Real Leadership, Finally!

Yes, President Obama’s visit to the storm-ravaged Jersey Shore was a glorified photo-op. And yes, Gov. Chris Christie’s effusive praise of the president seemed a bit over the top. But I do think something important happened Wednesday during their trip to Brigantine.

Here’s what Gov. Christie said about the president:

He has worked incredibly closely with me since before the storm hit…It’s been a great working relationship to make sure that we’re doing the jobs that people elected us to do.  And I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state.

And President Obama responded:

Governor Christie throughout this process has been responsive; he has been aggressive in making sure that the state got out in front of this incredible storm.  And…he has put his heart and soul into making sure that the people of New Jersey bounce back even stronger than before. So I just want to thank him for his extraordinary leadership and partnership.

Christie, of course, has been an active surrogate and supporter of Mitt Romney, speaking on the candidate’s behalf from early in the primary season. He also made the keynote address at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in which he attacked Democrats in general yet never mentioned President Obama by name.

But when the biggest natural disaster in memory hit his home state, it affected him profoundly.

President Obama and Gov. Chris Christie speak with victims of Hurricane Sandy in Brigantine, NJ. Official White House photo.

“The Jersey Shore of my youth is gone,” he tweeted the other day. “The rides I took my kids on this summer are in the Atlantic Ocean.”

This is not the thinking of a calculating politician; this is someone who’s lost something he’s loved and yet has the responsibility of helping millions of people in deep trouble. So, when the president reached out to him even before the storm began and kept following up with real help, I think it struck a responsive chord.

And when the president got a positive response from one of his toughest opponents, it brought out the best in him, too. The desire to work with Republicans is at the core of his politics, and the difficulty of doing that in Washington has been endlessly frustrating to him, I believe.

And so, the unlikely bromance.

Also, unlike more extreme Republican politicians, Christie has worked successfully with New Jersey Democrats to get things done.

In his convention speech, Christie said the following:

We believe it is possible to forge bipartisan compromise, and stand up for our conservative principles….When there are people in the room who care more about doing the job they
were elected to do than  worry about winning reelection, it is possible to work together, achieve principled compromise, and get results for the people who give us these jobs in the first
place.

Those words about “compromise” fell flat at the very partisan convention in Tampa. But they came back months later when a Democratic president stood side by side with  a Republican governor on a battered beach where disaster had struck and they needed to work together.

As such, the president and the governor laid out a great model for solving many of our pressing problems. But does it  have to take the storm of the century to make it happen?

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