Election 2012

Chris Christie's Self-Centered, Platitudinous Speech and the GOP's Vision Problem


A number of commentators have noted how long it took for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to mention GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in his keynote speech at the Republican convention last night, with more than a couple griping that Christie focused entirely too much on himself and his own state.

The first mention of Romney did take a while to appear: Christie spoke more than 1700 words before actually naming the party's nominee. But as Century Foundation Fellow Michael Cohen notes, it's not unheard of for a major party convention keynote address to focus on the speaker rather than on the candidate. Mario Cuomo's 1984 speech at the Democratic convention didn't mention nominee Walter Mondale at all. Nor did Barbara Jordan's 1976 Democratic convention speech mention Jimmy Carter.

It seems understandable that ambitious political stars like Chris Christie would want to focus more on their own story than on the candidate's. That was apparently true of even  the most famous convention speech in recent memory: Barack Obama's 2004 keynote, which helped rocket him to national fame — and, eventually, the presidency. The final speech mentioned John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee, a number of times. But only after substantial revision designed to shine less of the spotlight on Obama and more on Kerry. As David Bernstein's Chicago Magazine piece on the creation of Obama's speech explains:

[Speech coordinator Vicky] Rideout [says] the speech needed trimming and editing. "There was not a lot of Kerry stuff in the first draft," she says. "We had to pump up the Kerry-Edwards stuff and downplay some of the Illinois stuff."

In retrospect, says Axelrod, "the need to edit the speech actually helped it. The truth is, there was some excess in the speech that hurt the flow a little bit. There was a little more detail about his life than we had time to share. So, the process of editing was really a positive."

What was a little more jarring, I think, was the lack of a sustained case for Romney over the entire featured primetime lineup. Only his wife, Ann, devoted an entire speech to burnishing his image. And her speech, which I found charming and appealing, was designed to humanize him — as a father, a husband, a hard working family breadwinner and quietly charitable person — not present a governing vision. Indeed, there was rather little in the way of policy substance last night, especially in Christie's speech, which fleetingly acknowledges conflicts with teacher's unions and battles over the budget but was built almost entirely out of vapid one-liners. Pull a few lines more or less at random from the speech text

There are odes to strong leadership:

But I have learned over time that it applies just as much to leadership. In fact, I think that advice applies to America today more than ever.
I believe we have become paralyzed by our desire to be loved.

And admonitions to Team Red to remember to be as truly awesome as it can be:

We win when we make it about what needs to be done; we lose when we play along with their game of scaring and dividing.

And rhetorical flag planting to mark the importance of this particular moment in presidential history:

Now it's our time to answer history's call.
For make no mistake, every generation will be judged and so will we.

And generically pro-American fluff mixed with generic invocations of Mitt Romney's generic campaign slogan:

I have an answer tonight for the skeptics and the naysayers, the dividers and the defenders of the status quo. I have faith in us. I know we can be the men and women our country calls on us to be. I believe in America and her history.

But unless declaring that "tonight, we're going to choose respect over love" is some sort of very subtle legislative plan, there's precious little in terms a vision for the size, scope, and role of government. Instead, there's unified opposition to the current administration. And that was the way of a lot of last night's speeches: long on criticism of Obama, long on love for America and small business, but short on governing details or legislative goals, and half-hearted in its case for why voters should do any more than oppose the current president. The Republican party knows what it's against, but not what it's for. 

NEXT: European Shares Hold Ahead of Bernanke Speech

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “And generically pro-American fluff mixed with generic invocations…”

    You could just save this phrase for future use, for any convention of TEAM RED or TEAM BLUE.

    1. Yes, and much of Christie’s speech is so generic that it could have appeared in a Dem speech.

      1. Hence my suggestion 🙂

  2. “…but short on governing details or legislative goals…”

    At a convention speech? If you want a laundry list of proposed stuff, you’ll have to wait for the SOTU address by O! or Romney.

    1. I didn’t get that, either. Convention speeches are NEVER long on details; platitudes pretty much define every speech from every speaker, the nominee included.

  3. Civics FAIL Mr McArdle.

    But unless declaring that “tonight, we’re going to choose respect over love” is some sort of very subtle legislative plan

    Why would a state executive lay out a federal “legislative plan”?

    1. Is it unreasonable to expect a governor who is widely expected to run for his party’s presidential nomination to lay out a set of goals — legislative goals — for his party? State or federal level. But the policy section, covering debt and unions, was brief and similarly built around one liners (“they believe in teacher’s unions, we believe in teachers”) rather than anything that looks like a real agenda.

      I guess what I want to hear from these folks is not just that they dislike Obama, but why they dislike his presidency, and what they would do differently. And if that’s not what they’re talking about pretty frequently then that suggests that they don’t think they have much they can win on in the What We Would Do department.

      1. It’s not unreasonable to expect it but it is unlikely. Disliking Obama is unfortunately enough of a speech theme to move many voters to go out to the polls. Bottom line is emotional appeals are what’s going to work for the GOP, not actually outlining policy and legislation. I’ve been keeping up with the RNC, mostly through democracynow.org (which has some fairly good interviews btw) and it’s pretty obvious that we shouldn’t expect much discussion of anything at the convention. Everyone’s too busy enjoying their swag bags to have a decent speech.

      2. haven’t they spent most of the past couple of years explaining why they dislike the Obama presidency, from the burdensome regulation to the desire to tax somebody to the growth of fedzilla?

        The VP nominee is heavy on the “what we would do” and as illustrative as anything is the opposition’s response: to call the plan extreme and air ads with an old lady going over a cliff. No counter-plan, no discussion of any valid point in Ryan’s, no nothing but fear-mongering.

      3. I guess what I want to hear from these folks is not just that they dislike Obama

        Well, first and foremost, they need to show people that they don’t just dislike Obama because he is an Islamic Kenyan.

      4. Shrug. President Obama listed a bunch of What We Would Do, but in the end his Presidency has really been all about the Not Bush that actually animates his supporters as well.

        There are more things that he explicitly promised to do that he hasn’t than promises he kept. Both things I like and dislike.

  4. “tonight, we’re going to choose respect over love”

    Sounds like a particularly lame lyric

    1. Very “Air Supply”, yes?

      1. sadly, yes, Australia’s soft-cock superstars might have come up with that for a b-side

        1. So, you are saying we are all out of love?

          1. Making fail out of nothing at all.

            1. Making fail out of nothing at all.

              This could be the slogan for either Rs or Ds. Every time.

              1. Every woman in the world would agree.

        2. “Australia’s soft-cock superstars”

          I suspect that will NOT be adopted by the band as a marketing descriptor – but I found it highly amusing.

    2. “tonight, we’re going to choose respect over love”

      1) Well, love in the *morning*, then?

      2) “Respect and Change”

  5. What that fat-ass really needs to do is lay off the pizza.

    1. Michelle should set up some system of weight-loss camps in her husband’s second term.

    2. Jersey’s got some good Italian. I’d probably be bigger than him if I lived there.

      1. Jersey has good everything, when it comes to ethnic foods, not just Italian.

        Excellent produce, too.

    3. Is it too much to hope that this is an ironic comment highlighting that the overwhelming response of Democratic partisans and voters to the speech that I’ve seen is not, “we need more policy specifics instead of platitudes and dislike,” but “hah, hah, he’s fat?”

  6. Really. You expected a prime time speech at a convention outlining legislative proposals?

    The theme of the speech was being honest with the public:

    “Tonight, our duty is to tell the American people the truth.

    Our problems are big and the solutions will not be painless. We all must share in the sacrifice. Any leader that tells us differently is simply not telling the truth.”

    One can disagree with the premise that Romney is someone that delivers a bitter pill, but what’s the disagreement with invoking truth from leader?

    1. The whole speech takes little more time to read than the article about the speech:


    2. I have a hard time getting excited about a political party that makes the big, bold promise not to lie to the public, especially since I’m pretty certain it won’t even actually stop lots of Republicans from punching up the truth and misleading the public on a reasonably regular basis.

      1. “I have a hard time getting excited about a political party that makes the big, bold promise not to lie to the public, especially since I’m pretty certain it won’t even actually stop lots of Republicans from punching up the truth and misleading the public on a reasonably regular basis.”

        Since the gist of your statement is that it’s all bullshit anyway, why waste time analyzing speeches and taking the time to write all those words about something that doesn’t matter anyway? Take up knitting or crochet and stop wasting your life.

        1. Well, it’s always amusing to note the speeches about honesty for future reference when the norm of dishonesty returns.

          Obama’s civil liberties speeches from 2008 are comedy gold now.

      2. You’re not exactly the target audience.

  7. Have there been a lot of convention speeches that meet your guidelines?

    1. I’m sure all the ones at the DNC convention will.

  8. “Our problems are big and the solutions will not be painless. We all must share in the sacrifice. Any leader that tells us differently is simply not telling the truth.”

    Now say it in Obama’s voice. See! It works. Bipartisanship FTW!

  9. The Republican party knows what it’s against, but not what it’s for.

    Which is to say, it’s a political party in opposition. I agree it’s nice to dream of something better, but I’ve never seen a party in opposition do anything other than remain vague and be against the incumbent.

    Hey, President Obama seems to have continued that strategy even after becoming President, after losing the House.

  10. Lotta Team Blue apologists up early this A.M. I thought you people had jobs? Get to work!

  11. Remember this speech if Romney wins and then does basically nothing different from what Obama is doing. You won’t be able to say the GOP lied. They just layed it out for you.

    1. Heh, I first read that as “They just lied it out for you.”

    2. I’ve never expected Romney and Obama to do anything other than fight over who gets to lead GWB’s fourth term.

  12. needs moar “stop the oceans from rising”?

    1. Planet healing, definetly more planet healing.

  13. “vapid one-liners” == RNC

  14. Did he mention NJ has the 48th worst unemployment rate at 9.8%, but we a got a big, shiny, monstrosity of a new casino in Atlantic City partially funded with taxpayer money, thanks to Christie, that only made $14 million, but cost $2 billion to build. And half of that was written off by Morgan Stanley.

    It is perdy though, ain’t it?


    1. It could be worse.

      It could be Xanadu.

  15. You seem to have entirely missed the subtext of his speech–all that about his mother being the stronger of his two parents–and about respect being more important than being loved. He was appealing to women voters, as Ann Romney was too, in an effort to swing that voting block more back into the toss up category.


Please to post comments

Comments are closed.