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No, it’s not racist to compare Chris Christie to Tony Soprano

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Ready to re-litigate that whole “is The Sopranos guilty of stereotyping Italian-Americans?” fight, combined with the Chris Christie/George Washington Bridge scandal, along with right-wing attempts to play the left-wing identity politics game?

You can thank Glenn Beck’s operation for bringing those three wonderful things together.

It all started with a cover story in the liberal-leaning political magazine The New Republic by writer Alec MacGillis, titled “Chris Christie’s Entire Career Reeks: It’s not just the bridge.” Going through various controversies and scandals from throughout Christie’s time in politics, the piece is also illustrated by this photograph:

Soprano

That set off alarm bells for writer Eddie Scarry, from the Glenn Beck-run website The Blaze: 

The illustration shows Christie retrieving a newspaper outside an impressive home wearing boxers, an open bathrobe and a gold chain around his neck.

There is something overtly Italian-American stereotypical about it, markedly a reference to fictional crime boss Tony Soprano.

“Christie is half Sicilian,” remarked one person on Twitter who saw the image. “If someone portrayed a black politician as a gangsta I know exactly how The New Republic would react.”

Yea, no.

The photo isn’t just “overtly Italian-American stereotypical.” It’s Tony Soprano. The house is Tony Soprano’s house. The bathrobe is Tony Soprano’s bathrobe, and the necklace is Tony Soprano’s necklace. The photo is almost certainly an official image from a Sopranos episode, with Christie’s head photoshopped onto James Gandolfini’s body.

For the first severalSopranos seasons, it was a tradition in the season premiere for Tony to go down his driveway in a bathrobe to get the newspaper- Sopranos recapper Alan Sepinwall always used to beam with pride that the paper he picked up was the Newark Star-Ledger, which employed Sepinwall at the time. It’s an iconic image that I imagine most people reading the TNR article recognized immediately.

Political observers have been comparing Chris Christie to Tony Soprano for his entire career, mostly because Christie is a large man from Northern New Jersey in a position of power who’s known for behaving aggressively. Frequently, at least prior to his recent weight loss, Christie was more often said to resemble Bobby Bacala than Tony Soprano.

In addition, don’t forget that for a lot of East Coast types, Tony Soprano is an icon and a hero. They like having a governor who looks and acts like him. Christie, for his part, is a vocal Sopranos fan, who ordered the state’s flags lowered to half-mast following Gandolfini’s death.

Then there was this:

It’s been a frequent, and somewhat shameful thing, in Northeastern politics over the years for candidates to imply that the Italian-American they’re running against has ties to the mob. Mario Cuomo used to deal with this all the time, as did Al D’Amato and Rudy Giuliani, and if Cuomo’s son, current New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, ever runs for president, I expect the Cuomo family’s mythical Mafia connections to assume the place currently held by Obama’s birth certificate in conservative fever dreams.

But that’s not really the case here. I don’t think most people know that Chris Christie has any Italian heritage. He may have a name that ends in a vowel, but that vowel is an E. But more importantly, no one, not even his most vicious political opponents, has ever implied that Christie has ties to the actual Mafia. There’s a critique of Christie that’s out there, and that’s not a part of it.

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