The Pander Bear Saves Face

Just as the true test of personal character is what a person does when no one is watching, so the true test of political character is what a politician does when everyone is watching. That is to say, is the politician doing what he does in a given instance because it’s the right thing to do or because he’s pandering to a constituency?

The answer will mark the difference between a man of integrity and a weasel.

Case in point is the controversy swirling around Governor Chris Christie’s decision last week to order flags around the state lowered to half-staff on Saturday in honor of deceased entertainer Whitney Houston, who was born in Newark. Now let me be perfectly clear: in my opinion, the transgression isn’t so much one of lowering the flag for a celebrity (there is precedent for the action) although the case can be made that, given the constrictions of the flag code and the dictates of tradition and protocol, doing so for anyone other than statesmen, military personnel and first responders cheapens the honor and renders the flag a mere prop for pandering to the fleeting grief of the masses.

Rather, the governor’s egregious faux pas involved focusing his attention on a dead entertainer while practically ignoring the death of Osbrany Montes De Oca, a U.S. Marine who was killed in combat operations in Afghanistan last Friday – a full day before Whitney Houston was found dead in the bathtub of her hotel suite.

The Defense Department issued a press release announcing Montes De Oca’s death on Monday, February 13. It strains reasonable credulity to believe that the governor’s staff did not receive this press release or was unaware that Montes De Oca had been killed.

The Newark Star-Ledger broke the story on Tuesday, February 14 – the same day Christie that he would issue an executive order to lower the flag in honor of Whitney Houston. Not a word was uttered about the fallen Marine.

On Wednesday, February 15 in West New York, Governor Christie went out of his way to eulogize Whitney Houston and defend his decision to honor her by lowering the flags – but he never once mentioned Osbrany Montes De Oca or even referred to him except to say that “every fallen soldier who has lost their life during this administration has had that honor.

On Thursday, February 16 Governor Christie issued his executive order to lower the flags to half-staff on Saturday in honor of Whitney Houston. Later that day, he issued another executive order directing that flags be lowered to half-staff on Tuesday, February 21 in honor of Osbrany Montes De Oca, a move that almost appears to be a face-saving afterthought in light of the fact that Christie should have made the announcement regarding the fallen Marine his first order of business on the morning of Tuesday, February 14.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Governor Christie decided to accept the invitation to attend Ms. Houston’s funeral in Newark on Saturday, February 18. He stayed for the entire three and a half hour event and even received a standing ovation after Pastor Marvin Winans praised him for ordering the flags at half-staff and defending that decision when he was criticized for it.

On Monday, February 20 a funeral mass was held for Osbrany Montes De Oca in Queen of Peace R.C. church in North Arlington. After the Mass of Christian Burial concluded, he was laid to rest in Holy Cross Cemetery.

As it turns out, my prediction was correct: Gov. Christie attended the funeral of this American hero. Then again, he had no choice, given what transpired last week. Not showing up for this funeral after appearing at Ms. Houston’s funeral would have been political suicide and if anything has proven itself axiomatic, it’s the fact that Chris Christie is a creature of the political world – where perception is reality and whitewashed sepulchers are the housing of the realm.

Nicely done, Gov. Zeppelin: you skirted (albeit very narrowly) a total political catastrophe – but you did not emerge unscathed. Those of us who held our noses and pulled the lever for you in 2009 won’t forget this telling demonstration of who and what you really are: a pandering Jersey politico.

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