Republicans too often phrase policy choices in terms of saving money or political abstraction (“small government”). But this week a pol who’s been down on his luck had a meaningful exchange with a woman at a town hall on drug reform. In doing so, he set a timely example for other Republicans who are turning their attention to the nexus of issues that prevent some Americans from living full and productive lives.

Bloomberg Photo Service 'Best of the Week': Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, tosses his jacket to the side while taking questions during a town hall meeting in Belmar, New Jersey, U.S., on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Christie was interviewed as part of an internal inquiry into politically motivated traffic jams, a spokesman for New Jersey's governor said, after the New York Times reported that the probe had cleared the state’s top official of direct involvement in the events. Photographer: Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Chris Christie Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, tosses his jacket to the side while taking questions during a town hall meeting in Belmar, New Jersey (Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie explained the vicious circle when drug addicts are incarcerated, observing that “They come out just as addicted as they were when they went in. And then we all sit around going: jeez, wonder why they committed another crime?” The conversation continued:

I spent a number of years on the board, before I became governor, of an impatient adolescent drug rehabilitation facility. And so I got to see firsthand these children and their families come in. … And the destruction that is brought on those families. But, I also got to see these children get the type of treatment that they need, that lives can be changed. … The war on drugs was a good idea when it started, but it failed. … It failed miserably because if you don’t lower demand there will always be someone to supply that demand if there’s a profit to be made, and there is. … We’re not going to eradicate the drug problem, but every life we save is a life that’s worthwhile. There’s no life that’s disposable. None of these young people, or older folks who get involved in this mess, are disposable. …

And in fact if we can get them treatment, and get them help, what happens is they become better mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. They get a job, they pay taxes, they do the things that everybody in this audience tries to do to make your home and our society a better place. And we cannot afford, in my mind, to turn our back to it anymore and say: well, we arrested him, we put him in jail, that’s all we can do. I’m sorry, that’s just not, to me, an appropriate answer.

That is a truthful and meaningful response, the sort Republicans need to adopt whether the question they are addressing is poverty, drug addiction or education. Too often Republicans phrase everything as a money saver or a statement of personal liberty. But there is little liberty for a drug addict or someone mired in poverty. Conservative reform should be explained as Christie did in terms of saving the lives of individuals so they in turn can make their home, neighborhood and country a better place. And they should stress, as President George W. Bush did, the importance of family, mentors, pastors and teachers in caring for the totality of a person’s needs. Sending a check is simply not enough for people trapped in addiction, crime or poverty.

For getting to the nub of the issue and setting a good example for fellow Republicans, we can say, well done, Gov. Christie.