Chris Christie’s Drug Speech: Six Minutes Of Speaking Perfection
The 2016 presidential campaign has been marked with more ugliness, pettiness, and bullying than usual. Frankly, I’ve become dispirited with the spectacle.
More than ever before, I’m finding myself turning away from political coverage (you may have noticed I’m blogging less about this election than I have in the past). The undercurrent of rage and division that marks our current political climate puts me on edge. Disagreements are healthy for our democracy. Demonizing entire groups of people for personal political gain — as has happened repeatedly during this campaign — is not.
So when I saw a video of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie discussing drugs during a presidential campaign stop last week — a video that has subsequently gone viral — it was a welcome moment of compassion, seriousness, and rationalism in a campaign that has had far too little of each.
Regardless of your politics or which candidate you favor, there’s a lot to like in his speech. It may not be enough to lift him anywhere close to the top of the presidential leaderboard — but nonetheless, it may be my single favorite moment so far from the 2016 election season.
Why His Speech Worked
Christie’s use of two personal stories — his mother’s and his classmate’s — demonstrated why narratives are so much more compelling than abstract policy statements. He could have simply said, “We need to start treating people in this country, not jailing them.” But that line, without having been preceded by two powerful stories, would have been utterly forgettable.
Many people believe drug addiction should be treated, at least in part, as a criminal justice issue. Since stories often soften resistance, even people who disagree with Christie likely realized that his view, while different from theirs, was coming from a genuine and good place. It’s useful to remember that when trying to persuade other people of your position, it can help to let them know not only what your views are — but how you arrived at them.
Christie cleverly framed his views on drug policy within a pro-life frame, a savvy move for a moderate politician who hopes conservative voters will give him the Republican nomination.
“I’m pro-life. And I think that if you’re pro-life, that means you got to be pro-life for the whole life. Not just for the nine months they’re in the womb. It’s easy to be pro-life for the nine months they’re in the womb — they haven’t done anything to disappoint us yet. They’re perfect in there. But when they get out, that’s when it gets tough. The 16-year-old teenage girl on the floor of the county lockup, addicted to heroin, I’m pro-life for her, too.”
His delivery was infused with subtle humor and the candor Christie is known for. It didn’t hurt that the video was shot with a close-up on his face, which helped viewers see the nuances of every expression and made him appear more authoritative.
According to today’s polls, Mr. Christie looks unlikely to be heading to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January 2017. But when he returns back to Trenton at the end of his campaign, he should be proud of this moment, which represented him — and those addicted to drugs — so beautifully.
My new book, 101 Ways to Open a Speech, is now available at Amazon. You can read more about the book here.