By Paolo von Schirach
February 26, 2014
WASHINGTON – Thanks to C-SPAN, the US public affairs channels that provide unedited recordings of various political and/or policy related events, I had the chance to watch a long “Town Meeting” featuring New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a (centrist) Republican, fielding many questions from voters.
The Town Meeting
The whole event was quite interesting. Of course, when a Governor goes around his State interacting with voters, this is a political event. But I would say that Governor Christie did not use this Town Meeting as an opportunity to look good and score political points, knowing that the proceedings would end up on TV and on the internet. Governor Christie gave me the impression of an elected official who knows “his stuff” very well and who is genuinely interested in running an administration that provides a good service to all constituents.
The Governor fielded a lot of complicated questions, many of them having to do with the horrendously complex process aimed at compensating the New Jersey victims of hurricane Sandy. My impression is that he knows all the issues very well and that he replied in a manner that showed engagement, interest in the problems of the citizens and willingness to do all that is possible to help. (He pointed out that representatives of key state agencies would be there to take down all the details pertaining to specific cases, after the end of the town meeting).
But the Governor was also clear about stating the limits of his powers and about the complicated relationship between the State and the Federal Government when it comes to deciding who is on which priority list, insurance issues, payments and more.
In other words, he did not over promise. He did not create false hopes.
All in all, from issues dealing with the powers of the state judiciary to Sandy related matters, Governor Christie gave me the impression that he is on top of the issues, that he knows them very well and that he is trying his very best to serve all New Jersey citizens. In other words, this was not an event in which the Governor goes in front of a (pre-selected) friendly crowd, says a few feel good platitudes, and then (pro-forma) replies to a couple of (pre-screened) innocuous questions.
The real deal
This Town Meeting was the real deal. This was about State Government in action. This was not “Let me tell you what I’ll do for you, if you vote for me”. This was about “This is what we have done and what we are doing. And if you have a legitimate issue, tell me all about it and we shall see what we can do to help you. And we really mean this”.
What I saw is an example of how a well run republic should work. First of all, elected officials are competent. And they are there to do a good job, in good faith, in the interest of the community. I should add that, while nobody was obsequious, all questions were asked in a civil and respectful manner. The Governor was equally respectful in replying to the questions. The meeting was fast paced, but orderly. The atmosphere seemed pleasant. No tensions. Unless Governor Christie is an extremely good actor, I am convinced that he means well and that he has the energy and the intellect to do a good job.
A good President?
Now, having said that, I have no idea as to whether Christie could be a good President. I suspect that being a good President would require all his skills. But it would also require something else: a broad vision articulated into a few key policy priorities that can be embraced by the Nation. This absolutely critical ingredient was not on display during the New Jersey town meeting. In fairness to Christie, this was not required in the context of an event focusing on local, often really personal, issues.
In the end, does Governor Christie have the qualities that would make him a strong national leader? May be he does; may be he does not.
For the moment let me just say that he is an excellent Governor. And this is no small thing.