The Washington Post and the Harvard Kennedy School recognized seven leaders onstage Monday at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., with a Top American Leader award. But the show was stolen by awardee Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor whose name was on the presidential wish lists of many Republicans until he announced he would not be running in October.
The governor shared insights of his leadership philosophy, offered blunt opinions of leaders in Washington, and even joked about his weight. In trying to explain his popularity and the confidence he'd won from voters, he emphasized that his approach to governing has been to practice simple honesty with voters who he believes “are starved to be told the truth” from political leaders, though he admitted that “it doesn't hurt to be entertaining every once in a while.”
And that he was. When moderator Mary Jordan asked Christie and fellow panelist Sheila Bair about their day-to-day schedules as leaders—including whether or not they're up on the treadmill every morning at 5 a.m.—he quipped “how did you figure out my secret?” to howls of laughter. And yet he also seriously addressed the question of whether he’s too overweight to be president one day. “It’s idiotic,” Christie said. “It is one of those last remaining vestiges of prejudice and stupidity.” Watch his full response here:
Known for his combative personality, Christie was later asked whether he tries to pick fights in New Jersey. His reply? “It's New Jersey.” The room once again broke out in laughter before he continued, more seriously: “There's lots of fights worth fighting.”
Christie also shared the advice of his Sicilian mother, who advised him that if given the choice to be respected or loved, to choose respect. “She was talking about women,” Christie deadpanned, “but it also works in politics.” He cautioned that while he also learned many life lessons from his Irish father, his dad “was merely a passenger in the automobile of life. It's not that my father didn't give great advice, he just couldn't get it in.” When asked whether he or his wife was in the passenger seat in their marriage, Christie played his cards smart, acknowledging his wife's business success and calling them ”co-pilots”: “I'm blunt but not stupid.”
But Christie was also serious. He denounced the president's executive leadership, saying that his “main critique” of the president was that “I don't think he has the first idea how to use executive power.” He reiterated his endorsement of Mitt Romney, and cautioned Republicans who seem dissatisfied with the current field. “If we're looking for the perfect person, we ought to just look in the mirror and stop right there”—because, as he said, the only person you’ll agree with 100-percent of the time is yourself. Christie also criticized the lack of leadership from politicians on both sides of the aisle, warning that “it's time for people to belly up to the bar. You want to have these jobs? Do something to earn [them].”
Six other leaders were also acknowledged on Monday with Top American Leader awards for their efforts in fields ranging from arts management to opinion journalism. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts president Michael Kaiser, former head of the FDIC Sheila Bair and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof were among the recipients at the event, one of a series in the Washington Post Live discussions.
More from On Leadership:
Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter: