Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Republican Convention Keynote: Beware, Honesty Alert

In another post ( I dissect New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s keynote address at the Republican National Convention. I have to give Gov. Christie a little credit, however. In a couple of places in the address he slipped up and said something honest (

In the love-fest that was the Republican convention, everyone who spoke had to tell us all about their warm family ties. (They also then had to tell us, as Gov. Christie did, that what was paralyzing government today, under the leadership of those hated socialist liberals, was “desire to be loved.”) So the Guv told us about his beloved parents and grandparents.

As you would expect from good Republican stock, all members of his family climbed up the social ladder, facing numerous hardships, through individual initiative, hard work, and pluck. Christie’s father worked at an ice cream plant so that he could attend Rutgers University at night and become the first in his family to get a college degree. But here Christie deviated from the Republican mantra—he acknowledged in passing that his father had been assisted by the GI Bill.

His mother, he continued, “was raised by a single mother who took three different buses every day to get to work.”  Now, I could be wrong about this as I don’t have the details before me of the funding of the local buses in whatever town in New Jersey Christie’s grandmother lived in. But before the privatization mantra swept America, I believe that it was commonplace for the local bus system to be fairly heavily subsidized with public money. The price of the bus fare that grandmother paid to get to her job would have probably been out of her reach—along with the job—had she had to pay full freight all by her private self.

Do I want to take any credit away from Christie’s father and grandmother? Hardly. I am sure that alongside these exemplary people, others had the GI Bill and the local bus and failed to take full advantage and make anything of themselves. I have no trouble believing in an America that’s a land of opportunity, and it’s your own individual responsibility to make of that opportunity what you will.

But, as even self-described conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks was forced to say after the convention (, it’s one thing to respect individual responsibility and hard work, and another thing to be so radically individualist as to deny that society plays any role at all in an individual’s success. He characterized the Republican convention rhetoric as falling off the cliff on the side of this radical individualism.

So I am not sure which scriptwriter screwed up with the keynote, but it was refreshing to see a tiny bit of truth slip into the Republican keynote speech. Most of us will make it in life only if we work hard and accept responsibility—except, perhaps, if we are born to great wealth and privilege like Mitt Romney. But practically every one of us, some time or another, will need a bit of a boost. We can create a society that is dedicated to giving as many people as possible that boost, to invest in the people of America, to create as many future success stories as possible.

Or we can do what the Republicans want, to create an increasingly gated community of America, where a few favored people make it big, and then get to point fingers at all the rest of us for our supposed moral failings.

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