Political conventions are nothing if not elaborately stages political theater. Every line is scripted, polished, run through the P.R. machine, and packaged for mass consumption. Pundits will unpack every line and nuance of these speeches. Right now the focus is on Christie’s apparent self serving nature of his speech and on the potential political gain loss for Mitt Romney. I’d like talk about something else: I feel that Chris Christie’s speech was a direct challenge to the far-right of the party. Included in the speech was a key line that, given current debates happening within the GOP, clearly shows what camp he falls in. The debate within the party is between those who wish to govern pragmatically and those who feel that principals and ideology matter above all. Consider the following line from Christie’s speech:
We believe it’s possible to forge bipartisan compromise and stand up for conservative principles.
Compromise, among certain right-wing circles, is akin to heresy. They see those on the left as nothing but America-hating Socialists who wish to diminish the US in order to prop up third world countries (who are poor simply because of American imperialism). The left is quite simply the enemy and destroying them is more important than the petty responsibilities of day to day governance. They are crusaders, cleansing the nation of those who have tainted our Christian nation with secular and collectivist ideas. Their point of view boils down to: “how is compromise possible when my opponent is so clearly evil?” This is the view that Christie challenged last night.
His speech never attached the integrity of his political opponents, just their ideas. His repeated use of the word “bipartisan” shows his desire to work with the left, not mindlessly opposing them. His use of “we believe” when speaking of compromise sends a clear message: that those who disdain or forgo compromise are not welcome in the party. Our system requires compromise, our people demand it. The GOP cannot simply pretend the other party does not exist. We must, in order to accomplish what must be done, work with our intellectual opposites in good faith. I believe he was saying, “the left is not the enemy. You are the enemy as long as you hold this view.”
Right now, the disdain of compromise within Republican party IS the problem with American politics. It does not have to be this way, as Christie has shown. Only through compromise can our system of government function. Because they are the enemy, Democrats and public intellectuals will never break through to the people that Christie was speaking, only someone like he can. That is why his words were so important. This speech has the potential to live beyond the current news cycle if his words influence the compromise debate. Christie just may have changed his party for the better.