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Chris Christie v. Margaret Thatcher

The Star-Ledger, covering comments by Governor Chris Christie to the Republican Jewish Coalition, reported this:

With an eye toward 2016, Christie echoed what has been a consistent theme from him since his re-election win. “I’m not in this business to have an academic conversation. I am not in this business to win the argument. I am in this business to win elections,” he said to laughter. “If we want to just have arguments and stand for nothing, we could just form a university.”


I wonder if Governor Christie is aware that his comment is antithetical to one made by the great British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who said, “First, you win the argument, then you win the vote.”

It’s an odd and worrisome locution by Christie, who seems to think winning arguments is synonymous with standing for nothing. In fact, you win arguments precisely because you stand for something – some set of convictions, some set of principles, some set of ideas. Winning arguments – through reasons, based on marshaling evidence, by appealing to human experience and common sense – is something those in public life should want to do. 

Having strong beliefs is the reason, at least is should be the reason, one gets involved in politics in the first place. The alternative is to gain power for its own sake, perhaps because one is drawn to the title and perks and prestige; to win elections just to win elections. That’s hardly what lies at the core of the conservative vision.

One final thought: history tends to demonstrate that conservatives need to win arguments before they win votes. They have to persuade the public their ideas, and the assumptions and premises that underlie those ideas, are the right ones, the ones that are most consistent with human nature and best advance human flourishing.

If Governor Christie doesn’t believe these things – if he’s inclined to dismiss those who are busy trying to win public debates about urgent issues – that’s worth the rest of us knowing sooner rather than later. If an aide or confidant to Governor Christie wanted to do him a favor, they could do worse than to give him a copy of Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences.



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