Three Dimensional Chessboard Example of the Day

The linearity of modern politics can be so boring. Dick Blumenthal does this. Mark Kirk does that. We debate, more often than not, how the thing is covered, rather than the thing itself. So boring! Politics is multidimensional. It's more satisfying when you conceive of the game as a three dimensional chess board. (Who knows? Maybe politics, like the universe, has ten+1 dimensions! I kid, opponents of string theory -- I kid.)  Check out this press release from the State of New Jersey. "Christie Education Reform Agenda In Step With Obama Administration On Student Performance and Teacher Evaluation."  The linear reaction to this press release is to say: "So? Obama's popular in New Jersey; Christie wants to make sure New Jersey voters know that his policies aren't out of step with the president's."

There's a grain of truth in two dimensions. But pull the thread a little bit and you get something else.  Today, Christie submitted his state's application for one of the administration's Race To The Top grants. The New Jersey Education Association, which has been at war with Christie ever since the governor announced he was cutting the state's education budget by $819 million, pronounced itself utterly frustrated and disappointed. Predictably, the focus of the debate is on how teachers are evaluated and compensated. The NJEA had endorsed the recommendations of the NJ education commissioner, who wanted schools to be given more of a say in how to spend merit bonuses. This seems like common-sense objection, but Christie disagrees: he wants more power for schools to get rid of bad teachers and reward good ones. He wants good teachers to compete with each other. With this context in mind, the press release now reads a bit differently. Christie's team is saying two things. One: Obama's the one who is normalizing the idea of linking teacher pay to student performance. Two: Christie is the reformer, fighting against entrenched interests.

There's a lot at stake here. Christie modified the state's Race To The Top (RTTT) grant in order to make it more in line with Obama's stated goals. If his state gets $200 million, it goes directly back into schools. Christie has become the avatar of pragmatic Republican budget-slasherism, and his public image in New Jersey has suffered for it. The state is not used to Republican governors acting with such disregard for the state's habits. That's one sign to Christie that he's on the right track. It's also why his image outside the state is rising, with Republicans even whispering that he's the type of governor who might make it onto a national ticket one day.

And that's politics in three dimensions...