Published August 30. 2012 4:00AM
The most remarkable thing about the keynote speech New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered to the Republican National Convention was not that he talked for 16 minutes before mentioning the party's presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, nor that he mentioned Mr. Romney so relatively infrequently. No, what was most remarkable is how disharmonious were the ideals put forward in the speech with the actions of the party leadership and its nominee.
If Gov. Christie were the party nominee the speech would have been spot on. The governor gave voice to his own leadership ideals - speak honestly, make the tough decisions even if politically unpopular, and be willing to work in a bipartisan fashion - trusting that the voters will reward such political courage even when disagreeing with some of the policies.
But while that might aptly describe the New Jersey governor's style, it does not depict Mr. Romney's approach in this election nor does it reflect the actions of Republican leaders in Congress.
"We believe in telling hard-working families the truth about our country's fiscal realities. Tell them what they already know - the math of federal spending doesn't add up," said Gov. Christie.
Things certainly did not add up when President George W. Bush assured the American people that the nation could somehow fight two wars, create a massive new Homeland Security agency and still enjoy large tax cuts. Republicans say stop blaming the problems on Bush, but those reckless decisions set the stage for the massive deficits the country faces today and left it vulnerable when economic calamity struck, also during the Bush presidency. Yet Republicans continue to refuse to consider any scaling back of the Bush tax cuts.
"When there are people in the room who care more about doing the job they were elected to do than worrying about winning re-election, it's possible to work together, achieve principled compromise and get results," said Gov. Christie. Ironic coming from a spokesman for a party whose congressional leaders made the cynical decision four years ago to block the Democratic president at every turn in an effort to deny him any policy victories.
"The greatest lesson mom ever taught me … was this one: she told me there would be times in your life when you have to choose between being loved and being respected. She said to always pick being respected," Gov. Christie told the assembled.
Yet Mr. Romney has clearly shown he wants the love, and the votes.
How else does one explain when, running for senator of Massachusetts in 1994, he promised to be a champion for "full equality" for gays and lesbians. His campaign distributed at a gay pride parade pink flyers asserting he would be a stronger advocate than the man he faced in that election, Democrat Ted Kennedy. Today Mr. Romney dare not say anything favorable about equality for homosexuals for fear of alienating social conservatives.
And how else does one explain how Mr. Romney helped forge as governor of Massachusetts that state's successful health care program, Romneycare, which mandates that individuals have some minimal insurance coverage, but who now rails against the federal Affordable Care Act that was modeled on the Massachusetts plan.
Mr. Romney once told Massachusetts voters "abortion should be safe and legal in this country," but now seeks to outlaw abortion and, while personally saying he would make exceptions for pregnancy through rape and protection of the mother's health, refuses to condemn a GOP platform that would not allow such exceptions.
This willingness to conform his policy beliefs to secure the votes he needs at a given time shows someone who picks political expediency over "being respected."
"We have a nominee who will tell us the truth and lead with conviction," said the keynote speaker. What truths and where will Mr. Romney lead the country? It is hard to say given his ever changing "Etch-a-Sketch" approach toward policy.
Again quoting his mother, Gov. Christie said that elected officials should "lead … not by avoiding truths, especially the hard ones, but by facing up to them and being the better for it."
Yet neither party is willing to concede that it will take both tax increases and spending reductions, particularly in entitlement programs and in defense, to get deficit spending under control. Mr. Romney insists cuts in discretionary spending will get the deficit under control while President Obama talks largely of taxing the rich. In neither case does the math work. The candidate who first speaks about the hard truths may be the one to gain the voter respect Gov. Christie frequently referenced.