Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns



Well, if you have not read it or seen it by now, here is a link to both the transcript and the video of the Chris Christie speech at the Reagan Library two nights ago. 

Most of the commentary about it can be characterized as one of two things:  speculation or begging.  Although I am not inclined to think there is a lot of need for the former, I cannot avoid it if I am to say anything intelligible about the substance of Christie's fine and effective remarks.  I absolutely will not engage in the latter.  But more about that later.

Here's what I think:  It is entirely possible that Chris Christie misread his moment.  I think he was sincere when he said that he did not mean to run for President and I think his reason for not running--at least, initially--had partly to do with his own personal concern with being "ready," but it had mainly to do with a suspicion that no Republican was likely to beat Obama in 2012.  He thought he could and should wait.  He was wrong on both counts. 

Consider his long (and, yes, very good) reflections on Obama's 2004 Democrat Convention speech.  Everybody who knew anything about politics in 2004 knew that watching Obama warming up for Kerry brought on feelings reminiscent of those you get when the previews at the movies look better than the movie you came to see.  That was as close as Obama ever got to a Reagan moment.  And Christie was at the Reagan Library, so he can be forgiven if visions of "A Time for Choosing" were dancing in his head.  I think Christie meant to do something like that at the Reagan Library or, perhaps, to give us a taste of what he must mean to do at our coming convention whether or not he is the candidate.  I think that explains why this 2004 speech of Obama's was so close to the forefront of Christie's mind; that, and it is a good hook for explaining to people, who once trusted in Obama, the ways in which their original opinion is wrong. Without question, Christie did that well. 

But this brings me to the second part of my thoughts about Christie's speech.  If he's not running, why is he waxing eloquent on Presidential politics in this way?  Well, it must fry him to watch these debates, right?  He's sitting there watching these guys do it in ways that seem, to him, wrong.  It's killing him.  Maybe he thought he could at least offer a tutorial to the GOP candidates.  "Watch me.  This is how it's done."  And his substance was good.  What he said about compromise (contra Rush and others who, though they mean well, seem to be suffering post traumatic stress disorder whenever they hear that word) was good.  

But the thing about this speech is that, as with most pros who step in to demonstrate skills to talent that is already playing at the top of its game, Christie is only succeeding in showing the rest of them up.  It's not going to do anyone any good for him to continue in this mode.

"Maybe showing them up is all part of his plan?" suggest some prognosticators who, like me, don't see much point in all of this talk if the man doesn't mean to run.  So, therefore, he must mean to do it.  Well, if that is the case, here's what the rest of me is saying:  I have loved Chris Christie for a long time.  And I long, just as much as the next citizen, to hear someone come and speak simple truths to power with good effect and without cringing.  But if he is planning like that, to hell with him.  No, really.  This is becoming unseemly.  He may be the best guy (though I don't think that is, by any means, a settled matter) but he ain't the only guy.  Please.

And here's something else.  What is this with the begging of this guy to run?  This suggestion that he must do it?   I don't like it.  I thought his answer to the (sincere, but sad) woman who was begging him to run was good, respectful and, even, sweet.  But it bothers me to see Americans so desperate for one man to run for the Presidency.  There is something weak and pathetic about it, I am sorry to say.  Have some pride.  Americans don't beg anyone to be their boss.  It reminds me, in a way, of the scheming that went on to get George Washington to declare himself emperor . . . maybe without the Washington.  

Perhaps it is unfortunate that Chris Christie's moment has passed and that he seems to have made the wrong call.  But if he is a man of integrity, and I think he is, he can use this opportunity to remind Americans that this is their country.  No one man is so essential, so wise, or so wonderful that he must be deign to be their king as if he were part of some Platonic dialogue writ large.  Of course his consent in the thing matters.  This is a regime built on the principle!  Enough, already.  There is serious work to do and Chris Christie will best contribute to that effort when he makes it clear that he means to support someone else for the Presidency this go around.   If, on the other hand, he means to jump in, he had better do it quick.  And, if he does that, there's no getting around the fact that he is going to have a lot of explaining to do and he should not be surprised if a lot of voters, instead of thinking that he has finally lived up to his duty, consider that he's not really as much a man of his word as they once thought he was.   
Categories > Elections

Discussions - 17 Comments

"Christie is only succeeding in showing the rest of them up. It's not going to do anyone any good for him to continue in this mode."

Excuse my language, but the hell it won't. One thing we are in absolute need of is for whoever wins to understand they are *not* repeat *not* getting a blank check merely by having won office, nor have they earned the title of "leader of the party" or "princeps", where everybody now falls in line behind whatever this guy says because we "must support the leader" for the good of some party. Nuts to that. That kind of attitude gave us "compassionate conservatism', even though a lot of folks didn't believe in it (and if you believed in it, I have no problem with you, but I disagreed with that kind of approach, then and now).

The guy or gal who wins next year are going to be the Chief Executive, and that is it. It is not going to be a coronation. There is a tremendous amount of power in the Office of the Presidency, more than should be enough to satisfy any man. If overseeing the execution of the Federal laws is not enough of a job for them, and they want to start being more concerned about writing them than executing them, then perhaps they should have ran for Congress to start with and try to be Majority leader or Speaker of the House. The same goes double if they want to start involving themselves in things better left to states.

And if they want to be King, well, we don't have one here, so they need to stop thinking it's an option.

So I hope Christie keeps it up, and hope others do too--so that the idea gets driven home--a President is not going to be paid undue deference just because he is President and a party wants to keep that office. If he (or the party) wants (him) to lead as primus inter pares, then he needs to *earn* it by actually being of that quality that would lead people to say he is in fact primus inter pares. Otherwise--he or she should be content with having the job of President, and accept being shown up by someone not in the Federal government. Because he'd still be President, which should be enough honor for any man.

And...I think the system and liberty are stronger that way anyhow. This is a Federal system. Neither all wisdom or all power are supposed to be in Washington, and therefore I'm glad that whoever is going to be sitting in that seat come January, 2013 clearly understands that someone can hit him on at least one flank if he overreaches and starts trying the "one dream to rule them all" bit again.

So instead of less Christie, we need more--and more like him. Spread over all the country.

Maybe I was unclear: "It is not going to do anyone any good for Christie to continue in this limbo mode." I have no problem with him speaking to the issues with force and as he chooses. I have a problem with the "will he" or "won't he" speculation and his obvious willingness, in this case, to permit and, even, encourage it.

Oh, I don't know. Begging someone who doesn't seem to want to be your be your boss to be president seems like a good idea for this election. Christie is appealing because he is a smaller government guy; that means he is not interested in being our boss. Do you want a bossy president? I don't, which is one reason I find the one we have onerous and obnoxious.

Christie is also appealing because he does such a lovely job of expressing conservative principles. I so wish the current candidates would do that; the public needs to know why hope and change are really found in different principles than those of the New Deal and Great Society. There is nothing new there and those policies don't seem to work. Can't our candidates just hammer that point?

As for changing his mind about running now: didn't Christie recently have some health problem that put him in the hospital? That sort of thing can make a man rethink how he wants to spend the rest of his life or what he means to do with what life he has left. I know, it has been explained to me in previous comment threads that a candidate has to get in early to build support. Maybe. But campaigns are also bruising, to the man, his family, and the incessant bombardment has to keep many good people out of the fray. Support? What are parties for if not to be the support? Any more, candidates jockey around well into the primaries. Given modern media, there seems to be incentive to hold out for a while.

And look at it -- the crowded Republican field looks wide open and saying that shouldn't make any sense. Heck, Dan Henninger has a great opinion piece on why Herman Cain might actually be a great candidate. Who expected that? He's got good reasons, too.

I want to expand a bit on a motivating factor behind what I just said--basically, I by and large don't think much of our political class today when it comes to writing laws. This is not to mean I think people in that class are all stupid are mean-spirited or ill-witted or anything else--its just that, as a class, I'm not quite convinced they are delivering quality products (on the other hand, at least they are in the arena). It doesn't really matter why this is so--I feel it to be so.

So, basically, if given a choice right now (until the situation changes) between them doing stuff, and not doing stuff, I'd have to choose the "not doing stuff". Which means I'd like them to be checked by people capable of taking their jobs if need be, but who are quite content staying at the state level (or in industry, private life, etc.). Which means, Governor Christie, keep it up.

I can see that.

"Americans don't beg anyone to be their boss."

I don't think they want a boss. I think they want a leader.

Ialmost a fair point, Michelle. Boss is not the right word. But, in point of fact, I don't think they ought to want either a boss or a leader. Leader, of course, is a word the Founders never would have used. It's relatively new to the American political lexicon and stems from the progressive understanding of the march of history as "progress" and the leader as the man who best comprehends the direction of history and most competently brings the people along the path history directs--wherever it directs. Who needs that? Bah. What we ought to want is an executive--one who executes the laws and swears an oath to uphold the Constitution in the process of doing that. If we are lucky, we might sometimes also get a statesman for the bargain. But I am not holding my breath . . .

“Leader, of course, is a word the Founders never would have used. It's relatively new to the American political lexicon and stems from the progressive understanding of the march of history as 'progress' and the leader as the man who best comprehends the direction of history and most competently brings the people along the path history directs--wherever it directs. Who needs that? Bah.”

To restrict the meaning of “leader” to the arbitrary definition of Progressives strikes me as being willfully arbitrary. Today we rightly revere the founders as leaders in a sense Progressives obviously wouldn’t accept. So what if they don't accept it?

If the authors and signers of the Declaration weren’t moral and political LEADERS in the highest and most honorable sense of the word, what were they? If Washington didn’t LEAD the Army of the Potomac to victory in battle, pray tell what did he do?

Your Jesuitical logic-chopping isn’t even remotely persuasive. What the American people hunger for right now is political LEADERSHIP.

You will pardon me, Michelle . . . But what, precisely, is leadership? People say that word as if it actually means something. I suppose, in their minds, it does. But that's the problem. It means different things to different people. Barack Obama is touted as a leader (or, at least, he was) by those who admired the direction in which he was headed (until we got there). FDR was a leader. Is that the kind of leadership we need? You may call me Jesuitical, but this kind of vague talk into which all may supply their own meaning is exactly what got us Barack Obama.

I don't think the American people want any more of that. I think they want something much more specific; something that can be defined and something against which we can judge the next occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Maybe this is what you mean when you say "leader"? The problem is that there so many people who mean something entirely different and, yet, they use the same word. We need more clarity and less obfuscation in our politics. The first step toward that is using better words. "Boss" was a bad one because it means something other than what I was after. But "leader" may be worse because it means nothing.

"You will pardon me, Michelle . . . But what, precisely, is leadership?"

You denied that the founders would have used the word. What, precisely, were you denying?

(Hat tip to Anonymous. Nicely put!)

Julie, you breezily assert that talk about leadership is "vague talk," then you just as breezily assert, "FDR was a leader."

You need to go over your conceptual analysis again and clear up your confusion. "We need more clarity and less obfuscation" not only in our politics but also in our discussions about politics.

From the "vague talk" archives. (Guess the author.)

“I think that in forcing Obama's move, the LEADERSHIP of Boehner and Ryan has made itself evident.”

“No more do conservatives have to sit around and assert the many ways in which Obama's LEADERSHIP has failed the country . . . Obama now gets up to the podium and does the job for us. We should continue to press him to do this.”

“It seems to me, however, that apart from the most obviously annoying aspects of this complaint about the "crassness" of the conservative movement (which I admit strikes me mainly out of a sentiment of disgust with its lack of charity for ordinary well-meaning people doing the best they can with limited political LEADERSHIP and busy lives that are not—gasp!—dedicated to the study of politics) there also seems to be an amazing amount of missing the point.”

“Former CIA Director, R. James Woolsey and Ashbrook Scholar graduate, Rebeccah Heinrichs give a fascinating accounting of the efforts of LEADERS in Congress to do what they can to ‘reset’ Obama's naive attempts at a Russian ‘reset’.”

“But is he forgetting that in just the preceding paragraph he recalled the way that 1980s GOP LEADERS got rolled and reached their high water mark with meager cuts?”

“We were stuck with it unless or, perhaps, until some 21st century LEADER could ‘extend and expand the American social compact’ for a new age'."

“It is possible that the setbacks Obama felt at the ballot box last November served as an example to him of what happens in a Republic founded upon the consent of the governed when a political LEADER refuses to engage in politics.”

“He pushed for ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ because politics had become what he considered to be a bastion of cynics where anyone with eyes could certainly see that progress demanded ‘fairness’ but old habits left Washington without LEADERS who had the will or the force of personality to insist upon it . . . at least until Obama came to town."

I get the impression your work life has not led you to contemplate the distinction between being managed and being led. (It was Gen. Grace Hopper who said the business schools had been the source of a great deal of cultural damage in this respect.).

A leader accepts responsibility for the consequences of his decisions, articulates clear goals, and selects means which make the goals feasible. A leader has willing followers. A leader is someone for whom you are pleased to work. Among the better examples of leadership in our recent Presidents are Truman, Eisenhower, and Bush the Younger.

Leadership = what I was getting at with this bit, Christie is also appealing because he does such a lovely job of expressing conservative principles. I so wish the current candidates would do that; the public needs to know why hope and change are really found in different principles than those of the New Deal and Great Society. There is nothing new there and those policies don't seem to work. Can't our candidates just hammer that point?

I suppose it is an indirect way to say I long for a conservative leader. But wouldn't it be lovely to have someone lead us out of the current state of our nation? Since we chose our leaders democratically, an effective leader -- hell, a leader -- must persuade a majority of voters of the right way to proceed.

Yes, AD, and God save us from managers.

Even Kate must use an adjective in front of leader to better convey her meaning. "Conservative" says more than leader does about what she wants.

Michelle is correct that I have not always been perfect in my attempts to avoid using the word--though I have made a conscious effort to avoid it since coming to understand how bankrupt a word it is. And some of her examples reinforce my point. When I speak of "Obama's leadership" for example, it is not to praise him or the concept of leadership. You can lead a man into he'll, after all . . .

AD would like to infuse the word with something noble and I suppose there is an ordinary and common sense meaning of the word to which he appeals. My point, however, is not to beat up on those who use the word in that way but only to suggest that they consider that there might be a clearer way to express the ideas they are after.

I don't think our political problem is that we suffer from a lack of leadership. I think we suffer from too many people trying to lead us in the wrong direction.

Nothing particularly 'noble'. There are people who are well suited to having people working under them and there are people who are not. I have worked for both types.

And we do suffer a lack of leadership. The President and various and sundry others have spent the last 9 months striking attitudes. If some of these TEA partisan members of Congress want to be leaders, they'd best get in front of public fora and explain what 'no new taxes' means in practice. I ain't holdin' my breath.

Christie is obviously running for VP....

A pretty funny thread if you read it. Also strange that I will quote the same Aristotle as appropriate:

"In the same spirit, therefore, should each type of statement be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits."

My own view of leader: someone folks follow.

Modern view: I have 20,000 twitter followers, therefore I am a leader!

Klout ranks me as influential in: Bacon, Gasoline Prices and baseball memorabilia.


Hypothetical... you know absolutely nothing about a subject but have to make a choice/selection between A and B.

Person X picks A. If on the basis of X picking A you pick A or B, person X is a leader. Person X can have positive influence or negative influence, and still be a leader or exert influence.

Aristotle: "Now each man judges well the things he knows, and of these he is a good judge." I derive, a leader is a good judge. Or the principle: I should be lead by those whose judgement I deem good.

A lot of time leaders are lone wolfs who exert negative influences, but this is in part because a leader seems to be willing to act as a guinea pig in situations where the appropriate action is uncertain.

A leader is sometimes the first to leave a party, the first to skip a class, the first to say yes, or no.

Also just to complicate things a bit, it is not always good to be a leader, and in my opinion there is nothing wrong with being reactive sometimes (being a follower).

Sometimes being a follower is the greatest wisdom. There are more fad diets and fad workouts created every day, but often the status quo is the strongest hand.

Long story short read Book 1 of the Nicomachean Ethics, and if this is too ancient and irrelevant for you....go follow wise men on twitter.

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