Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

The tough truths about Chris Christie's New Jersey

By Errol Louis, Special to CNN
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Thu August 30, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chris Christie built his keynote address to RNC on theme of telling tough truths to America
  • Errol Louis says the New Jersey governor has to face the tough truths about his own state
  • New Jersey's unemployment rate is high, and there are questions about finances, he says
  • Louis: Christie's speech went over well, but he didn't mention Romney until late in his talk

Editor's note: Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York City all-news channel.

(CNN) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie built his keynote address to the Republican National Convention on the theme of telling tough truths to the nation. "We have become paralyzed by our desire to be loved," announced Christie, showing off the gruff, no-nonsense style that catapulted him into the governor's mansion.

It's only fair to mention some tough truths about his speech, his tenure as governor and the state of the Republican campaign for president.

The most striking truth (as Democrats pointed out even before the address) is that New Jersey under Christie has suffered from a severely troubled economy and soaring costs of government: the very things that Republicans like Christie blame on Democrats.

Errol Louis
Errol Louis

As of July, New Jersey's unemployment rate stands at 9.8%: higher than the national average, fourth worst among the 50 states and the highest level in 35 years. The rate is higher than on the day Christie took office in 2010 and nearly a full percentage point higher than earlier this year, when Christie's State of the State address exultantly and repeatedly claimed that a "New Jersey Comeback" was under way.

And despite Christie's boasts about trimming the cost of government in the Garden State -- the keynote speech repeated his frequent claim of balancing three state budgets -- some fiscal watchdogs attribute the budgets to creative accounting, not true cost containment.

"A hard truth Christie absolutely will not tell is that every one of his budgets has been unbalanced by more than $2.5 billion," notes Bloomberg news blogger Josh Barro, citing Christie's bad habit -- started by previous governors -- of skimping on payments into the state's pension fund.

This year, for example, Christie paid just over $1 billion into the fund, a record amount but far less than the $3.74 billion that actuaries said was needed, according to Barro. Those unpaid billions are, in effect, a loan that will have to be repaid by taxpayers someday.

GOP stars throw support behind Romney
Giuliani on RNC speeches and 'respect'
Analysis: Ann Romney, Christie speeches

No wonder Christie omitted "New Jersey Comeback" from his keynote address.

Put aside the ugly economics, and Christie's speech was unusually good. He read well from the teleprompter, even though he normally speaks without a prepared text. And he was persuasive, showing off the skills of his old job as a federal prosecutor.

Most important, from a political perspective, Christie had a smooth launch onto the national stage, talking more about Chris Christie -- much more -- than about the man of the hour, candidate Mitt Romney. In the seven-page text of the address sent to reporters, Romney's name doesn't appear until near the bottom of page five.

That's no surprise: Keynote addresses at the national conventions often serve as the launching pad for politicians preparing their own bids for president, and Christie has not shied away from talk that he might be a candidate in 2016 or later.

But even the most successful convention-speech-as-launch-pad of recent times -- the keynote delivered at the 2004 Democratic convention by a then-little-known Illinois state senator named Barack Obama -- lavishly praised Sen. John Kerry, the party's nominee that year. Though Obama called Kerry's name 13 times in that speech, Christie mentioned Romney only seven times.

Clearly, Christie's political star is rising. But he may also need to refine his "tough truths" mantra. The underlying message -- a promise to shrink government and reduce programs like Medicare -- is risky business in an election year.

Voters, like supermarket shoppers, want as much as they can get for as little as they can get away with paying. Our nation's airwaves and billboards are chock full of companies advertising two-for-one sales and buy-one-get-one-free specials for a reason: it works.

By contrast, you rarely see stores advertise the hard truth that the product isn't as good as they thought, the supplies are limited and the cost is going up.

If the tough-talk message helps Romney win the White House in November, Christie is assured a bright future on the national stage. But if he hopes to repeat any version of Obama's astounding leap from keynote to candidate, he'll have to get New Jersey's fiscal house in order pronto.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Errol Louis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 5:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 6:21 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT