Friday, February 18, 2011

Political Leadership in Action

If you turn on the evening news you will discover that Barack Obame believes that he can create jobs by prancing around the country doing photo-ops. For him being a leader involves showing up at a factory or two, calling for more government spending, and hobnobbing with Silicon Valley execs.

Obama has left a leadership void. Now, it is being filled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

The new center of political gravity is in Trenton, New Jersey. Go figure.

Leading a markedly blue state, with a Democratic legislature, Christie has not just balanced the budget without raising taxes. He has also followed Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in standing up to public employee labor unions.

Remember when Democratic lawmakers across the nation were quivering at the thought of facing an angry voter or two at a town hall meeting? Remember when they were canceling open meetings be because they were afraid to face their constituents?

All the while, Chris Christie was out doing town hall meetings with angry voters. He was not ducking confrontations; he was facing down his detractors, looking them in the eye, and telling them the truth, straight up.

To those who discovered Christie on Youtube videos, it was as though someone was finally treating Americans like adults. More than that, Christie was not pandering; was not holding a finger up to the wind to see which way the special interests were blowing. He meant what he said and said what he meant.

Next to the preening of Barack Obama it was a breath of fresh air. People responded favorably. Other governors, facing similar fiscal trainwrecks, followed Christie’s lead.

Whether or not they ran on his platform, many governors have been emboldened by Christie to face their fiscal crisis head on.

Let’s call the other governors: Christie lite.

Even Andrew Cuomo in New York decided to get tough about the deficit. John Kasich in Ohio is gearing up for a fight against the teachers’ unions. Scott Walker in Wisconsin decided that to face down the teachers’ unions and has unleashed a firestorm of incivility that is worthy of Greece.

When it comes to incivility, labor unions make the Tea Party look like… a tea party.

When it comes to fiscal discipline, Barack Obama has been AWOL. So, Chris Christie filled the vacuum with his outsized persona, his pugnacious attitude, and his courage in facing down any and all comers.

Chris Christie does not exercise leadership by telling the other governors what to do. He has no power or authority over the governors of Wisconsin, Ohio, or New York.

Christie is a leader because others are following his example. In many ways, this is the essence of great leadership: when people follow your lead even though they don’t have to.

For some time now I have been reporting on the Christie phenomenon. I am also among those who would very much like to see him run for president.

Christie might think that he is not ready, but the real issue is whether the country is ready.

Anyway, leadership is about substance more than about style. Before Chris Christie became a Youtube sensation, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels had effected similar reforms in his state, without all of the sound and the fury. Of course, Indiana is a red state, so the pushback was milder than in places like Wisconsin, or even Ohio.

In today’s Wall Street Journal  Peggy Noonan argues, persuasively, that Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie are providing, from their statehouses, the kind of leadership that national leaders have not been providing. Link here.

To show what she means, she offers two remarkable speeches, both of which were delivered in Washington in the past week, by the two governors, to conservative audiences.

As you know, Peggy Noonan wrote speeches for Ronald Reagan, and thus, is especially well qualified to comment on the art of speechmaking.

As she puts it: “There were two big speeches this week, and I mean big as in ‘Modern political history will remember this.’ Together they signal something significant and promising. Oh, that's a stuffy way to put it. I mean: The governors are rising and are starting to lead. What a relief. It's like seeing the posse come over the hill.”

She is referring first, to the speech that Mitch Daniels gave before CPAC… which I linked and commented on here.

And she is referring, second, to Chris Christie’s speech to the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday. Link here.

If you have not yet had the chance to read them, they represent some very serious thinking about our current economic problems, and offer some serious solutions to those problems.

I would add that both speeches have deftly stepped beyond politics. Meaning that both governors are positioning themselves to lead a nation, not a party.

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