Not known for his political graces, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's presentation about drug addiction featuring Whitney Houston raised a few eyebrows. The provocateur governor, who has been pegged as a likely presidential candidate in 2016, is known for his abrasive mannerisms and history of bulldogging reporters for asking tough questions. Most infamously, he's known for allegedly playing a role in the George Washington Bridge scandal, aptly named Bridgegate.
Christie's personal stake in destigmatizing drug addiction is a valid one: a close friend of Christie's died of an overdose earlier this year. However, the inner-city church he chose to display the presentation in — New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J. — is the home parish of legendary singer Whitney Houston, who died in 2012 from an accidental drowning caused by heart disease and cocaine found in her system. Throughout her life, Houston's reputation was marred by her publicized drug addiction, and Christie wasn't shy in citing her as the reason he chose the church as his venue.
"The reason we're here is because of Whitney Houston, in a respect," Christie told CNN's Dana Bash. Christie was previously criticized for moving to lower flags to half mast in New Jersey after Houston's death, and personally attended her funeral.
While Christie's stake in promoting drug addiction awareness is valid, his stake in using Whitney Houston's life and reputation as a springboard is not. There's little to no evidence suggesting the governor had any sort of relationship with Houston, outside of coincidentally being the governor of her home state during the year she died. Houston was a music legend, bearing the title of "Most Awarded Female Act of All Time," but more importantly than that, she was a human being, who has a family that has already been traumatized by her death.
For Christie to dig her up to make an example of her in a campaign focused around empathy for drug addicts is hypocritical in and of itself.
He also didn't have to. Drug abuse and drug arrest statistics in the United States are through the roof. According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2013 alone, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older were current illicit drug users. And the CDC's most recent stats reveal the U.S. sees 41,340 drug overdose deaths a year. The numbers speak for themselves and if Christie really wanted to add a personal touch to drive the message home, he would use his own experience losing a friend to the disease - not a big name that's bound to turn heads.
Whether this new initiative is a ploy to recover from Bridgegate in time for a run for the presidency, a misguided attempt to gain supporters, or really as personal and good-natured as Christie has made it out to be, unless Houston or her family gave expressed permission for her to be a poster child for the cause, it's not within his right to make her one.
Image: Wikimedia Commons (1)