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 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT