I studiously avoided tuning in to the antics in Tampa until about 10:30 last night, when I turned on my TV to hear NJ Governor Chris Christie's keynote. In so doing, I was probably motivated in part by a certain degree of fat solidarity. After all, the two main bigotries that are currently still fashionable in our enlightened society are those against fat people and against Christians, and I obviously identify myself with both groups. In any event, keynote speeches are, generally speaking, more likely to be interesting than most other convention blather, and the chosen speaker is very often seen as someone with a serious future, someone worth taking a look at.
For what it was, I thought the speech was fairly good. The fact that he spoke so much about himself and his family story confirmed that the speech was more about him than about his party's standard-bearer - more about future elections than the current campaign.
As a fellow Sicilian, I could certainly appreciate and relish his family story. I can still remember and relate to a world which, as Christie recalled, couldn't afford foolishness and valued truth-telling - "bluntly, directly, and without much varnish."
And I also appreciated the lesson Christie says he got form his mother that, if the choice is between being loved and being respected, go with being respected and don't let yourself get paralyzed (as Christie believes we have become) by the desire to be loved. That's a message anyone in public life should be able to relate to and should seriously take to heart.
There are problems with that message, however.
Some of the news coverage seems to suggest that Christie may have inadvertently stepped on Anne Romney's message, which was apparently all about love. I didn't watch her speech, but surely one would expect a candidate's wife to love her husband and talk about him that way. Maybe we should be less obsessed with our politicians' domestic lives and how lovable they actually are. but it's really hard to fault a spouse to speaking that way.
No, the real problem as I see it is that Christie's candidate's campaign has hardly been characterized by the qualities Christie chose last night to extol. According to Christie, "we must lead the way our citizens live. To lead as my mother inisted I live, not by avoiding truths, especially the hard ones, but by facing up to them and being the better for it." That sounds more like Christie's own understanding of himself and his personal take on how he has governed NJ. It's hard to imagine, however, in what parallel universe that could begin to describe his party's candidate's quest for the presidency - a campaign in which he has disowned his own greatest political accomplishments and previous beliefs, in the process pandering to those who hold totally opposite positions. And that's not even to mention his ads about welfare and work and his pandering to birtherism!
And what about his belief "in telling hard working families the truth about our country's fiscal realities. Telling them what they already know - the math of federal spending doesn't add up"? How about telling them who it was the busted the budget and blew away the surplus Bill Clinton left his successor? How about adding up the math of the Vice Presidential candidate's supposedly bold budget plan?
All in all, it is really hard to escape the impression that this speech was probably a lot more about the next campaign than about this one - about some other candidate than about the present one.