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 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT