What’s nastier than the latest thug-ugly video by rightwing dirty trickster James O’Keefe? The rousing endorsement his smear of a nationally recognized public school teacher got from New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a GOP 2012 presidential possible who really, really hates the teachers’ union.
O’Keefe, if you remember, is the young, pimp-costumed, self-designated "investigative journalist" whose deceptively edited tapes of ACORN employees led to the antipoverty organization’s demise earlier this year. After he and some pals went on to break into Democratic senator Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office, O’Keefe was sentenced to three years on probation for entering federal property under false pretenses. Some of us thought we’d seen the last of the creep when his alleged plan to punk a CNN reporter by seducing her on a boat filled with sex paraphernalia blew up in his face. Even O’Keefe sponsor and Shirley Sherrod baiter Andrew Breitbart demurred at that one, writing, "James owes [CNN] a candid and public explanation."
But Breitbart, along with former US Attorney Christie, stand by their federally convicted man’s latest misogynistic video, "Teachers Unions Gone Wild." The idea was to catch teachers at a New Jersey Education Association conference saying dumb stuff to "prove" they’re arrogant greed-meisters who don’t care about their students (something Governor Christie shamelessly tells students directly).
One guy in O’Keefe’s crew, still too shy to publicly identify himself, secretly taped 38-year-old Passaic special education teacher Alissa Ploshnick for more than two hours, plying her with drinks the whole time. The mission: get her to say that even the worst tenured teachers can’t be fired. And in fact, she expressed her dismay that a colleague who once called a student the N-word "has been demoted, but is still teaching." To quote that teacher, Ploshnick used the N-word herself. O’Keefe later ambushed her outside her home to ask, "Have you ever referred to a student as the N-word, or has anybody you know referred to a student as the N-word?"
Rather than defend Ploshnick, her school district took a leaf from Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s spineless book and suspended her for nine days and denied her a pay raise. The worst part, Ploshnick said, is "I felt like I was raped,” and now "being always on guard." (See an interview of her below.)
Ah, the NWMD (N-word of Mass Destruction) offense: O’Keefe knows it well. He’s been seen at a white supremacy conference (no secret recordings from that one, unfortunately) and, as Salon reports, he was disciplined at Rutgers University by a black dean for calling other students that word (a charge he denies).
But really, as the Rude Pundit asks, "What horrific things did [O’Keefe] discover? That when they’re not on the clock, adults drink and say stupid s**t and make fun of their bosses."
No matter: Ploshnick and the other teachers are the perfect set-up for Christie’s ACORNization of the New Jersey teachers’ union. He quickly came out and praised O’Keefe’s secret taping, telling a town hall audience, "If you need an example of what I’ve been talking about for the last nine months—about how the teachers union leadership is out of touch with the people and out of control—go watch this video. It’s enlightening, it’s enraging.”
Not only that, but Christie’s refined sense of thrift and public decorum was offended by another tipsy taped teacher who, he says, was part of the "leadership of the union" and was "laughing and saying ‘Isn’t this great? I get to play arcade games on your dime.’ " Christie mangled that a bit—that was a first-year teacher, hardly a union leader, and the dime was the union’s, not, as Christie implied, the taxpayers’. But as one-time rival, then ally, and now bus treadmark Bret Schundler has said, "I think the governor gets rolling and a lot of stuff gets said."
Of course, the fact that Ploshnick had received a letter of commendation from then-President Clinton after she threw herself in front of an out-of-control van to protect her students, leaving her hospitalized with broken ribs, a fractured wrist and glass cuts in her eyes, meant nothing to the big guy’s crack team of public servants. "What do these stories have to do with recent events?" Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak asked.
Still, from Christie’s perspective, the video’s release couldn’t have been more fortunate. It inoculated him, coming out shortly before a Justice Department inspector general’s report found that Christie had engaged in "a pattern of abuse" as a US attorney. The same man who’s now demanding extreme belt-tightening for others, had billed taxpayers for luxury hotels and travel expenses that busted government limits at least fifteen times in two years. In one instance, he skipped taxi service in favor of a private car for a four-mile trip to and from Boston’s airport at a cost of $236.
But then, Christie makes his own luck. A few weeks after we learned that he had botched the state’s Race to the Top application, thus losing $400 million in federal education aid, he was on Oprah talking up how he "helped orchestrate a $100 million matching donation from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to the blighted Newark school system," as Michael Tracey writes in The Nation. The money "deflected scrutiny from the structural inequities that had doomed Newark in the first place—and which his cuts have exacerbated." (For more instances of Christie avoiding accountability see Blue Jersey.)
In short, Christie wants us to watch O’Keefe’s videos, not what his cuts are doing to New Jersey. "In what felt like an overnight blitz, he cut hundreds of millions in aid to public schools and municipalities," Tracey writes, citing cuts in school breakfast programs for poor children, pre-kindergarten programs, state park maintenance, suburban schools’ music and sports programs, facilities for the mentally ill, and big-city police forces, to the point that, he writes, "Gang members in Newark roam the streets with T-shirts celebrating the date of scheduled police layoffs."
And Christie did all this—not to mention slashing arts funding and killing the commuter train tunnel to New York that could have created 44,000 permanent jobs—while simultaneously vetoing a "millionaire’s tax" and resolutely refusing to raise the state’s gasoline tax (third-lowest in the nation after Wyoming and Alaska).
Christie wouldn’t have been able to finesse such one-sided stinginess without the help of a national television media giddy over the prospect of a new great right hope and too lazy to produce much more than personality profiles. What they adore about Christie is how he fits a charismatic stereotype: he’s Tony Soprano’s legit doppelganger—an emotional, blunt, Jersey tough guy who increases their opportunities to use "fuggedaboutit" as a punch line. The Today Show ran just such a profile last month, an all-smiles look at Christie’s regular-guy-dom that managed to miss any of the suffering his bullying has caused.
For sure, the New Jersey teachers union hasn’t been politically adept in its long battle with Christie, and the way bureaucracy seems to stymie change in the public schools can frustrate anybody. But there’s no way that justifies endorsing a peeping con like James O’Keefe, who’s willing to destroy an individual’s career in order to score points against a union. Politicians who praise that sort of thing aren’t regular, they’re reckless.