CHRIS CHRISTIE NOT EXACTLY TRUTH-ORIENTED…. As a rule, public officials should tell the truth. When an official prides himself on being even more honest than most, presenting himself as a bold truth-teller, bravely taking the lead in support of straight talk in a world dominated by cowards, that person has an even greater burden not to just make stuff up.

With this in mind, yesterday’s New York Times piece on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) should do irreparable harm to the man’s reputation.

New Jersey’s public-sector unions routinely pressure the State Legislature to give them what they fail to win in contract talks. Most government workers pay nothing for health insurance. Concessions by school employees would have prevented any cuts in school programs last year.

Statements like those are at the core of Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign to cut state spending by getting tougher on unions. They are not, however, accurate. […]

Mr. Christie, a Republican who took office in January 2010, would hardly be the first politician to indulge in hyperbole or gloss over facts. But his misstatements, exaggerations and carefully constructed claims belie the national image he has built as a blunt talker who gives straight answers to hard questions, especially about budgets and labor relations. Candor is central to Mr. Christie’s appeal, and a review of his public statements over the past year shows some of them do not hold up to scrutiny.

The piece quoted Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University, saying, “Clearly there has been a pattern of the governor playing fast and loose with the details. But so far, he’s been adept at getting the public to believe what he says.”

That may be true, but it’s not exactly a defense. This only makes Christie an effective liar. There’s a name for those who get the public to believe lies — we tend to call them charlatans.

And in Christie’s case, the record is extremely unflattering. The governor doesn’t like unions, so he’s lied about their benefits. Christie doesn’t like to accept responsibility for his mistakes, so he’s lied about blaming others for his own administration’s errors. He doesn’t like some of his previous campaign promises, so he’s lied about his agenda.

Worse, some of this is an extension of a bullying personality. The NYT piece noted that “inaccuracies also crop up when he is challenged, and his instinct seems to be to turn it into an attack on someone else instead of giving an answer.”

It’s about using deception as a political weapon. Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the state Democratic chairman, said, “Everything is an assault, which makes it hard for adversaries to catch their breath and question the substance of what he’s saying before he moves on to the next thing.”

Christie’s communications director said this kind of scrutiny — caring whether a governor routinely lies to the public — “splits hairs.”

That’s absurd. For one thing, we’re talking about substantive areas of public policy in which the governor makes demonstrably false claims as a way to win arguments he’d lose on the merits. For another, Christie’s whole persona is based on the notion that he’s the most honest man we could ever hope to meet, all while he makes stuff up to get what he wants and push his opponents around.

To expect honesty from him about important issues and policies is not to “split hairs.”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.