The segment of Bai's long story the Times chose to highlight is one that just happens to feed into the liberal complaint that President Ronald Reagan stigmatized welfare recipients as "welfare queens." (Bai's reference to "welfare queens" in the text is milder in context.)
The teaser reads: "The governor of New Jersey became the most celebrated Republican in America by tagging public-sector workers - especially teachers - as 21st-century welfare queens."
Gov. Chris Christie is a prolific denier that he is interested in running for president in 2012, but this week he billed himself as a different kind of national leader. When other states close budget deficits and curb rising costs, he said in unveiling his budget plan on Tuesday, they are reading from the New Jersey playbook.
Mr. Christie, a Republican, has made similar boasts in passing, but this time he devoted several minutes to crowning himself the role model for others.
Another Democrat cited by Mr. Christie, Andrew M. Cuomo, has rarely made any public mention of the governor.
Not surprisingly, Republicans have been more effusive. When Mr. Christie campaigned for him last fall, John R. Kasich, now the governor of Ohio, called him "a great American leader." And Scott Walker, now the Wisconsin governor, told The Wall Street Journal, "Chris Christie is the primo example of how you turn around government."
But their offices did not return calls seeking reaction on Wednesday to Mr. Christie's self-congratulations.
Experts on politics and state finances noted that the recession of 2007 to 2009, the bursting of the housing and credit bubbles, and the anemic economic recovery had left many states struggling with sharply lower tax revenue, depleted pension and benefit funds, and rising demands on programs like unemployment insurance and Medicaid. At the same time, federal stimulus aid to the states is running out.
Taking credit for leading the way on fiscal austerity under such conditions, they said, is a bit like claiming to be the first to start swimming when a flood sweeps through town.