As someone who has very recently hopped a barbed-wire fence in a suit and black tie, I can attest that getting a photo of New Jersey governor Chris Christie with Florida Gov. Rick Scott is really difficult. On Saturday morning, the Republican Governors Association hosted the two for a fundraiser at the Country Club of Orlando, while members of the press were invited to wait curbside on OBT.
Unlike Scott, Christie – who is in the news right now for his attempt to cruelly punish an entire city over a political grudge – has a reputation as a power-crazed bully.
Stories about him will keep making national news because of his standing in the Republican presidential field. But most people are talking about him right now because we rarely get such a titillating and disturbing glimpse into how elected officials and their staffers really talk about their own constituents. We want to know what they say about us behind our backs.
The mocking texts sent by Christie’s deputy chief of staff during the bridge-lane closures in New Jersey reveal the way his team views the people who are supposedly their customers. Political staffers form especially tight and contentious cliques. They always know the latest gossip. Definitive proof may never emerge as to whether Christie directly used the world’s busiest commuter bridge as a political weapon, but it’s inconceivable that he didn’t at least tacitly approve of it the whole time.
Both Christie and Scott demonstrate how dangerous it is when leaders prioritize money over human need – but of the two, Scott is the more sinister politician.
In Florida, we could only hope for a governor who carried out political grudges through bridge-lane closures. Scott avoids public conflict, engaging instead in the silent trade of human lives for corporate profits.
In 2012, Scott vetoed the funding of 30 rape crisis centers, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. He sped up Florida’s execution process, but then chillingly delayed one prisoner’s execution date so it wouldn’t conflict with a political fundraiser. And of course he refuses to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid, even as 4 million Floridians lack health insurance. Why does it seem like so many public officials act in ways that are so contrary to the public good?
To understand why politicians do what they do, we first have to start viewing political campaigns as what they really are: businesses. Political campaigning is a large and complex industry, with its own technologies, trade magazines and master’s degrees. A political candidate is essentially a specialized contractor who wears three hats. They’re media personalities, they are fundraisers and they are customer-support representatives.
Campaigns create media for carefully selected audiences, just like advertising agencies or television studios. A political campaign serves its customers, who are still quaintly referred to as campaign “donors.” The campaign’s mission is to elect a government representative on behalf of these customers – most of whom are Florida’s wealthiest individuals and industries.
What makes Scott and his campaign so frightening is that he’s both the candidate and his own biggest client. Scott spent $85 million to win his first term in 2010, and $73 million of it came from his own pocket. This year, Scott’s campaign will spend more than $100 million to win re-election. But we are not his customers.
Every two weeks in this column, I’ll explore the broader politics behind our daily lives. It begins with the dreary recognition that campaigns are little more than awkward companies hastily serving their clients. They’re spending huge amounts to persuade us to advance their goals for them. And it works.
And it’s creepy.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that Central Florida’s voter demographics have changed rapidly since 2010. Orlando’s youth culture – especially as represented by our increasingly organized independent music scene – is now poised to take a greater role in influencing Florida’s political future. If you know how to throw a punk show at Uncle Lou’s, maybe this is the year to discover you already know how to organize a protest.
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