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 5:22 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT