With speculation that he will run for president reaching a head-spinning frenzy, Gov. Chris Christie made a speech at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley in which he blasted the Obama administration for being little more than a “bystander in the Oval Office.”
Different Republicans take up different pieces of the Reagan mantle–the sunny optimism, or the tax-cutting conservatism, or the Cold War hawk–and in his speech Christie harps on Reagan’s blunt dealings with striking air traffic controllers.
Everybody in this room and in countless other rooms across this great country has his or her favorite Reagan story. For me, that story happened thirty years ago, in August 1981. The air traffic controllers, in violation of their contracts, went on strike. President Reagan ordered them back to work, making clear that those who refused would be fired. In the end, thousands refused, and thousands were fired.
I cite this incident not as a parable of labor relations but as a parable of principle. Ronald Reagan was a man who said what he meant and meant what he said. Those who thought he was bluffing were sadly mistaken. Reagan’s demand was not an empty political play; it was leadership, pure and simple.
Reagan said it best himself, “I think it convinced people who might have thought otherwise that I meant what I said. Incidentally, I would have been just as forceful if I thought management had been wrong in the dispute.”
I recall this pivotal moment for another reason as well. Most Americans at the time and since no doubt viewed Reagan’s firm handling of the PATCO strike as a domestic matter, a confrontation between the president and a public sector union. But this misses a critical point.
To quote a phrase from another American moment, the whole world was watching.
The timing and substance of the speech is likely to spur speculation that Christie is indeed running for president.
Take a look and render your own judgment.