Going Jersey

Harrison Ford was dashing and the action was lively and well-paced, and the dialogue was snappy, but all those Indiana Jones movies made a ton of money for another reason – they took you to odd exotic places. Nothing happens in London or Paris or Rome. Those places are filled with tourists, gawking. Everyone knows those places, or knows of them. The action in the first Indiana Jones movie kicks off in a local bar in Katmandu. That was the hook. No one’s ever been to Katmandu, or almost no one, and from there on out it was one obscure place after another. Spielberg offered everyone an escape from the dreariness of their everyday life, or even their rather conventional daydreams of escape, to this or that place where so many others had escaped already, in a discount tour package. The stories were childish, intentionally so, because they were secondary to what was really being offered – adventure. Everyone wants a new and different place, as right here and right now just won’t do any longer. Even the usual travel spots won’t do – they seem somehow dull and insipid and used up, even if you never got to Paris or whatever. The only thing that will ease the unbearable everydayness of everything is someplace new and sort of unknown. Almost everyone feels that way at least some of the time, or most of the time these days. That’s why the Travel Channel is so popular. It’s the Indiana Jones movies stripped of the breakneck action and snappy dialog and soaring John Williams score. It’s just the essentials – someplace else, somewhere odd and exotic. Heck, you never even have to deal with Paris – you get the “hidden” Paris, and so on. It satisfies the same urge. Take me away.

Sooner or later, if they haven’t done so already, the Travel Channel will visit that odd little island off the coast of France, Jersey. It seems to be part of the ancient Duchy of Normandy, and thus ruled by the Duke of Normandy, but since that’s a title held by the reigning Monarch of the United Kingdom at any given time, it seems to be part of the UK – but it’s not. It’s a self-governing parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy, with its own financial, legal and judicial systems. The United Kingdom is constitutionally responsible for its defense but that’s about it. It’s not a part of the European Union either, but has a special relationship with it on matters of free trade and that sort of stuff. All of this is mighty odd, but by all accounts it’s a green and pleasant place. It’s not Katmandu, but it’s sufficiently peculiar. It’s a place one might go to escape the ennui of everyday life.

There’s no reason to go that far. Everyone longs for a not-here place, and recently Americans seem to long for the newer Jersey, which is of course New Jersey, because it too seems so odd and, in its way, exotic. Maybe that started with The Sopranos, the masterful HBO series about a complex and brutal, but understandable and finally sympathetic, Jersey mob boss. Millions watched Jersey Shore too, appalled but riveted by Snooki and that crew of dimwitted but hopeless strivers, and The Real Housewives of New Jersey was the core of that television franchise. There’s something about the place. Ask Bruce Springsteen. The people are brutal and crude and direct, with no shame, and always in your face – but then there are the massive mansions in the bucolic north, where Richard Nixon spent his last years, and leafy Princeton with one of the best universities in the world, where Einstein taught, and Red Bank, the birthplace of both Count Basie and the literary critic Edmund Wilson. It’s a mixed bag. Tourists in Manhattan look across the river and see oil refineries and tank farms and chemical plants from Bayonne to Secaucus, and the Hindenburg crashed and burned in New Jersey, and when Orson Welles scared the nation with that radio broadcast of the Martians invading, he had them landing in New Jersey first. Maybe that’s why so many thought that was really happening. Odd things happen in New Jersey. One never knows. It’s a mysterious place. That’s what makes it compelling.

That also might explain the popularity of New Jersey’s current governor, Chris Christie, brutal and crude and direct, with no shame, and always in your face about everything. He’s a breath of fresh air, and certainly an escape from the ennui of everyday political life, or he’s Tony Soprano, pretty much a complex and conflicted mob boss. He’s enormous, and enormously popular, and may be the Republican candidate in 2016, presumably running against Hillary Clinton. Given the nation’s obsession with the enigma that is New Jersey, he might have a pretty good chance, except that there are the Republican primaries, and his party, while it loves his brutal demeanor, hated when he hugged Obama and the two of them worked, hand in hand, on the state’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy. They hated it even more when he told them to shut up about it – he was doing what was right for his state. They were dealing with something that was quite foreign to them.

Christie needs to fix this if he wants his party’s nomination, and he just made a stab at that, but in that odd New Jersey way:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie planted himself firmly in the Republican Party’s establishment wing Thursday with a pugnacious speech calling on his party to focus on pragmatism rather than ideology and crippling internal debates.

“We are not a debating society,” Christie told a lunchtime audience at the Republican National Committees summer meeting in Boston. “We are a political operation that needs to win.”

Some of Christie’s remarks, relayed to a reporter by GOP officials who attended the closed-press event, were interpreted by many here as another jab at Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a potential rival for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

Christie and Paul tangled earlier this summer after the New Jersey governor criticized Paul’s libertarian-tinged worldview as “esoteric” and “intellectual,” drawing a series of pointed rebukes from Paul and his allies.

He was in their face, in his usual brutal and crude and direct way. He is from New Jersey, so Andrew Sullivan summarizes the problem:

The conventional wisdom right now is that Chris Christie has been too pally with president Obama and is too socially liberal for the Christianist GOP. And there’s a lot of truth in that. He remains an unlikely nominee for those reasons, as well as being another Northeasterner in a Southern party. But Southern white voters love the Jacksonian rhetoric of violence and, whatever the substance, they will love this big fat guy beating up Hillary Clinton.

There is something to that. It fits in with how Republicans seem to feel about uppity women, or all women, or anyone who’s uppity. A big fat white guy should beat up on them, and the rhetoric of violence certainly was there, as Christie said this:

“You got two choices as a governor. You either sidle up next to [the teacher's unions] and whisper sweet nothings in their ear or try to hope they don’t punch you. Or your second alternative is you punch them first.”

That’s more than an attack on unions, and implicitly an attack on American workers in general, whose whining demands for better wages or safe working conditions or paid overtime and all the rest have crippled American businesses and made them unable to compete in this world, or even show a profit – if you believe that sort of thing. It’s also a worldview. It’s a statement about the process of diplomacy and mutual agreement. He doesn’t do that, so this is a clear indication of how he would approach all international relations, should he become president. You see his foreign policy here.

Sullivan thinks that there’s even more:

The key aspect of Christie’s strategy is also surely this: the current Congressional GOP is deeply unpopular and the right is increasingly enamored of its concoction of pure “constitutional conservatism” of the Mark Levin variety. The Randian discourses of Paul Ryan will not really rally the Republican gut in 2016. So Christie will portray the exploration of these ideas – good and bad – as a waste of time.

That is what Christie did:

“I think we have some folks who believe that our job is to be college professors. Now college professors are fine… I guess. Being a college professor, they basically spout out ideas that nobody does anything about. For our ideas to matter we have to win. Because if we don’t win, we don’t govern. And if we don’t govern, all we do is shout to the wind. And so I am going to do anything I need to do to win.”

Christie seemed to have it in for Bobby Jindal, but Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have been put on notice. Also note his implication that thinking deep thoughts is absurd. Who needs them? And that accomplished two goals. He undercut his chief rivals and confirmed to the party that to be anti-intellectual is to be admired, because that’s what winners are, and what authentic people are, and what New Jersey now has to offer to the nation.

The crowd ate it up:

“It was really great,” said Indiana committeeman Jim Bopp. “Successful politics is a matter of heeding your principles, implementing them, but also being pragmatic about what you can accomplish and need to win. You can’t govern if can’t win.”

Cindy Costa, a national committeewoman from South Carolina, called the speech “amazing.”

“It was impressive. I forgot about the Obama bear hug,” said Tennessee GOP Chairman Chris Devaney, referring to Christie’s tour of the New Jersey coastline with President Obama just days before last year’s presidential election, a moment of bipartisan harmony that rankled GOP activists and top members of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Sullivan sees this effort by Christie as masterful, and appalling, and inevitable:

That’s how he threads the primary needle: by pugnacity eclipsing differences in substance, and by appealing to the party’s raw desire to win back power. The drawback is obvious: speeches like these reek of self-love and contempt for anyone who differs with him. Some dissenters observed that he came off like “a pompous ass.” And that irascible, take-no-prisoners rhetoric does not come off as presidential to me. It works as a governor in a Democratic state, but not at a national level.

Nonetheless, I don’t believe anyone should under-estimate the core appeal of this man to a party desperate to regain the initiative after being foiled brilliantly and repeatedly by Obama in his cool way. Hillary will be a far less formidable opponent because the wingnuts get under her skin in a way that they don’t under Obama’s.

So remember today what Christie’s telling us about the future…

The man did say he was going to do anything he needs to do to win, and Sullivan believes it. Christie says nothing about what would follow, governing, but he’s a Republican – they’re like that.

Ed Kilgore adds this:

Now there’s zero question “electability” is going to be Christie’s strong suit if he does run for president in 2016. He probably won’t have to keep reminding Republicans of that; they do read polls, even if they like to ignore the ones that tell them stuff they don’t want to hear. And he sure won’t have to remind the kind of people he was talking to at the RNC meeting, who probably spend a perilous amount of time imagining the power and money they will command if Republicans do seize total power in Washington.

If he’s smart, he’ll just stipulate that, and try to burnish his own conservative ideological credentials, just as his “pragmatist” predecessors John McCain and Mitt Romney did before their successful bids for the presidential nomination.

Kilgore thinks he needs to back off now:

Conservatives are not in the mood to be told their “ideas,” or their fantasies of a nation where unions don’t exist and “job-creators” walk tall and those people stop being able to trade votes for federal benefits, are a lot of egghead vaporizing. The critical bulk of Republican caucus and primary voters are only going to tolerate Christie if he’s the practical means to the ends defined by people like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan. If he has contempt for those ends, then all the favorable poll numbers in the world won’t save him.

But you get the sense that contempt is one emotion Chris Christie has a real hard time disguising, and that could be his undoing.

That’s because he’s from New Jersey. People never even try to hide their contempt there. They’re a strange and unusual people.

That doesn’t mean you can’t ever be like them. You can try, as can be seen in this news from the Washington Examiner’s “Washington Secrets” column by Paul Bedard:

The Republican National Committee, already threatening to block CNN and NBC from hosting 2016 primary debates if they air planned features on Hillary Clinton, is also looking to scrap the old model of having reporters and news personalities ask the questions at candidate forums.

Miffed that their candidates were singled out for personal questions on CNN John King’s “This or That,” when he asked candidates quirky questions like “Elvis or Johnny Cash,” GOP insiders tell Secrets that they are considering other choices, even a heavyweight panel of radio bigs Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.

They told Secrets that they are eager to bring in questioners who understand Republican policies and beliefs and who have the ability to get candidates to differentiate their positions on core conservative values.

The move comes as several conservatives are pressuring the party to have Limbaugh, Hannity and Levin ask the debate questions. “It makes a lot of sense. We’d get a huge viewership, they’d make a lot of news and maybe have some fun too,” said one of the advocates of the radio trio hosting debates.

They’ll talk to each other, about what they want to talk about. You got a problem with that?

That’s THE Jersey question, of course, and Ed Kilgore responds:

The key point here is the ability of these kind of “moderators” (to use the unavoidable but unintentionally hilarious term) to “vet” candidates by forcing them to “differentiate their positions on core conservative values.” That could mean slicing and dicing the field according to position differences less ideological questioners don’t even understand (e.g., degrees of commitment to the more radical tenets of “constitutional conservatism” that imply abolition of church-state separation or a roll-back of all federal programs not explicitly authorized in the Constitution), or simply an emphasis on “issues” of particular importance to “the base” and pretty much no one else (e.g., Fast and Furious, “voter fraud,” “death panels,” Sharia Law, home-schooling, the gold standard and even “birtherism.”).

No one will know what the hell they’re talking about:

If there was some way for conservatives to restrict viewership of candidate debates to fellow-conservatives, I’m sure they’d be all for that, too. Limiting sponsorship of debates to conservative outlets is one way to move in that direction. But even as many conservatives tend to divide the electorate into productive and responsible wealth-creators like themselves, and those people who have may have sold their right to vote in a corrupt bargain with secular-socialist elites, there’s a strong tendency to divide Republicans into the Elect and mere fellow travelers who don’t get the code and cannot be trusted. Rooting out the latter is an important part of the challenge of ensuring that the party doesn’t compromise with those people and their representatives in office.

It is pretty strange, and suicidal – narrowing down who you consider the good people to three or four of the Elect, and everyone else in the country who are hopeless fools, seems like a way to make the party disappear. Calling everyone else a total fool is part of daily life in New Jersey. Consider it an exotic local custom. It may not work in national politics. The rest of the country might not understand its quaint charm.

This isn’t going to work anyway:

Rush Limbaugh said on Thursday that he would decline any offer to moderate Republican presidential debates because he was “too famous” for the job. …

“I don’t see how I can do it,” he told his radio listeners on Thursday. “I’m too famous. This business about moderating Republican debates.”

“I think I’d overshadow it. I think I’m too famous. It’d be a tough call. It’d be a real, real, real tough call,” he continued. “Well, yeah, yeah, yeah. It could get ratings. I mean there’s no question about that. Anyway, it’s an idea that’s out there.”

One senses a little queasiness here. Maybe he senses that one big fat guy beating up on others is enough at any one time, or perhaps he senses that Chris Christie might show him up. The big fat guy from New Jersey might show America how it’s really done, making Limbaugh look like an amateur who had been faking it all along. Rush Limbaugh was born and raised in Missouri after all. What do they know about such things out there?

Nevertheless, something is going on here. Americans, bored with their mundane lives, seem to have developed a fascination with all things New Jersey over the last several years. It shows no sign of abating. Meanwhile, the real Jersey, that pleasant island just off the French coast, beckons. It seems like a rather nice place. Some of us will daydream about that.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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