The Man from New Jersey

Perhaps something should be said about the amazingly spherical Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. As the Republicans try to choose who they’ll have run against Obama in 2012 there have been problems. And Christie may be the solution, as the slick Mormon, Mitt Romney, just won’t do – wrong religion, if that is a religion – and he once was for everything the party is now against. He says he’s no longer pro-choice and he’s sorry he brought universal healthcare to Massachusetts and all the rest. But why should they believe him now? And Michele Bachmann turned out to be just about as crazy as everyone on the left had said she was – now she tells everyone she wonders why Obama is not doing anything about Hezbollah building nuclear missile sites in Cuba – missiles aimed at us. Well, her star has faded and someone must have told her that this would help. But even the staunchest neocons are rolling their eyes at this. And then there is the pizza executive, Herman Cain. But with no government experience and little knowledge of the details of any of the issues, his candidacy seems a little odd. But he is amusing – a lively fellow. And Ron Paul is running his usual hopeless total-libertarian campaign, with his head in his theoretical clouds, where no one ever needs any kind of government at all. And there’s Rick Santorum, the purist of pure social conservatives, opposed to anything anyone enjoys, as God doesn’t want you to enjoy yourself, ever. And there’s Rick Perry, the straight-talkin’ Texan who can’t quite keep everything straight and doesn’t care to prepare for debates anyway. And his positions on immigration and mandatory health vaccinations offended the base – and then, getting defensive, he called everyone else in his party just plain heartless. That didn’t go down well.

The party is not pleased with any of this. And they know who is waiting in the wings – Sarah Palin, Donald Trump and Christine O’Donnell (who still maintains she is really not a witch). It’s no wonder that Bill Kristol wrote a special and urgent editorial in the Weekly Standard saying that Chris Christie just had to run, to save the party and then rid us of Obama. This is the same Bill Kristol of course who, in 2008, said that Sarah Palin was the answer to every Republican’s dream, and told McCain so – and the rest is history. McCain bought it. McCain is not the president, so make of that what you will.

Chris Christie, however, says he’s not running, and he’s said that over and over and over again – see the Politico video compilation of all of the denials. But then Chris Christie was just out here at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley – paying the requisite homage to the great man at the grave of the great man – and giving a speech on American Exceptionalism – listed by Politico as an item on their 2012 Presidential Election Calendar – but he again said he wasn’t running. Maybe he is, but maybe he isn’t.

But Jim Antle in the American Spectator argues here that this was red meat, as foreign policy is a big reason that some conservatives are clamoring for Chris Christie to get into the race. And Antle himself was impressed with three things Christie said:

The United States must also become more discriminating in what we try to accomplish abroad. We certainly cannot force others to adopt our principles through coercion. Local realities count; we cannot have forced makeovers of other societies in our image. We need to limit ourselves overseas to what is in our national interest so that we can rebuild the foundations of American power here at home – foundations that need to be rebuilt in part so that we can sustain a leadership role in the world for decades to come.

Well, that is thoughtful and not like Michele Bachmann, and there is also this:

The argument for getting our own house in order is not an argument for turning our back on the world.

We cannot and should not do that. First of all, our economy is dependent on what we export and import. And as we learned the hard way a decade ago, we as a country and a people are vulnerable to terrorists armed with box cutters, bombs, and viruses, be they computer generated or man-made. We need to remain vigilant, and be prepared to act with our friends and allies, to discourage, deter or defend against traditional aggression; to stop the spread of nuclear materials and weapons and the means to deliver them; and to continue to deprive terrorists of the ways, means and opportunity to succeed.

And Christie like the rest of them talks of American example, but says we cannot lead without getting our own act together:

You see, without strong leadership at home-without our domestic house in order-we are taking ourselves out of the equation. Over and over, we are allowing the rest of the world to set the tone without American influence. I understand full well that succeeding at home, setting an example, is not enough. The United States must be prepared to act. We must be prepared to lead. This takes resources-resources for defense, for intelligence, for homeland security, for diplomacy. The United States will only be able to sustain a leadership position around the world if the resources are there – but the necessary resources will only be there if the foundations of the American economy are healthy. So our economic health is a national security issue as well.

Antle is impressed, but Christie also said this:

A lot is being said in this election season about American exceptionalism. Implicit in such statements is that we are different and, yes, better, in the sense that our democracy, our economy and our people have delivered. But for American exceptionalism to truly deliver hope and a sterling example to the rest of the world, it must be demonstrated, not just asserted….

Without the authority that comes from that exceptionalism – earned American exceptionalism – we cannot do good for other countries, we cannot continue to be a beacon of hope for the world to aspire to for their future generations.

That sounds like Obama, and Steve Benen is quite puzzled by the neoconservatives like Kristol getting all excited about Christie’s “modest notion” of American exceptionalism:

The response to Christie’s speech among conservatives was apparently quite positive, but since when does the right believe that American exceptionalism is anything less than self-evident? I certainly can’t speak for conservatives on this, but my sense is that as far as the right is concerned, the United States has already earned our exceptional status. We did so – the argument goes – over the course of more than two centuries of historic, inspirational greatness.

But that’s not what they got:

To hear Christie tell it, American exceptionalism is hollow – indeed, it may not even exist – unless the nation, to his satisfaction, has “demonstrated” and “earned” it. I’m fairly certain this isn’t close to what the right has in mind.

Put it this way: what do you suppose the reaction would be if President Obama declared that the United States still has to “earn” American exceptionalism? I suspect the right would be apoplectic; his Republican rivals would speak of nothing else, and the White House would never hear the end of it.

So why are conservatives silent on Christie’s apparent ideological heresy?

Why? Maybe it’s because he’s not Romney or Perry or Bachmann or the Pizza Man – or the pretty Witch Lady.

But Conor Friedersdorf argues we’re talking heresy here – that which is heretical within the Republican Party. And Friedersdorf sees four heresies, starting with a few comments from Christie about how “compromise is core to politics, a necessary characteristic of good leadership, and the only way to solve problems.” And that won’t do:

This is anathema to a lot of the conservative movement, who regard compromise as tantamount to selling out principle, and support candidates like Michele Bachmann precisely because of their reputation for being stubbornly uncompromising.

And there is the idea that American exceptionalism isn’t a natural state or an inheritance or whatever and we have to earn it:

Contrast that with Marco Rubio’s recent speech at the Reagan Library, where American exceptionalism was cast as self-evident due to wars we’d won against Nazis and Communists, people we’d freed in decades past – it was, Rubio said, “our legacy as a people.”

And Christie did imply that Americans should care what foreigners think of us:

The world is watching when our politics is mired in dysfunctional infighting and stubborn refusal to compromise, he noted, and “There is no better way to reinforce the likelihood that others in the world will opt for more open societies and economies than to demonstrate that our own system is working.”

What’s up with that and saying that Americans cannot remake the world in our image through force?

“We certainly cannot force others to adopt our principles through coercion,” he said. “Local realities count; we cannot have forced makeovers of other societies in our image. We need to limit ourselves overseas to what is in our national interest so that we can rebuild the foundations of American power here at home – foundations that need to be rebuilt in part so that we can sustain a leadership role in the world for decades to come.” Does Bill Kristol still want him to run?

As Friedersdorf sums up:

What’s interesting about these heresies is that none are a particularly groundbreaking insight, but all are fighting words on today’s right.

Friedersdorf has a word for his own right-side-of-things crowd:

Conservatives would do well to grapple with his words.

But David Weigel in Slate says this week’s Republican messiah is no better than last week’s – even if Rush Limbaugh says he “stands in opposition to inside-the-Beltway Washington elites” and Stanley Kurtz says his “style is very engaging” and at times “he seems to act out virtually every word he speaks with his body” and a magazine in his home state calls him “the kind of politician who would rather be feared than loved – or respected.” But the trick here is that Weigel is quoting folks talking about Rick Perry. It’s the same thing, again:

No, no: Christie is completely different! If he gets in, it’ll be like the Beatles disembarking from a plane into a crowd of frenzied schoolgirls. Faced with his straight talk, the other Republican candidates may just up and quit and see if Fox News has any open slots for contributors.

Yes, we’ve heard this before, and Weigel says remember two things.

One: The Republican field is offering most of what Christie offers, even if a bored press corps has run out of ways to cover it. Two: Christie’s reputation as a speaker, once underrated, is now overrated.

And the rest of the item quotes Christie saying that what he’s going to say next is something no one ever dared say before, with quotes of everyone saying it before. It’s amusing. And, for Christie, it is self-serving:

As a non-candidate, Christie has stuck to talking about a few issues that the punditocracy and voters can’t get enough of: greedy public-sector unions, school reform, and why Washington doesn’t work. Is he better at it than other Republicans? Better than most, sure, but he gets to pick his forums – speeches, interviews, town halls. When he had to debate opponents in 2009, he was poorly reviewed for, of all things, a deficit of straight talk.

So Weigel sees all this as one long repetition of a three-act play:

1. Build up dark-horse candidate who offers something that no one else does.

2. Pile on the candidate for flubbing something at a key moment.

3. Build up dark-horse candidate who offers something that no one else does.

And Weigel can understand if Christie wants to just skip it – “right after using his national profile for some speeches and fundraisers.” And there is no perfect candidate for these folks. So Christie won’t run. He seems smart enough to know that.

But John Dickerson offers this:

I wish Chris Christie would run. He’s promising truth-telling, detailed solutions to problems like entitlement growth, tax reform, and foreign entanglements – all of it delivered in an entertaining package. Candidates usually make stiff declarations about how honest and direct they’re going to be while planning to be nothing of the kind. It would be a service and entertaining to see someone give it an actual try. It also might smoke out the other Republican candidates into venturing a few plain statements or at least fleeing with less haste from their previous ones.

Would Christie run a campaign as bold as the one he promised Tuesday night in his forceful and wide-ranging address at the Reagan Library? Here’s how he says he’s done it in New Jersey: “It is a simple but powerful message – lead on the tough issues by telling your citizens the truth about the depth of our challenges. Tell them the truth about the difficulty of the solutions. This is the only effective way to lead in America during these times.” Later, in his call for strong leadership he said one of America’s greatest challenges was “to not become a country that places comfortable lies ahead of difficult truths.”

Christie’s reputation for blunt talk about everything from deficits to unions and telling off those who challenge him is what’s creating the presidential buzz, so he has the aptitude. But in handling the buzz he’s not exactly being a straight shooter.

Dickerson doesn’t like the coyness about not running, while seeming to run, and his ambiguous response to a woman at the Reagan Library who begged him to run, and that he seems to be edging toward finally giving in and running.

He’s either a phony truth-teller who has made up his mind and isn’t being straight with the woman or he’s genuinely taking in what she says and still considering it. But if he’s genuinely having a think then why in his first answer did he point everyone to the Politico video? Why not just play it on the level, especially after a speech that talked about leadership and hard truths. The second answer should have been the first answer.

There are lots of reasons for Christie to engage in this gentle deception. It’s probably smart for him to be playing it the way he is – a clear answer might have overshadowed the message of the speech. Coyness and shading and diversions are a requirement of campaigns and successful politics. But it’s a reminder that promises of honesty are limited. Equally limited is the ability to change Congress and partisanship through the power of effective speaking. Both of these limitations were embedded in Christie’s speech, which, like the Obama speeches of 2008, was full of moving promises and bromides that fire the imagination into thinking problems can be solved from behind a magical lectern.

Christie received a standing ovation, which shows the audience liked the forceful advocacy for the notion of hard truths, but tells us nothing about whether they really want to hear the real thing. They might be happy to leave it at stirring and vague.

And then if Christie ran, he would be the third truth-telling candidate of this cycle:

The first was Tim Pawlenty. He wasn’t in the race long enough to test the theory. Rick Perry is the second self-styled truth-teller and boy is he paying for it. The biggest problem is the one he caused himself with his blunt language. He said anyone who thought the children of undocumented workers didn’t deserve an education “didn’t have a heart.” Sharp. From the gut. It was Christie-like statement, and according to the rules outlined in the Candid Candidate Handbook, it’s the kind of direct talk voters are supposed to like even if they don’t agree with it.

What did Perry get for his frank expression? It made him a target for plain-speaking Christie, who singled out Perry among the GOP field in his speech. He didn’t call him out by name but after disagreeing with his policy said, “let me be very clear from my perspective: That is not a heartless position that is a commonsense position.”

Christie proved that when you speak out, as Perry did, it makes you a target. Your opponents attack you and so do powerful forces like Christie who aren’t even in the race. That’s what makes candidates tentative, or dooms those that say anything mildly close to honest.

So actually speaking your mind is dangerous, and that why successful politicians avoid it.

And as for the Republican Party and their current savior, there’s Jon Stewart:

It’s like the Republican primary is a season of American Idol in reverse, where every week you add another idiot. Republican base… have you ever considered the possibility that maybe your candidates aren’t the problem? Maybe it’s you?

Yes, Republican voters want a candidate who will cut taxes and balance the budget, a child of poor immigrants who will build a fence to keep them out, and all that:

You guys need to take a long hard look in the mirror and not come away thinking, there’s something wrong with this mirror. And now you want Chris Christie. Sure you do.

The amazingly spherical Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, is not the solution to anything. But it isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It’s that they can’t see the problem. It happens.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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