With the sparse media coverage of Whitney Houston’s death and funeral, it’s not surprising that her years of military service have gone largely unnoticed, as were her activities as an undercover cop in New Jersey (was she really killed after a sting went bad?). After all, she must have done these dangerous things to warrant all New Jersey state flags being flown at half-mast in her honor, as ordered by Governor Chris Christie.
Because the opposite simply defies common sense. If Houston was not a police officer gunned down in the line of duty, nor a military hero killed in a war zone, that means that the hugely significant act of lowering the flags in deference to her was because she was … a singer?
Really, Governor? A singer? That’s what it’s come down to in Jersey? Sure, Whitney Houston was a Jersey native, proud of her Garden State roots. And undeniably, she was one of the most dynamic pop stars of all time, changing the musical landscape forever and inspiring some of the brightest performers of today.
But she was just a singer. That’s not to minimize her accomplishments, as they are many, but let’s cut through the emotion and talk brass tacks. She was a popular singer, past her prime, with a not-exactly-stellar personal history.
Play word association with most people about Whitney Houston, and they will tell you two things: great singer and crack addict.
That’s reason enough not to elevate Houston to god-like status. While Christie can’t control the media’s nauseating coverage of all things Whitney, he certainly could have sent a message by NOT lowering the flags for her. By doing so, Houston is now perceived, more than she ever has been, as a special role model, one for whom the government has issued its seal of approval.
Where does it end? What is the litmus test for getting flags lowered on your behalf—once the hallowed territory of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service of their country? Christie has changed the rules forever.
If Jon Bon Jovi happens to meet his maker next week, will the Guv give him the same special treatment? And what is the threshold? Record sales? Movie appearances? Rehab stints?
More ominous is to ponder Bon Jovi’s flag fate had he died before Whitney. Would Christie have honored him the same way? And if not, would that have been because Bon Jovi wouldn’t have provided the same perceived political benefit?
Houston fans will take this as a personal affront to Whitney and her family, but the point remains a valid one, and that bring us to two possibilities.
1) Is Christie’s move a political calculation, pandering to constituencies that are not in his camp? And if so, is the Governor’s attempt at making inroads with the black community and young hipsters done to seem more “moderate and compassionate,” both perceived necessities if Christie is running for president or vice-president?
If that is the case, it is a massive miscalculation on three counts. First, he won’t win over those constituencies because he lowers flags. He can only do so by sticking to his core convictions, explaining to them why his vision will benefit them more than failed Democratic policies will. Second, he has now alienated an influential part of his natural base—active and retired police and military personnel. Last, such perceived political posturing doesn’t sit well with the vast majority of regular, non-political citizens. They may not see his motives as politically calculated, but many see his decision as a total lack of good judgment.
2) Of course, there may be absolutely no political calculation whatsoever, with Christie making his decision on a human level only. I, for one, would certainly like to think so, as no media commentator has defended Christie’s bulldog approach to tough issues more than Freindly Fire (and, to be fair, hammered him when he was wrong, such as “HelicopterGate”).
But that is exactly why politicians should not be lowering flags and honoring anyone they happen to like. The nature of politicians is such that everything they do is perceived to be calculated, that behind every move is an ulterior motive to curry favor with a particular constituency.
Why wasn’t the solemn act of lowering flags to honor real heroes left intact? Why is nothing sacred anymore? Why is common sense so incredibly uncommon these days, even by those from whom we expect more?
Perception is reality, and the growing perception—from both the media’s nonstop Whitney coverage and Chris Christie stamping his imprimatur on her entire life—is that she should be emulated and admired as one of the nation’s great role models.