The problem with inviting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to today’s Republican Jewish Coalition forum is that he is so much better, as a candidate and a speaker, than the actual candidates. He gave a typical Christie lunch time address, alternatingly biting and funny and uplifting.
His speech was an indictment of President Obama’s leadership. He noted that American “feel like there is no one with a hand on the ship of state” and that Americans “for the first time in our memory think the country is drifting.”
He mocked the refrain that everyone thinks the current election is the most important in history. But he said we certainly can agree that the type and nature of our problems are great. With his honed comedic timing he recalled an incident illustrating our economic demise, “The Finance Minister of Austria lectured the U.S. Treaury Secretary. Of Austria. . . Think about that.” And what about Obama? Christie said flatly, “The president doesn have the first idea how to use executive leadership.”
In devastating fashion he then dissected a portion of Obama’s remarks yesterday in which the president declared: “We need to meet the moment. We need to up our game. We need to do that together.” Christie retorted, “He is way late to the game.” And then he proceeded to see if Obama was in the “neighborhood” of the truth.
Not surprisingly, Christie found Obama no where close to an honest appraisal of his record, citing Obama’s decision in January 2009 to “hand over to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid” the stimulus plan drafting to include “every liberal fantasy” that had been accumulated over the years. He went after Obama for using “Chicago”-style politics to ram home a healthcare plan that “nobody wants, nobody needs and I think will be found unconstitutional.” And he lambasted Obama for forming the Simpson-Bowles debt commission and then putting the report “on the shelf to gather dust.”
Christie explained, “There is a boulevard between compromising your principles and getting everything you want. The job of a leader is to get on the boulevard to make progress for the county.” He directly addressed Obama, telling him “You are not upping your game. You are not meeting the moment.” In his view, Obama is a “man out of his depth. He isn’t wrong. He simply doesn’t understand.”
In a sly way, Christie, who has endorsed Mitt Romney but made no mention of any individual candidate, worked in digs that were equally applicable to both Obama and Newt Gingrich. He said. “The president suffers from needing to be the smartest person in the room. Real leaders don’t only speak. Real leaders also listen.” Hmm. Who does that remind you of?
What America needs, he explained, is a president willing to make a difference. He went on an amusing riff about one day bringing his grandson to the state capitol to show him the oil painting the governor gets. He joked that it shouldn’t be a time to look at the metal plaque to see if he was there for four or eight years. And he didn’t want to tell his son his great achievement was in getting eight years and then having to explain that he got two terms by hedging, obfuscating and compromising his principles. “The next president should stand up and say, ‘I don’t care if I have 4 or 8 years.’” He explained, “We’re living this in New Jersey.” He recalled that he didn’t wait for the legislature but instead set out his own plan, traveled around the state to make his case and forged a deal to save $132 billion over ten years in the pension system.
He then summoned the crowd to hold not only Obama but the GOP contenders to an exacting standard. He cautioned against “blow-dried politicians” (might that be Romney?) but quickly noted that neither do we want pols who dabble in “hyperbole and irresponsible answers that appeal to anger and fear.” Hmm, could that be, you know. . . oh, never mind.
He told the crowd (which was transfixed throughout, sometimes applauding loudly and sometimes laughing along with the governor) that the White House didn’t like it when he called the president “a bystander in the Oval Office.” He said sternly, “I make no apologies for that comment.” The crowd roared with approval.
The speech suggested that the best orator and the most articulate leader in the GOP is not running for president. He can talk simply about complex things, and use humor to chide and indict a failing president. He come across as principled but grounded in reality. That comes, as he put sit from being a Republican in New Jersey. (“I’m playing with house money.”) It was a stunningly effective performance, and among those in attendance caused a bit of regret that he wasn’t one of those running for the nomination. But odd things happen in presidential politics. Maybe he’ll be somewhere on the ticket in 2012. And if so, it will be grand fun.