The Fat Guy and the Skinny Guy: More Alike Than They Appear
For all their contrasting looks, Chris Christie and Barack Obama are alike in one critical respect: both are the kind of politician endangered elites offer up when they correctly perceive their power threatened. To preserve their dominance, establishments seek above all to protect the orthodoxies they have enshrined and the trends they have fostered. By doing so, they maintain the interests of those they depend upon critically for support, and they limit the damage that challengers can cause. This stasis is sold by wrapping it artfully in the bright colors and shimmering bows of novelty.
Barack Obama has been a perfect example. He looked different, but his Hope and Change never challenged an elite orthodoxy. For all his wife's assurances that our lives "as usual" were over, Obama presumed to place himself at the front of Democrat-approved social and cultural trends, all the while never challenging one. He dutifully followed the rules of Democrat discourse: he regularly called out "Wall Street" and "special interests," but his friends at Goldman Sachs, the Green lobby, GE, NEA, SEIU, AARP, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, etc. understood the game and knew they had nothing to fear.
Even as he has become unhinged of late, Obama has restricted his petulant flailing to relatively low-risk targets like the leeches of the Congressional Black Caucus, who have to take it because they have nowhere else to go. He and Chu and Geithner and Summers are brilliant -- but Pelosi and Reid were allowed to run the business.
Obama's eloquence, of course, has been celebrated extravagantly -- particularly by a chorus of what the Brits accurately used to call "news readers," who don't even write their own commonplaces and who would not recognize a memorable phrase if it bit them. Nevertheless, the language that counts in the Obama administration has been that of legislators like Frank, Dodd, and Schumer, and regulators like Warren and Lee.
What does all this have to do with the governor of New Jersey? Like the originals, each of the Abama and Christello 2012 team looks very different from the other, but their shtick is the same. The advocates for Christie are selling him in exactly the same way Obama's did, and for exactly the same reason -- Obama did not, and Christie does not, threaten their respective party orthodoxies, and both promise a comfortable working relationship with party elites.
While, like Obama's before 2008, the Christie balloon has been inflating for some time, the excuse for his current prominence was a talk he gave recently at the Reagan Library. While one could take exception to certain assumptions and emphases, there is nothing wrong with this speech. But like with every speech of Obama's, there is also nothing remarkable about it -- not one phrase, not one image that rises above current Republican convention. Unite us rather than divide us; "when there is a problem you fix it"; we are all in this together; demand sacrifice from all; a healthy American economy reinforces our influence abroad; and, of course, "leadership is compromise."
In this year of infinite promise, why is this banal utterance celebrated in Republican circles? It's safe. In his California oration, Christie waddled as fast as he could to get in front of trends conventional Republicans endorse: the contest in 2012 needs to be all about the economy and jobs and efficiency -- just fix the GDP, and Americans' faith in who and what we are will miraculously follow. Christie never threatened to get anywhere near some of those philosophical, regional, or cultural issues that make NRC Republicans uncomfortable, nor did he evidence any sympathy for libertarian notions. On foreign policy, he embraced neither adventurism nor isolation, and he never questioned the wisdom of our decade-long struggle to introduce assorted barbarians to the glories of democracy. No matter how the decidedly non-disinterested observers try to sell it, it was just a generally angry-looking guy saying things we have heard many times before from mainstream Republicans. Though theoretically an homage to Reagan, Christie's speech could have been delivered by John McCain.
Savants will respond that it was really the give-and-take after the formal speech that marked Christie as The Man of Destiny. Clearly he is a better debater than, say, Rick Perry, and less likely to step into hyperbolic traps than, say, Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann.
The contrast with Perry, Cain, and Bachmann is, of course, the real point of all this for mainstream Republicans, and it incorporates a lot more than Christie's debating skills. Whether by luck or design, Christie's perfectly timed speech provided the opening for a last-ditch attempt by a Republican establishment, worried about a faltering Romney, to head off trends they do not like represented by the Tea Party, Jim DeMint, strong alternative conservative and libertarian voices in the New Media, and other unsettling influences on the right.
Indeed, for all of the "Christie hurts Romney more than Perry" conventional wisdom, if Mitt Romney misses his assigned turn, Christie -- with no extravagant notions about gun rights, definite "Islam is a peaceful religion" credentials, etc. -- is clearly positioned to replace him.