Noonan Hears Echoes of Reagan in Governor Christie

Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan brings out the big guns in today’s Wall Street Journal, comparing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to the Great Communicator.

For anyone just joining us, Christie, the man Jersey-based blogger Tigerhawk has dubbed “Governor Awesome,” is working to close an $11 billion deficit in a $29 billion state budget.  He’s campaigning for his priorities in a refreshingly blunt manner, by talking to adults like adults and refusing to back down when confronted by powerful adversaries.

Noonan starts by recounting how Reagan threaded the needle with the John Birch Society:

A group of Birchers, surveying the field, said that of all those running his stands seemed most congenial, so they would support him. This set off Drudgelike sirens among journalists: Aha! Reagan unmasked as a radical! Why else would radicals support him? So they rushed to demand that he respond to this embarrassment.

Well, he said pleasantly, they said they support me, I didn’t say I support them.

Perfect.  He distances himself from the Birchers without sacrificing the Birchers’ votes.

Governor Awesome is trying to push back hard against the teachers unions — a core Democratic constituency — while minimizing the hostile reaction from individual teachers (and from parents who admire some of their kids’ teachers).  Noonan quotes Christie:

Teachers complain when they’re getting “4% and 5% salary increases a year in a 0% inflation world. They get free health benefits from the day they’re hired for their entire family until the day they die. They believe they are entitled to this shelter from the recession when the people who are paying for that shelter are the people who have been laid off, who’ve lost their homes, had their hours cut back. And all we ask them to do is freeze their salary for one year and pay 1.5% of their salary for their health benefits. . . . As much as I love teachers, everyone’s got to be a part of the sacrifice.

Mr. Christie was direct, unadorned: You can’t tax your way out of a spending problem, you’ve got to stop spending. Governors have budgets for which they’re held accountable, so he had to move. But Mr. Christie’s way is also closer than most national Republicans have come—or Democrats will come—to satisfying the public desire that someone step forward, define the problem, apply common sense, devise a way through, do what’s needed.

He’s going to break through in a big way. The answer to our political problems lies in clarity, competence and courage, not a visit to crazy town. And he knows how to put out his hand. “As much as I love teachers.” That’s good.

Christie’s olive branch won’t win over any teachers-union activists, but it may help with fence-sitters or the Garden State’s 21st-Century “Reagan Democrats.”  Chris Christie, the Awesome Communicator.