"I wanted to be a thug but my problem is I am ticklish. You can't be a thug if you start giggling…"
-- Malik S., Popular Miami Comedian
"I took out an English teacher once. That did not work out real well. I sent her a love note and she corrected it."
-- Rodney Dangerfield, Back to School
That unique but ubiquitous gift for the Man-Who-Has-Everything, naming a star after him, always held my fascination. Looking up into the galaxies and seeing the effervescent glimmer of Thelma Rogers of Peoria, Illinois, alongside the scintillating gleam of Louis Bernstein of Poughkeepsie, New York, I beheld the merger of vastness and crassness, the universe and the anniversary. Politics is a lot like this, I thought: a bunch of people decide you get to be the next star and then you have to do the best you can not to fall out of the sky.
Even as Obama seems to be spiraling downward, one guy who seems to have an entire constellation of his own is Governor Christie. (Come to think of it, there is a religion named after him already.) He has become a meatier darling, and much sought after by journalists. Last Sunday he Met The Press and was not treated as an outlaw. They put down the billy club and put on kid gloves.
He explained how he has achieved his legislative successes and humbly recommended that Obama follow his model. Get everyone in the room, speak from the heart and find common ground. Brilliant insights these, which leads one to wonder what he believes on other matters of import. For instance, does a stitch in time save nine? Is a bird in the hand worth two in the bush? Does absence make the heart grow fonder? The list of possible fronts where his brand of enlightenment may be plied is limitless.
What Christie and his lionizers forget is that he is a Republican and a Republican can only succeed by succeeding. If the reforms he has initiated in his home state do not balance its budget over time, he will put on the new jersey of private citizenship after the next election. Obama, on the other hand, is a Democrat and Democrats can succeed by failing. He can organize the American community right into the poorhouse and still be rewarded for his good intentions by reelection.
The math computes thusly. Democrats and Republicans do not decide elections; Independents do that job. The traditional expectation is that each party gets 40 percent of the vote and the indies bring the deciding 20. The question then becomes: how do Democrats get Independent votes and how do Republicans get them? I think the answer is that Democrats can draw them with dreams but Republicans can only retake them by producing results.
Take health care as an issue. The Democrat view is that government should be the one to manage it even if it cannot do the best job. The Republican view is that government has no business managing it even if it could do the best job. The Independent splits the difference. He is not too sure he wants the government mixing into his health care but if you can convince him they can do it better he is prepared to shrug off the principles and the Constitutional orthodoxy.
Right now, these middle-of-the-road guys have swung back to Republican because they see the Democrat dreams are not having happy endings. Guys like Christie are getting their votes. But they take those votes for granted at their own peril. Those are not gifted but leased. If the economies of those states where the Republican skinflint governors practice their budget economies do not respond, the Independents will follow the Sirens again.
It is nice to see Christie's situation produce such comity, but politics is still a reality show and much drama lies ahead. And I hate to say this, but I must add yet another cautionary note: if Christie and Scott Walker are not obviously successful in their states by mid-2012, not only will Republican Governors start losing, Obama might cash in as well. Republicans must remember that a thug cannot be ticklish and their love notes to an English teacher will be corrected. They will succeed to the Presidency only if they succeed.
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