Friday, August 31, 2012

Is Richard Nixon Chris Christie's Muse?

So, I was on the road during the past few days. As a result, I caught the GOP convention festivities from Tampa in sparing snippets.

I listened to Ann Romney and Chris Christie’s speeches on the radio, and watched Paul Ryan’s remarks Wednesday night. Last night I listened to Clint Eastwood’s “angry old man” routine and Marco Rubio’s eloquent remarks en route from the airport, and got home just in time to watch Romney’s speech at my favorite neighborhood hangout (thanks, Red Star, for indulging my GOP ways for an evening).

So, now that I’m back I’m going to catch up on what I missed. I have a few general impressions about the convention based on what I saw, but I would like to withhold comment until I’ve seen the rest.

Still, there was one thing I noticed in one of the speeches that no other political writer or observer has, to my knowledge, yet mentioned.

As I listened to Chris Christie’s speech, the following line sounded vaguely familiar.

“There's only one thing missing now. Leadership. It takes leadership that you don't get from reading a poll. You see, Mr. President - real leaders don't follow polls. Real leaders change polls.”

When I got home last night, I pulled the source where I thought I’d originally read it, and confirmed my suspicions.

It seems that Christie borrowed the sentiment, if not the exact line itself, from another famous New Jersey resident: Richard M. Nixon.

Nixon, a New Jerseyan, you’re asking? Well, yes, actually.

When he left the White House in August 1974, Nixon famously retreated to his home in San Clemente, California for a period of self-imposed exile. Citing a desire to be back in the middle of intellectual life on the east coast, the Nixons later relocated back to New York City (where they had lived in the 1960s) and later to suburban New Jersey.

Nixon was living in the Garden State when he wrote the following:

“The candidate who slavishly follows the polls may get elected, but he will not be a great leader or even a good one. The task of the leader is not to follow the polls, but to make the polls and the people follow him.” ~ In The Arena, p. 265

So, what’s going on here? Is Christie’s speechwriter a Nixonphile like me, or is this just an example of different, like-minded people independently finding their way to the same basic idea?

Anyway, this rhetorical intersection reinforces my belief that anyone who wants to understand everything about American politics – the good as well as the bad – needs to study the careers of two people: Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson.

Once you have, you can honestly say that – when it comes to the current crop of politicos – you’ve heard it all before. 

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