boy Budweisers fished out of a trash can filled with ice. It’s easy to assume from appearances, but also a lack of complimentary coffee, which the only other struggler – a cameraman with shaggy hair and red, glassed eyes – is harassing a staffer for. I’m with him, but would never join in, even though we keep sharing rolling eyes and stealing knowing glances.
I’m hesitant because, listen, these people do not fuck around.
Quite simply, this is the corporatization of American politics, the for-profit overworld that politicians like Governor Chris Christie inhabit and swell on like ticks.
And they will not hesitate to toss out anyone who steps out of line, be it your humble correspondent or that sweater-vested grandfather of five. This is Business. This is The Long Game.
Not to mention, there are investors to consider.
At the door the harassment starts. White-teethed boys who believe in Capitalism with all of their hearts take your name and eye you like TSA agents. It’s not a far cry to imagine rulers taken to sideburns as a Muzak-version of “Lowrider” buzzes through the speakers. Finally, inside, you sit at a polished table next to a giant flag, whiteboards with investment and innovation strategies for a new investment start-up that helps start-ups find financiers.
Here we are, the nexus of grass-roots corporatocracy, a mob of well-to-dos who have more stake in things staying the same than any effort to improve a little piece of existence for those poor and schlubby bastards begging by the door.
The banner reads:
LIKE IT IS
Below it the aides circle the room in Brooks Bros. blazers, neatly-ironed khakis, fifty dollar haircuts. The one who soundchecks the mic is the guy who got a hard-on in high school from hipchecking the smart and poor kids into the wall. He makes jokes that aren’t even approaching funny, including asking an old woman if she can count to ten.
“In what language?” she retorts.
The crowd, ever desirous to stay in line, bristles.
“We’ve got a live one,” he says before immediately retreating in a sweat.
The politics of For-Profit America rely on intimidation as their main weapon. Center-Right America is a haven for broad-shouldered men who revel in “being men,” or rather, they excel in the practice of misogyny and casual fascism.
Theirs is the art of shouting down, of speaking louder than the next guy and pummeling their opponents with enough posturing and bullying that eventually they’ll give in to their will.
“If you’re in a blue blazer then you’re in charge,” someone jokes.
Behind me a pair of aides take their position and they keep talking about watching me write. They joke about reading over my shoulder, about finding my “secrets.”
This is a message.
An assurance that I am in Their Room.
Just as the heat gets turned up, Governor Chris Christie enters from the back and the entirety of the crowd stands except for me. I’m working on this account and by the time I look he’s right there, shaking my neighbor’s hand. Then: mine.
Now. The story on Christie has always been his size. It’s the easiest characteristic for observers to seize upon, which is understandable considering how large he actually is. Up close, he feels like the largest man I’ve ever laid eyes on. His actual presence is so formidable that I feel his gravity. He grabs my hand and the grip with which he shakes is so aggressive and strong that suddenly I’m competing with the governor of New Jersey as to who will give first.
Bar fighters, or rather those who have fought in bars, can attest to certain senses that are heightened after the experience. I can, almost to a person, stand in front of another man and tell you whether he knows how to fight or how he would afford himself in a physical altercation. Chris Christie, if angered, could do serious damage, and that realization is one I have without a single doubt.
This physicality has propelled Christie to the de facto leadership position of the For-Profit Right in so much that he is the strongest of the strong, the warlord who is willing to hold court and field any challenger as long as they don’t mind some bloodshed or broken bone. He is a street fighter, a once-in-a-generation brute who in another life would’ve helmed a legion after decades of feats of strength. As he paces the room you feel a general sense of anxiety and unrest in the crowd, a tenseness that usually accompanies sharing a space with a prizefighter or an unpredictable junkie who may, at a moment’s notice, break a chair against the wall or tear his best friend’s throat with his teeth.
Christie has been successful at channeling this presence, which he is undoubtedly aware of, into a new type of Body Politic that allows him to throw his proverbial weight around and reduce the art of politics to a physical pageant that, through sheer will and gravity alone, gives credence to his ideas via his impressive girth and volume.
His speech is short, but it revolves around a general narrative. He’s the candidate who isn’t afraid to tell the hard truths, who doesn’t shy away from opinions that will certainly offend some while delighting others. The truth is that these stances aren’t actually controversial, but they sound like they are at first blush.
For instance, on social security: “People say it’s the third-rail of American politics and you shouldn’t touch it. I’m not touching it, I’m hugging it.”
His “controversial” solution: raising the retirement age two years.
Or, his stance on fighting ISIS: “I believe in peace through strength.”
Well, there’s something controversial in there, but it isn’t what Christie thinks.
Listening to him talk about national security is an eye-opening experience that even seasoned correspondents find jarring. Word has always been that the governor is hawkish on defense, but when he gets going – Christie is prone to fits of momentum, especially when a line elicits a response, whether that’s applause or a long laugh break – he really goes and shreds any script he’s performing off of. Within seconds, he’s gone from beefing up military advisors in Iraq to calls to remember the attacks of September 11th and re-fortify, and even escalate, the intelligence apparatus of the NSA and American’s corporate surveillance state.
“I was one of the people reading FISA documents (the requests the NSA had to file in order to profile individuals in American), I was reading the intelligence. Everyone else? They’re like professors in a classroom with their theories.”
To listen to Christie, it was him running the country in the early 2000’s, not George W. Bush. With a little piecing together, it’s easy to assume that Christie, as commander-in-chief, would probably be farther right than W. and more locked in regarding “National Security,” or rather the fairytale that Neocons tell the country to erode civil liberties a foot at a time.
This is the real terror of Chris Christie, not his unnerving penchant for establishing eye contact and daring the recipient to blink first. It’s the possibility that here we might have an extremely electable candidate who, if given the keys to the Oval Office, might step in there with enough machismo and intelligence to start a world war out of principle alone.
The rest was the expected farce of modern right politics. Villainization of teachers, unions, higher education. The war against the intellectual and the working class. Backpage calls for colleges to provide itemized bills, full-on haymakers aimed at Rand Paul and Jeb Bush before claims he’s “not going to attack” his opponents.
There’s nothing in the remainder that raises an eye from these Iowan republicans. They’ve heard it all before in every other meet and greet, every other stump speech all the other contenders peddle around here like worn goods. They aren’t here for the substance and they don’t care to hear Christie “tell it like it is.” They’re not interested in how things are. They’re interested in how they were and how they could be again. How they have been and how they always will be.
They’ve found a man here who could be president in the way Reagan and W. were presidents. Men who governed by gut and viscera alone. Men who led us into conflicts that bruised the promise of American while threatening to destroy not only the makeup of civilized society but the world itself, simply because they had some skin in the game. No, the scary thing about Chris Christie isn’t that he tells the truth, it’s that he tells His Truth and His Truth is one that, with a few breaks here and there, could soon be Our Truth.
Photo of Chris Christie in Iowa by JY Sexton
Illustration: Chris Christie – Whoppers on the Bridge by DonkeyHotey