Is Chris Christie the political leader closest to the center?

Speaking at the Brookings Institution Monday, Chris Christie said something few might expect to hear from the same man who lost his temper with a constituent at the Jersey Shore last week, recently called a reporter the idiot over there” and bluntly told another voter where he sends his children for school is none of your business.”

Leadership, said the New Jersey governor and buzzed-about VP contender, “is about nuance.”

While the word may have sounded odd coming from the brash-talking Christie, this is hardly the first time Christie has taken on the role of politician-as-leadership-sage. Between the bluster and the bombast, Christie seems to enjoy—and gets plenty of attention—whenever he starts pontificating about leadership and how much it’s missing in today’s world.

For instance, at an American Enterprise Institute speech in February 2011, he said “I believe that part of that leadership is understanding, articulating, and believing in that which is special and unique in the people that you serve” as well as “leadership in my opinion is not about waiting” and “leadership today in America has to be about doing the big things and being courageous.” At an event sponsored by this site and the Harvard Kennedy School last December, he said “the challenge of that type of leadership is that there’s often, almost always, a boulevard between getting everything you want and compromising your principles.”


View Photo Gallery: Christie announced Tuesday that he would endorse Mitt Romney for the 2012 Republican race for president.

And in the speech Monday at the Brookings Institute, Christie said leadership was “the only thing that will make the difference. And leadership is not just about obstructionism. Leadership is also not about caving every time you get pushed. Leadership is about nuance, and about understanding and communicating to people, ‘Here is what I stand for, and on these issues I will not be moved,’ but then on other issues leaving room for discussion and accomplishing principled compromise where it can be.”

Some of these comments, of course, serve a dual purpose, doubling as criticisms about the president. Others may be an effort to help soften his tough-talking image (though I doubt it). And some may think, rightly or wrongly, that such commentary is all a way to get in position for the national stage.

Still, it’s interesting to see how much attention Christie’s comments about leadership get. Maybe it’s the stark contrast between the brash New Jerseyite and the talk of such a squishy topic. More likely, however, it’s that Christie is one of the few elected officials willing to sound off on the problem of both obstructionism and too much compromise, and how sorely a middle ground is needed in today’s politics.

 

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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