At a campaign stop in a New Hampshire tavern, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unloaded some heavy emotional artillery on the subject of drug addiction.
He shared a story about his mom, who started smoking when she was 16 years old.
She did everything she could to quit.
When she eventually developed lung cancer, the solution was obvious: Treat it.
He asked why people who are addicted to drugs don’t receive the same compassion as those who get sick from cigarette addiction.
He shared another example to drive his point home. This one was about a friend of his from law school. Things always seemed to go his way. He was the smartest among them, the first to get a job offer, had lots of money and a loving wife and kids.
Then a minor running injury changed it all. His doctor prescribed him painkillers.
He was in and out of rehab for a decade, but his addiction was too strong.
He lost his wife, his kids, his home, his job, and his money. Then came a tragic ending.
Christie says policies shouldn’t punish people with addictions. “We need to stop judging,” he said, “and start giving them the tools they need to get better.”
The speech was a touching break from the usual tussle of election season. But where will Christie stand when the rubber meets the road?
As a prosecutor, Christie built a “tough on crime” reputation. However, he has since acknowledged that the prison-crowding war on drugs was a failure.
Today, half of all federal prisoners are locked up for drug offenses. Christie says they need our help, not our judgment.
If we choose to stop treating the victims of addiction as enemies in a war,” he said in a campaign speech, “we can end this war.”
But here’s where things get kinda weird.
If elected president, Christie has vowed to enforce federal cannabis prohibition laws, even in states that legalized medical and recreational use.
If that sounds at odds with what he had to say in that New Hampshire tavern, it’s because it is. Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight says it’s probably all about politics:
“Christie’s intention may have been to assure the Republican base that the governor of a blue state with a medical cannabis policy is no friend of the reefer or just to shore up his law-and-order bona fides.”
But Christie’s stance on drug addiction wasn’t the only moment of contrast with his other messaging. In the same speech, he says his pro-life beliefs are the basis for his compassionate views on the issue.
But that doesn’t quite fit with his public support of the death penalty.
So is Christie really a “tell it like it is” candidate? That’s for voters to decide.
In the meanwhile, prisons are swelling with folks who shouldn’t be there, and tens of thousands are dying of drug overdoses every year because they can’t get the treatment and opportunities they need.
And we’d all do well to remember that’s just a fraction of what’s at stake behind the clamor and confusion of politics.
Watch Christie’s full speech: