The big theme of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's GOP convention speech last night was that politicians should be straight with people. And he pitched Mitt Romney's candidacy on the promise that he "will tell us the hard truths."
I find Christie's no-nonsense style of engagement appealing in certain ways, but aggressive public appearances don't always correlate with actual truth telling.
As Bloomberg's Josh Barro points out, when it comes to his legislative accomplishments, Christie hasn't exactly told the hard truths himself:
But a hard truth Christie absolutely will not tell is that every one of his budgets has been unbalanced by more than $2.5 billion. When Christie said tonight he has signed "three balanced budgets," he wasn't telling a hard truth—he was using bad accounting to hide a hard truth.
Each year, Christie has achieved "on paper" budget balance by making inadequate payments into the state's pension fund, effectively borrowing from the fund. Christie has touted this year's $1.03 billion pension fund payment as the largest in the state's history. Too bad the state's pension actuaries told him to deposit $3.74 billion.
And Christie said tonight that his pension reforms will save the state $132 billion over 30 years. But those savings are backloaded. Pension costs will continue to rise over the coming years and squeeze out funding for public services. Even after reform, the hard truth is that New Jersey still has a defined-benefit pension system that is unaffordable and exposes taxpayers to excessive investment risk.
Nor has Romney. To the contrary, Romney has pointedly avoided hard truths about the budget, about Medicare, defense spending, and taxes. He's made a slew of policy promises that don't add up and almost certainly never will.
Might that change if he becomes president? As Barro points out, Christie didn't say that Romney has already told us hard truths, but that he will — at some yet to be determined point in the future. So is the big, bold promise of the GOP, as delivered by Christie: Not that the presidential nominee will tell you the hard truth now, but that eventually they'll get around to it.