Compromise, Jersey Style


No one can say what the outcome of Chris Christie’s quantum presidential bid might be.  He is both running and not running at any given nanosecond.  Every firm denial that he’s even considering the possibility is met by an equal and opposite hot rumor that he’ll be throwing his hat in the ring any moment now.

There are many reasons for this interest in Christie, ranging from the media’s interest in keeping a good story on simmer, while using it to paint the existing Republican presidential field as somehow inadequate, to the endless slap fight between the Republican establishment and movement conservatives. 

There’s also the undeniable fact that a lot of people really like Christie.  They love to hear him talk, and they can’t wait to see Barack Obama fidgeting on a debate stage while Christie lays into him.

The gentleman from New Jersey was in fine form when he spoke at the Reagan Library on Tuesday night.  National Review Online has a full transcript, which I highly recommend reading.  Here are a few of my favorite parts, starting with Christie’s introduction and salute to the Gipper:

Ronald Reagan believed in this country.  He embodied the strength, perseverance and faith that has propelled immigrants for centuries to embark on dangerous journeys to come here, to give up all that was familiar for all that was possible. 

He judged that as good as things were and had been for many Americans, they could and would be better for more Americans in the future.

Such a simple observation about the Reagan spirit… and how very, very different from Barack Obama’s Hospice America, crawling wearily off the world stage and looking for a quiet, subsidized, micro-managed place to die.

Christie has a history of slugging it out with public employee unions, so it’s not surprising he would mention Reagan’s battle with the air traffic controllers.  He came at it from an interesting direction:

Most Americans at the time and since no doubt viewed Reagan’s firm handling of the PATCO strike as a domestic matter, a confrontation between the president and a public sector union.  But this misses a critical point. 

To quote a phrase from another American moment, the whole world was watching.   Thanks to newspapers and television – and increasingly the Internet and social media – what happens here doesn’t stay here.

Another way of saying what I have just described is that Americans do not have the luxury of thinking that what we have long viewed as purely domestic matters have no consequences beyond our borders.  To the contrary.   What we say and what we do here at home affects how others see us and in turn affects what it is they say and do.

[…] All this should and does have meaning for us today.  The image of the United States around the world is not what it was, it is not what it can be and it is not what it needs to be.  This country pays a price whenever our economy fails to deliver rising living standards to our citizens–which is exactly what has been the case for years now. 

This connects with today’s story of German newspapers blowing off Obama’s economic input as the useless nattering of an incompetent.  America cannot live in dependent sickness, with one watery eye fixed on her ever-increasing national debt, and expect to be taken seriously as an authority on fiscal health.  Strength is an indispensible component of leadership.

Christie has taken a bit of heat from conservatives for his thoughts on “compromise,” which ran as follows:

In New Jersey over the last 20 months, you have actually seen divided government that is working.  To be clear, it does not mean that we have no argument or acrimony.  There are serious disagreements, sometimes expressed loudly—Jersey style. 

Here is what we did.  We identified the problems.  We proposed specific means to fix them.  We educated the public on the dire consequences of inaction.  And we compromised, on a bi-partisan basis, to get results.  We took action.

How so you ask?  Leadership and compromise.

Leadership and compromise is the only way you can balance two budgets with over $13 billion in deficits without raising taxes while protecting core services.

Leadership and compromise is the only way you reform New Jersey’s pension and health benefits system that was collectively $121 billion underfunded.

Leadership and compromise is the only way you cap the highest property taxes in the nation and cap the interest arbitration awards of some of the most powerful public sector unions in the nation at no greater than a 2% increase.

In New Jersey we have done this, and more, because the Executive Branch has not sat by and waited for others to go first to suggest solutions to our state’s most difficult problems. 

This is not meant as an apologetic, but rather as an observation: no matter how things go in 2012, there will be Democrats to deal with in Congress.  Their House representation is showing signs of dwindling into a rump party, but they’re not going away.  If your plans for 2013 depend upon absolute one-party control of Washington that cannot be effectively contested, you should start making different plans.

Some degree of “compromise” is going to happen, but that’s a big word that covers everything from capitulation to leadership.  It sounds to me like Christie is talking about the latter: moving things in a conservative direction, while setting the stage for further movement.  The long-term goal, as Milton Friedman once remarked, is to “create the broader political conditions whereby the wrong people are forced to do the right things.”

I don’t blame conservatives for hearing Christie talk about “compromise,” remember all the times that word has been a code phrase for relentless leftward movement, and grinding their teeth.  I would point out that Christie’s political opponents, in a very blue state, don’t act as if he’s catering to them.

Here’s what Christie thinks Reagan would be trying to accomplish, if he were President today:

We would take an honest and tough approach to solving our long-term debt and deficit problem through reforming our entitlement programs and our tax code.

We would confront our unemployment crisis by giving certainty to business about our tax and regulatory future.

We would unleash American entrepreneurship through long-term tax reform, not short-term tax gimmickry.

And we would reform our K-12 education system by applying free market reform principles to education—rewarding outstanding teachers; demanding accountability from everyone in the system; increasing competition through choice and charters; and making the American free public education system once again the envy of the world. 

That’s not exactly the mating call of the RINO squish.  Neither is his critique of Barack Obama, captured in the clip below:

Ronald Reagan was not a bitter partisan scold.  He was unflagging in his beliefs, and masterful about implementing them with grace and humor.  He brought people on board, talking about “compromise” with the confidence that sustained exposure would only make his beliefs more appealing to the American people. 

I’m not a total Christie fanatic, or enamored of all his policy positions.  I’d have some hard questions about many of those positions, if he wanted to earn my vote.  I don’t want endless speculation about Christie, or any other maybe-candidate, to steal thunder from the people who are already sweating their way through the debates.  There are already several outstanding candidates in the race.  But I have no problem believing the Governor understood exactly whose library he was speaking in, when he made these remarks.

Update: Here’s a complete video of the Christie speech.