There was something tragic about the plea made to Chris Christie last week by a woman who wants the coy New Jersey governor to run for president.
“I really implore you,” said the woman, after listening to Christie speak at the Reagan Library, “as a citizen of this country to, please, sir, to reconsider. … Go home and really think about it, please. Do it — do it for my daughter. Do it for our grandchildren. Do it for our sons. Please, sir, don’t — we need you. Your country needs you to run for president.”
I feel sorry for this woman because she will, inevitably, be disappointed — even if Christie runs, even if Christie wins. This is because it is not Christie that she and so many other Republicans want but what Christie represents: a political superman who can, in a single bound, transform the whole mess our political system has become.
We’ve seen this movie before, with a Democrat playing the lead role. Nearly three-and-a-half years ago, I raised doubts about Barack Obama’s overconfident promise to transform politics, the nation and the world. Obama’s wide-eyed followers, who had assigned the candidate magical powers, set themselves up for the relative letdown his presidency has become.
Now we have another political newcomer with a promise to rise above conventional politics: Christie is to Mitt Romney what Obama was to Hillary Clinton.
The appeal of the tough-talking guy from Jersey is obvious. To sunbathers tarrying while a hurricane approached the shore, he said, “Get the hell off the beach.” He dismissed teachers unions’ complaints as “crap.” To a reporter who questioned his “confrontational tone,” he suggested, “You should really see me when I’m pissed.”
It’s tempting to think Christie could cut through the Washington paralysis with his tough talk (“It’s put up or shut up time”), his common sense (“People who use New Jersey transit have to pay for New Jersey transit”) and his Sopranos mystique (“I have an Irish father and I had … a Sicilian mother. Now, for those of you who have been exposed to the combination of Irish and Sicilian, it has made me not unfamiliar with conflict”).
Christie, like Obama, is a man of prodigious talent. Selfishly, I hope he abandons his reluctance and enters the race. If nothing else, he will entertain us on the campaign trail.
But the hopes surrounding a Christie candidacy are misplaced, for reasons having nothing to do with Christie. If he wins the nomination and beats Obama, he will disappoint his credulous followers just as Obama has disappointed his and George W. Bush disappointed his. Washington’s problems are beyond the ability of one man to repair.
This should be obvious to both sides by now, as the president and lawmakers fail to address the most basic problems of unemployment, the debt and shrinking American influence. All sides have begun to look for some force outside the system to save it.
Perhaps that was what Bev Perdue, the Democratic governor of North Carolina, was thinking when she offered a curious call last week to suspend the Constitution. “I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover,” she said, in remarks aides later attempted to dismiss as a joke.
This “joke” was similar to an argument made by Peter Orszag, Obama’s former budget director, when he wrote a few weeks ago in The New Republic that, “we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic.”
Among the Thomas Friedman-reading intelligentsia, the fear that the system can no longer fix itself can be seen in the drumbeat for Michael Bloomberg or some other billionaire to launch a third-party bid for the presidency. And, among Republicans, the fear can be seen in the desperate search for a transcendent candidate. Jeb Bush! No — Mitch Daniels! No — Marco Rubio! No — Paul Ryan! No — Rick Perry! No — Chris Christie!
They can keep searching and hoping, but not much would change, even if Christie won. At a time when nothing — not even the attacks of 2001 or the collapse of 2008 — focuses Washington’s attention for long on its problems, can another charismatic neophyte really turn around our broken system the way the draft-Christie crowd imagines?
As they say in Jersey: Fuhgeddaboudit.
Dana Milbank’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.