New Jersey’s public-sector unions routinely pressure the State Legislature to give them what they fail to win in contract talks. Most government workers pay nothing for health insurance. Concessions by school employees would have prevented any cuts in school programs last year.
Statements like those are at the core of Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign to cut state spending by getting tougher on unions. They are not, however, accurate.
In fact, on the occasions when the Legislature granted the unions new benefits, it was for pensions, which were not subject to collective bargaining — and it has not happened in eight years. In reality, state employees have paid 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health insurance since 2007, in addition to co-payments and deductibles, and since last spring, many local government workers, including teachers, do as well. The few dozen school districts where employees agreed to concessions last year still saw layoffs and cuts in academic programs.
“Clearly there has been a pattern of the governor playing fast and loose with the details,” said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University. “But so far, he’s been adept at getting the public to believe what he says.”
Mr. Christie, a Republican who took office in January 2010, would hardly be the first politician to indulge in hyperbole or gloss over facts. But his misstatements, exaggerations and carefully constructed claims belie the national image he has built as a blunt talker who gives straight answers to hard questions, especially about budgets and labor relations. Candor is central to Mr. Christie’s appeal, and a review of his public statements over the past year shows some of them do not hold up to scrutiny.
Misstatements have been central to Mr. Christie’s worst public stumbles — about how the state managed to miss out on a $400 million education grant last year, for example, and whether he was in touch enough while he was in Florida during the blizzard in December — and his rare admissions that he was wrong. But Peter J. Woolley, a politics professor and polling director at Fairleigh Dickinson University, said there had been no sign, so far, that these issues had much effect on the governor’s political standing.
“People prefer directness to detail,” Professor Woolley said. “People know it’s not unusual for politicians to take the shortcut in public debate, that they’re not academics who are going to qualify everything.”
It's one thing to take shortcuts. It's one thing to try to explain things in a way someone who can't handle a more complex concept than 2 + 2 can understand. But it's another to outright lie and call it "straight talk" as long as it's done emphatically. This is what got us into an expensive, intractable and unnecessary war in Iraq based on lies about weapons of mass destruction that weren't there. This is what Bernie Madoff did when he convinced people that his 18% returns when the markets were flailing around were real. Just because you say something loudly doesn't make it true. And it's high time the media started doing their homework instead of this worship of "straight talk" that isn't straight at all.