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February 25, 2011

Glowing Story About The Next Great Communicator Chris Christie, From... The New York Times

Reading this, I get annoyed that he's not running in 2012 (he can't -- New Jersey's problems would not nearly be solved by then, so he be abandoning the state to someone just not up to the task).

But even so: what an asset to have give the keynote speech at the convention.

I'll just quote some of his funny stuff (and this really is top level comedy from a politician) and some personal stuff.

“The argument you heard most vociferously from the teachers’ union,” Christie says, “was that this was the greatest assault on public education in the history of New Jersey.” Here the fleshy governor lumbers a few steps toward the audience and lowers his voice for effect. “Now, do you really think that your child is now stressed out and unable to learn because they know that their poor teacher has to pay 1˝ percent of their salary for their health care benefits? Have any of your children come home — any of them — and said, ‘Mom.’ ” Pause. “ ‘Dad.’ ” Another pause. “ ‘Please. Stop the madness.’ ”

By this point the audience is starting to titter, but Christie remains steadfastly somber in his role as the beseeching student. “ ‘Just pay for my teacher’s health benefits,’ ” he pleads, “ ‘and I’ll get A’s, I swear. But I just cannot take the stress that’s being presented by a 1˝ percent contribution to health benefits.’ ” As the crowd breaks into appreciative guffaws, Christie waits a theatrical moment, then slams his point home. “Now, you’re all laughing, right?” he says. “But this is the crap I have to hear.”

I'm just imagining that rendered in Glenn Beck's fetus-writing-to-the-NYT voice. I don't think he does that. Would be funny if he did.

Christie's political instincts:

There was little in Christie’s uninspiring campaign to make anyone think he would address these issues with more tenacity than the governors who preceded him. A U.S. attorney whose only overtly political experience entailed serving on the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders (seriously, they still call it that), Christie had only a fraction of Corzine’s public exposure or personal fortune. About the only thing he had going for him was that Corzine was pervasively unpopular. And so rather than come up with a lot of actual ideas, which Corzine would then be free to oversimplify and distort in a barrage of television ads, Christie simply offered up a bunch of conservative platitudes and tried to make the campaign a referendum on the Democratic governor. (When we talked during the campaign, Christie could articulate little by way of an agenda, except to say that he would “get in there and make it work.”) Even a lot of Republicans thought Christie was underwhelming as a campaigner.

Small target.

Truth-telling:

Leaders of the teachers’ union, meanwhile, are apoplectic about Christie’s proposed changes to their pension plan, which they say will penalize educators for the irresponsibility of politicians. After all, they point out, it wasn’t the unions who chose not to fund the pension year in and year out, and yet it’s their members who will have to recalibrate their retirements if the benefits are cut.

When I made this same point to Christie, he simply shook his head. What’s done is done, he told me, and it’s time for someone to tell these workers the truth, which is that the state is simply never going to have the money to make good on its commitments. “Listen, if they want to travel in the Michael J. Fox time machine and change time, I guess we could try that,” he said. “We could get the DeLorean out and try to go back there. But I think realistically that that was just a movie and make-believe. So we’ve got to live with what we’ve got.”




Creating a very funny narrative to explain economic ills:

Christie, it turns out, has a preternatural gift for making the complex seem deceptively simple. Last month I saw him hold forth at a town-hall meeting in Chesilhurst, a South Jersey borough of about 1,600. Chesilhurst is about half African-American, and I sensed more curiosity than enthusiasm among the racially mixed crowd as it flowed into the little community-center gymnasium. An unusually large number of folding chairs were empty. About 20 minutes after the program was supposed to start, there came over the loudspeakers the kind of melodramatic instrumental that might introduce a local newscast, or maybe an Atlantic City magic show, and in came Christie, taking his position in the center of the crowd. The theme of the week was pension-and-benefits reform, and in his introductory remarks, Christie explained the inefficiency in the state’s health care costs not by wielding a stack of damning statistics, as some politicians might, but by relating a story.

When he was a federal prosecutor, Christie told the audience, he got to choose from about 100 health-insurance plans, ranging from cheap to quite expensive. But as soon as he became governor, the “benefits lady” told him he had only three state plans from which to choose, Goldilocks-style; one was great, one was modestly generous and one was rather miserly. And any of the three would cost him exactly 1.5 percent of his salary.

“ ‘You’re telling me,’ ” Christie said he told the woman, feigning befuddlement, “ ‘that no matter which one I pick, the good one or the O.K. one or the bad one, I’m going to pay 1˝ percent of my salary?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’

“And I said, ‘Then everyone picks the really good one, right?’ And she said, ‘Ninety-six percent of state employees pick the really good one.’

“Which led me to have two reactions,” Christie told the crowd. “First, bring those other 4 percent to me! Because when I have to start laying people off, they’re the first ones!” His audience burst into near hysterics. “And the second reaction was, of course I would choose the best plan,” Christie said, “and so would you.

“Now listen, I don’t think this is groundbreaking stuff,” Christie added. “I don’t think this means that instead of being governor, you know, I should be at NASA, working on the space shuttle. I’m no genius. Just seems to me that if you give people an option to get something for nothing, they’ll take it.” Scanning the nodding faces around me, it seemed there wasn’t a person in the gymnasium, at that point, who wouldn’t have voted to make state workers and teachers pay more for the better plan.

And back to his understanding of the power of narratives:

“My mother said to me all the time, ‘Christopher, you’re going to have choices in your life between being loved and being respected,’ ” Christie told his rapt audience, strains of emotion creeping into his voice. “ ‘And you should choose respected. Because if you’re respected, love can come.’ She said, ‘But seeking love without also being respected — well that love doesn’t last.’ ” It was as if some weird brain-switching experiment had taken place, and somewhere, at that very moment, Oprah was giving a talk about state budgets and tax policy.

There’s one more piece of political narrative that Christie seems to grasp, which is that every story has both a protagonist and an antagonist, someone who stands for change and someone who plays the foil. Christie never had to look far to cast his ideal antagonists. They sit just across the street and one block down from the State House, in the building occupied by New Jersey’s major teachers’ union.


He's not running so there's no sense in crying about it. I don't know if others can learn from him, exactly -- like speed in athletics, there are some things in politics you just can't learn -- but I suppose there's no harm in trying.

digg this
posted by Ace at 04:03 PM

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