Obama’s starting to make even Chris Christie look good by comparison

I don’t agree with almost anything Chris Christie, the new Republican governor of New Jersey, has to say. But the popularity of his leadership right now is instructive. New Jersey has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992, with Obama carrying the state by a landslide margin of almost 15 percentage points. Yet Christie now has a higher approval number (51 percent) in the latest Quinnipiac state poll than either Obama or New Jersey’s two senators, both Democrats.

Christie’s popularity among national right-wing activists and bloggers has been stoked by a viral YouTube video where he dresses down a constituent in a manner that recalls Ralph Kramden sending Alice “to the moon.” But the core of Christie’s appeal at home is that he explains passionately held views in concrete, plain-spoken detail. Voters know what he stands for and sometimes respect him for his forthrightness even when they reject the stands themselves. This extends to his signature issue — his fiscal and rhetorical blows against public education. He’s New Jersey’s most popular statewide politician despite the fact that a 59 percent majority in the state thinks public schools deserve more taxpayer money, not less…

No one expects Obama to imitate Christie’s in-your-face, bull-in-the-china-shop shtick. But they have waited in vain for him to stand firm on what matters to him and to the country rather than forever attempting to turn non-argumentative reasonableness into its own virtuous reward. It’s clear now the shellacking was not the hoped-for wake-up call. For starters, Obama might have robustly challenged the election story line pushed by the G.O.P. both before and after Nov. 2 — that deficit eradication and tax cuts for all are voters’ No. 1 priority. Repeating it constantly — as McConnell and John Boehner do, brilliantly — does not make it true. But the myth becomes reality if there’s no leader to trumpet the counternarrative.