Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Governor Christie Says No! What Does That Mean?

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice there’s a scene where Mr. Collins, a relative of the Bennett family, comes with the intent of marrying one of the girls. After being told that Jane, the eldest, was unavailable, he spent a day or so stalking the next oldest, Elizabeth.

As Austen put it, “Mr. Collins was not a sensible man.” When it is time for the proposal, and Elizabeth sees it coming, her discomfort is obvious—to which Collins responds, 
“Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that your modesty, so far from doing you any disservice, rather adds to your other perfections. You would have been less amiable in my eyes had there not been this little unwillingness.” 

Tom Hollander as Mr. Collins
in the 2006 film version
He spends a long couple of pages telling her why he plans to marry, including an assumption on his part that the situation would be a great advantage to her, but that he won’t look down on her. At this point she has to interrupt. 

“You are too hasty, sir,” she cried. “You forget that I have made no answer. Let me do it without farther loss of time. Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me. I am very sensible of the honour of your proposals, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than decline them.”  

That is Regency English for a very clear NO. Mr. Collins is undeterred. He lets her know that he is already aware

“that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that something the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.” 

Since we can see things from Elizabeth’s perspective, but Mr. Collins cannot, we’re not surprised that she sets him straight—only that she manages to do it without anger. 

“I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal…. You must give me leave to judge for myself, and pay me the compliment of believing what I say.” 

That should have done it, but not so for the ridiculous Mr. Collins:  

“When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on this subject I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer than you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of cruelty at present, because I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character.” 

Elizabeth is getting frustrated, and they have this exchange: 

“Really, Mr. Collins,” cried Elizabeth with some warmth, “you puzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appear to you in the form of encouragement, I know not how to express my refusal in such a way as may convince you of its being one.” 

“You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course.”  

Then he reminds her of the reasons a match with him would be so advantageous that she cannot refuse—reasons he believes are obvious but he is nevertheless willing to spell out again to someone so young and naïve. “I shall choose to attribute [your rejection] to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.” She answers, still civilly, 

“I do assure you, sir, that I have no pretension whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man. I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed sincere. I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible. My feelings in every respect forbid it. Can I speak plainer? Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking truth from her heart.”
“You are uniformly charming!” cried he, with an air of awkward gallantry; “and I am persuaded that when sanctioned by the express authority of both your excellent parents, my proposals will not fail of being acceptable.” 

To such perseverance in willful self-deception Elizabeth would make no reply, and immediately and in silence withdrew. 

With the title of this piece, you may assume this is a metaphor. The ridiculous Mr. Collins is the vague combination of GOP “mainstream” and media (both embodied in Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard), who keep asking Governor Chris Christy whether he is going to run for the presidency. Christy has been saying for a year that he has no plans to run. He has only completed a year or so of his first term as New Jersey’s governor. There’s still a lot to do there; he is enjoying that job and has much more that needs accomplishing; he doesn’t have the “fire in the belly” required to throw himself into a presidential run.  

Lately, with several GOP debates behind us, there is even more pressing for his answer—which he thought he had given pretty clearly. Last week he had a speech at the Reagan Library, which he gave as requested on the requested topic—with no announcement to run included. Press interviews before and after kept asking the question, “So will you now announce that you’re running?” I thought his answers were respectful and adequate—and clearly NO! I heard him say so. I believed him. 

But immediately afterward, people kept saying, “But what does he mean? Is he planning to run?” Seriously, I thought only the fictional Mr. Collins could be that obtuse.  

Today there is another scheduled press release, presumably to announce whether or not he is running. Those around him say, “He still plans not to run.” But the media hype keeps bringing up the possibility. [I’ll wait to post until we hear what he says.] 

I say, let us pay him the compliment of believing him when he says no. Let us not assume this is just coyness on his part, him saying, “no, no, no” while simultaneously directing us to keep asking. If he announces a campaign now, after so many refusals, he would indeed be like one of those elegant young ladies that Mr. Collins imagined—and such a personality would not be worthy of our support for the presidency. 

I like Governor Christy; I find him extremely refreshing to listen to. And I wish him well in New Jersey. He is saying no only for the 2012 election, and to be truthful a year as governor probably doesn’t qualify him for leader of the free world. We’ve tried inexperience (many of us strongly against our will) and got what you would expect—only worse than expected, since it was socialism combined with inexperience. In addition, I think we have a surprisingly qualified slate of candidates—by contrast every one of them could lead our country better than what we’ve got. How foolish would we be to brush all these aside to push someone into the race who doesn’t feel ready or willing!

So, the press conference has happened. He said no. Please don’t ask what he means by that.

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