Wednesday, September 05, 2012

"Hard truths" & shared sacrifice from Chris Christie

Another interesting highlight of the recent Republican convention in Tampa was Chris Christie's keynote address.

A number of commentators have already pointed out that the speech focused a lot more on Chris Christie himself, and his achievements (real and alleged) as Governor of New Jersey, than on the Republican Party's presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. And some of the things that Christie did say about Romney might almost be taken as subtly sarcastic, if one had a suspicious disposition. For example:
Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth [....] Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to end the torrent of debt [....] Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear [....]
As Josh Barro noted, wickedly but acutely, "Christie’s use of the future tense" may be significant here. "Christie promises Romney 'will tell us the hard truths'. It would be hard to contend that he has done so in the past." But be that as it may ...

 => The twin themes of Christie's speech were the need for "hard truths" and for shared sacrifice. In that light, one passage in the speech was especially startling—to me and, as I later discovered, to some other people who heard it as well:
Tonight, our duty is to tell the American people the truth. Our problems are big and the solutions will not be painless. We all must share in the sacrifice. Any leader that tells us differently is simply not telling the truth.
"We must all share in the sacrifice"? Whose convention did Christie think he was speaking at? In the real world, one of the central defining principles of today's Republican Party is the absolute, non-negotiable refusal to ask for ANY sacrifice from the wealthiest Americans. Not only is it out of the question even to consider returning the top federal tax rates to the levels that prevailed during the Clinton administration (a period of dramatic economic decline, technological stagnation, high unemployment, and exploding deficits, remember?). In addition, they propose to lavish even more tax cuts on the rich. At the same time, they claim to be desperately concerned about reducing the long-term federal deficit (which, by the way, is largely a Republican creation, to which decades of Republican tax cuts have contributed significantly). When anyone points out that there is a bit of a contradiction there, or at least a tension, they respond with "supply side" fairy tales about how reducing taxes on the wealthy (aka the "job creators") will automatically boost economic growth so much that these tax cuts will magically pay for themselves. (In other words, there is such a thing as a free lunch—at least, for the top 1%.)

It seems unlikely that Christie intended his speech to be be understood as a devastating indictment of the Republican Party and its nominee. And I would hate to think that Christie was being dishonest or deliberately misleading. (What would his mother have said?) So the most generous way to make sense of these statements is to assume that Christie knew he was describing an imaginary Republican Party that exists only in his dreams.

=> Concerning the real Republican Party (the one whose presidential nominee did not mention the word "sacrifice" even once in his acceptance speech), here are some "hard truths" that David Leonhardt offered back in September 2010:
[W]hen politicians tell you that they are opposed to tax increases, Medicare cuts, Social Security cuts and military cuts, they’re really saying that they are in favor of crippling deficits.
To quote the current Governor of New Jersey, "any leader that tells us differently is simply not telling the truth." No doubt Chris Christie's Sicilian mother would have agreed.

—Jeff Weintraub