New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention last night. I’ve read about Christie, and seen some snippets of him on the stump, but this was the first time I’ve watched him give a speech from beginning to end. Kish and I both thought he did a fine job.
Christie really commands the stage — and not just because he is a big man, physically. He uses hand gestures and facial expressions to good effect, and he also brings some force and emotion to his remarks. When he talked about his parents, his family, his New Jersey roots, his pride in being elected governor of the state of his birth, and the promise of America, you sensed barely controlled passions lurking deep within that mighty frame.
In the speech we learned about Chris Christie, the person, and he touched the expected bases. He’s proud of his parents and what they achieved through hard work. He learned to be plain-spoken from his mother, who was the disciplinarian in the family. He loves his kids, has coached their sports teams — there was a great moment when the camera captured one of his daughters as her Dad mentioned her name on national TV, and her face lit up with pleasure — and wants to give them an even better life than he has had. To Kish and me, he came across as authentic, whether you agreed with him or not.
Christie’s speech then addressed big concepts, all tied to the theme of leadership. He submits that leaders should seek respect, not love. Being a leader is not a popularity contest. We need someone who will make the hard decisions and face the hard truths — because the country can’t afford anything else. The math of federal spending doesn’t add up, and there’s plenty of blame to go around. What matters is what we do now — and to make progress we need politicians who care more about doing something, and less about being something. And leaders, he advised the President, don’t follow the polls, they change the polls.
Christie is confident that Americans will respond to such a leader. They want honesty and truth and will endure shared sacrifice. They will reward politicians who lead, not politicians who pander. They want a better future for their families and a second American century where real American exceptionalism is not an empty political punch line. He emphasized that the solutions to our current predicament will not be painless: we all must share in the sacrifice, and anyone who says differently isn’t telling the truth. Christie believes Mitt Romney will lead — tell the truth, confront the problems rather than passing them off to the next generation, and work to solve them in a bipartisan way.
After the speech was over, we heard pundit criticism that Christie didn’t mention Romney until well into his speech, or throw “red meat” to the partisan crowd by criticizing President Obama by name. I disagree on both counts. Christie was giving the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention, not the Mitt Romney National Convention. Such a speech should say what a political party stands for, not just tout the candidate. Christie wanted to highlight his work and the work of other GOP governors (many of whom preceded him on the stage) who have balanced budgets and positioned their states for economic growth. He wanted to convey that what Republicans have done at the state level can be done at the federal level, too. As for the “red meat,” much of the speech was obviously directed at President Obama’s performance, whether Christie named him or not. I, for one, appreciated that Christie refrained from cheap humor and cheap shots, and instead talked about Americans, our character, and what we must do to right the ship.
The risk for the GOP in Christie’s speech, I think, is precisely the fact that it addressed the big themes and, in so doing, made some big promises. If you assume the mantle of hard truth-teller, and hard decision-maker, and purveyor of shared sacrifice, you’d better do your best to deliver on all counts. If you don’t, you’re going to end up with voters who are as disillusioned and disappointed as many of those trusting folks who went all in for “hope and change” in 2008.