Christie’s big packaging
Our nation is overdue for an overweight leader. President William Howard Taft, seen at left, was a heavy man who had accomplished a lot when he completed his term in 1913. His successes laid the groundwork for exceptional economic growth for the century. Wikipedia says:
His domestic agenda emphasized trust-busting, civil service reform, strengthening the Interstate Commerce Commission, improving the performance of the postal service, and passage of the Sixteenth Amendment.
The 16th amendment allowed the federal government to assess an income tax without apportioning it among the states or basing it on Census results. The big man had impressive results in his term of office.
Now another big man — the Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie — is flirting with a presidential run. Christie, who is being egged on by wealthy donors, seems eager to enter the primary fray after serving less than two years as governor. In contrast, Taft had a very distinguished career prior to the presidency that included positions as U.S. Solicitor General, a judge on the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Governor-General of the Philippines and Secretary of War under Theodore Roosevelt.
Chris Christie has a very slim record. He also appears to inflate his accomplishments often. It’s been widely reported that he regularly exceeded travel guidelines while serving as U.S. Attorney. The AP reported in 2009 on his habit of staying at hotels that were much more expensive than what Justice Department policy allowed:
The Republican candidate for New Jersey governor, who has campaigned on a platform of ethical integrity and cutting government waste, regularly spent beyond federal guidelines on business travel while U.S. attorney, records show.
The newly released travel records show that Chris Christie occasionally billed taxpayers more than $400 a night for stays in luxury hotels and exceeded the government’s hotel allowance on 14 of 16 business trips he took in 2008.
“I’m sure he knew better, and he chose to ignore the rules,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “There is never a situation where the only available hotel in Washington is the Four Seasons. If you stay there, you’ve chosen luxury and you’ve chosen to ignore the rules.”
There is a certain mean hubris in repeated disregard of the rules while prosecuting others for violations of the law. It’s really important that leaders follow the rules in a democratic society as an example for the people to follow the rules too.
I’ve blogged numerous times about New Jersey mainly because the governor is so bombastic. Although I live in New York I hear very little media coverage of our governor Andrew Cuomo, who, like Christie, is working to recraft public employee benefits in his state. Cuomo has his head down and is quietly working issue by issue to stabilize his state’s finances. Christie, in contrast, rushed to appear on national TV shows following the passage of New Jersey’s fiscal 2012 budget.
The accomplishment that seemed to be propel Christie to national prominence was his pension reform efforts. He has over-inflated his accomplishments on the issue. For example, he claims he made only one of three payments in seventeen years into the state’s public pension funds. If this were true the funds would have collapsed. You can see his statements here:
In fact after Christie completed his “pension reforms” a third major rating agency lowered the state’s credit quality, which is now in the lowest 10% of states. His new deal is a band aid and will not require the state to make full pension payments until 2018. He didn’t “solve” anything; he just pushed the problem past his term. From the New York Times:
Despite its efforts to cut spending, New Jersey is a riskier investment, one of the leading ratings agencies said on Wednesday as it lowered the state’s credit rating, citing heavy debt and benefits obligations.
The nation is overdue for a heavy man, or woman, to lead us. But big packaging must hold big leadership and big ideas. Chris Christie has big packaging but doesn’t have real credentials to match his size.