Obama, Christie and other pols love to use interchangeable, all-purpose phrases


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gives the keynote address to the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce annual Congressional Dinner in Washington on Tuesday. During the speech, the Republican used a good number of phrases that are popular with Democrats as well members of his party. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Sometimes you could swear there were only 42 phrases in the entire political lexicon, most of them interchangeable and all-purpose, suitable for use by members of either party. At the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner in Washington on Tuesday night, Gov. Chris Christie seemed determined to hit as many of these familiar notes as possible.

“This is not about me,’’ the Republican said of the need to slash benefits for his state’s public-
sector workers, such as police and firefighters.

That’s also a go-to expression for President Obama. The guy Christie threw his arms around while cashing federal aid checks after Hurricane Sandy has often said that health-care reform “isn’t about me,’’ and neither was the last election, or the one before that.

Obama’s opponent in 2012 also picked it up: “This election isn’t about me,’’ GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on the stump. Instead, naturally, it was about us — the voters, the people and the common good.

But Christie put a twist on that last part in his remarks at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park hotel. “It’s about the next person’’ elected governor of New Jersey, he said of the obligation to cut state spending. As a short-timer in his second term, “I’d be the least affected of the bunch’’ if that did not happen, he said. “You’ll see me leaving, waving, smiling, relieved.”

In case you missed his meaning, he’ll repeat himself: “Let me be clear,’’ Christie said, using another line Obama favors, his urgency is “not political; I’m never running in this state again; I’m done.’’

Not altogether, of course, or he wouldn’t still be mulling over a presidential run.

“Are things better in New Jersey than they were four years ago?” Christie asked his audience. Since Ronald Reagan asked in 1980 whether we were “better off today than four years ago,’’ every incumbent has repeated that rhetorical question, and then answered yes. Christie’s answer: “Of course we are,’’ he said, thanks in part to a 2 percent spending cap approved by the Democratic-
controlled state legislature.

Repurposing another of Obama’s favorite slogans, Christie asked the crowd, “Are we going to go forward or are we going back?’’ Often, that question refers to women’s rights, as when his potential presidential rival Hillary Rodham Clinton warns that the “clock is turning back.” But Christie meant that New Jersey shouldn’t go back to raising property taxes.

Instead, he said, “we have to make the hard choices, and we have to make them now.” Probably, he was not trying to drum up pre-orders for Clinton’s forthcoming book, “Hard Choices,’’ to be released by Simon & Schuster on June 10.

“All of us face hard choices in our lives,” the former secretary of state writes in it, according to her publisher. “Life is about making these choices, and how we handle them shapes the people we become.”

Christie showed his toughness by pretending to complain when the crowd applauded him a little: “I was hoping to get through this entire speech without any applause.’’

None of the sacrifices he spoke of would come from the business community, and they clapped, too, when he warned that “it’s time to dig in and make a few people unhappy so the greater good can be achieved.”

Unless we want a weaker America, Christie said, “we’re going to have to be adults’’ and be honest about the need to cut entitlements, pensions and spending, “the same thing the federal government refuses to do.”

“We need to set an example,’’ he added, making clear that, yes, he still hopes to run.

Obama has admonished House Republicans to act like “grown-ups,” and Republicans have used that kiddie word to appeal to our collective maturity. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) recently praised Common Core educational standards as “a real-world, grown-up approach to a real crisis that we have.’’

“Let’s make this a better place for our children and our grandchildren,” Christie said in conclusion, echoing every public servant who ever breathed. Then maybe half of the ballroom gave him a standing ovation, in keeping with his stated hope not to hear a lot of applause.

“Did he say anything about the scandals?” a late-arriving TV reporter asked. No talk about that meant he hadn’t missed a thing, of course. Which might explain why the self-described teller of hard truths preferred to say nothing at all.

Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.
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