Christie Brings to Mind Ancient Athens Leader

By Gabe Pressman
|  Thursday, Mar 3, 2011  |  Updated 4:00 PM EDT
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Christie Brings to Mind Ancient Athens Leader

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Gov. Christie's declaration that he "could win" the White House if he wanted brings to mind the story of a political leader a few thousand years ago in ancient Athens.

Aristides was making the political fight of his life and a jealous enemy, Themistocles, had arranged a special election to banish him from Athens.

For many years, Aristides had been one of the most popular politicians in Greece. He did so much good that people loved him and called him “Aristides The Just.”

But the people grew tired of him, and Themistocles managed to arrange a plebiscite to kick Aristides out of Athens. Citizens assembled in the marketplace and, as was the custom, those in favor of banishing him wrote his name on a fragment of pottery and dropped it in a box.

One illiterate man approached Aristides. He didn’t recognize him but asked him to write his name on a ballot. Aristides asked whether Aristides had ever done him any wrong.

The man replied: “No. I don’t even know who Aristides is, but I’m tired of everyone calling him ‘Aristides the Just.’”

Without saying a word, Aristides did as he was asked. And, soon after, he was banished from Athens.

It seems to me that, for centuries, this man Aristides has been a model for modesty.

The governor of New Jersey, alas, is not. Even as he slashes expenses and battles unions, he manages to speak in glowing terms -- about himself.

About running for president in 2012, he told the National Review: “I already know I could win.”

But he insisted he wasn’t going to do it. “I have people calling me and saying to me, ‘Let me explain to you how you could win.’”

“But that’s not the issue,” Christie said. “I see the opportunity both at the primary level and at the general election level.”

But, he added, “I’ve got to believe I’m ready to be president and I don’t.”

That was a refreshingly modest statement by the governor who has been in the Statehouse for barely more than a year.

If he were planning a run for the presidency, one practical consideration is that, lately, Christie has been making as many enemies as friends among citizens who don’t like his budget-cutting actions.

Thousands of police officers and firefighters protested budget and pension cuts in Trenton Thursday. Some played transcriptions of Christie promising during his campaign that he would protect their pensions and yelled “Liar ! Liar!”

Christie told NBC New York’s Brian Thompson: “What I’m trying to do is save the police officers’ pensions.”

As for modesty, Abraham Lincoln was humble if not modest. In his first political speech, historian Harold Holzer told me, Lincoln said: “I’m humble Abe Lincoln. If elected, it would be wonderful. But, if not, it will be all the same.”                

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