SAN DIEGO – What if Chris Christie gave an important and impassioned speech on U.S. foreign policy, domestic surveillance, the Patriot Act, military readiness, prosecuting terrorists, keeping the United States safe, and America’s place in the world – and almost no one paid attention?
That’s what happened last week when the New Jersey governor, a likely entrant into the 2016 presidential race, shared his thoughts on all these subjects and more to an audience in Portsmouth, N.H.
The speech received scant attention from the media, which has shown a reluctance to engage in long discussions about foreign policy.
Meanwhile, the public is increasingly concerned with what’s happening in the world. In January, the Pew Research Center released a survey that found, for the first time in five years, Americans listed the need to defend the United States against terrorism as the top policy priority – ahead of strengthening the economy.
Christie vigorously defended the domestic surveillance tactics that have, since the Sept. 11 attacks, been utilized by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama to keep the country safe. He did so with the extra credibility of having served as U.S. attorney for New Jersey for seven years where, he said, he was “focused on fighting terrorism every day” and prosecuted terrorists with the aid of tools like the Patriot Act.
“I’ve seen what happens when our intelligence community, legal system and law enforcement work together,” Christie said. “We can use information to save lives.”
The governor also mocked the claim by left-leaning civil liberties groups – who were more eager to criticize the Bush administration than they have been the Obama administration for the same policies – that surveillance is out of control.
“They want you to think that there’s a government agent listening in every time you pick up the phone or Skype with your grandkids,” he said of the critics. “They want you to think our intelligence community are the bad guys – straight out of ‘The Bourne Identity’ or some other Hollywood thriller.”
Christie doesn’t buy it, and he doesn’t think other Americans should either.
“Let’s be clear, all these fears are exaggerated and ridiculous,” he said. “When it comes to fighting terrorism, our government is not the enemy.”
There are plenty of issues out there that break neatly between Republicans and Democrats, but this isn’t one of them.
Recently, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that she is “very concerned” about what could happen if Congress doesn’t reauthorize a section of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire in the next few days. As a former U.S. attorney herself, Lynch said that the Patriot Act provided government with “important tools” and that weakening it could make Americans “less safe.”
Citing threats around the globe, Christie also said that we need to rebuild the U.S. military in order to restore tactical superiority on the ground, across the seas, and in the air.
“We need to give our men and women in uniform the resources they need to get the job done,” he said, listing the number of airplanes and warships needed to rebuild the U.S. arsenal.
Why aren’t we hearing more of this sort of thing from other candidates? Who can deny that the world is a dangerous place, and becoming more dangerous all the time? With America’s influence around the world in steep decline, the list of aggressors eager to test our limits is long – Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, etc. And, of course, there is the Islamic State, which – when it has completed its mission of taking control of major cities in Iraq – will no doubt continue its campaign to target Americans, wherever it finds them.
Finally, Christie insisted that President Barack Obama is leaving America weaker than he found her.
“All these things are happening because American power is in retreat and we’ve backed away from the principles that made us a source of strength and stability,” he told the audience. “No one understands any longer whom America stands with or whom we stand against. No one understands exactly what we stand for and what we’re willing to sacrifice to stand up for it.”
Christie was right to stand up, and say what needed to be said -whether or not the media thought it was newsworthy. Now that more Americans are looking beyond their domestic concerns, we need to hear more about how to keep Americans safe and restore America’s place in the world from those individuals who want to be the next commander in chief.
Well, who’s next?
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.