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Jewish World Review
Nov. 15, 2004
/ 2 Kislev, 5765
Don't Go, Jim McGreevey!
Warning: The following article is a diss on the majority of the electorate of the state of New Jersey. Those New Jerseyans to whom it does not apply need not take offense
New Jersey deserves you. At least 55% of it does. Just like it deserves John Kerry, John Edwards, Jon Bon Jovi, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Torricelli and Al Gore.
I may be one of only a handful of Manhattanites who like to visit the Garden State, but every time I do, the genesis of all those "bridge and tunnel" jokes is illuminated, and it becomes painfully clear how New Jerseyans habitually choose candidates that end up burning them and getting removed at first opportunity (McGreevey, Torricelli, Florio, DiFrancesco). Manhattan satellites like Hoboken apart, on the other side of the tunnel a distinct lack of thought activity is palpable. This is not the same as stupidity, for it's the sense of something not being tapped, of minds resting in the "off" position or on permanent relax mode. While certainly the state has its share of thinking individuals, the place itself recently prompted a friend to ask, "Did the Garden State get its name because the people are vegetables?"
Though the last of the four politicians named earlier belongs to a Republican former governor who was voted out after numerous ethics allegations, the state's corruption- and scandal-ridden politics are mostly Democratic. Yet Jersey people seem like they should be natural Republicans: hard-working, family-oriented middle- and working-class folks in denim, leather and cigarette smoke, who mind their own business. How did such regular folks get co-opted by the party of progressives, environmentalists, Marxists, peaceniks and Muslims? Granted, it's also the party of big labor and New Jersey does have the thuggish, greedy, "gimme"-minded unionista component that soils its blue-collar charm. But the prior juxtaposition is pronounced enough to warrant addressing. It's a dichotomy perhaps best illustrated by the state's two classic rock heroes, Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, who spent the year rocking the wrong vote. It was the first time either artist prominently took political sides, and it was the election year that featured the weakest Democratic candidate in recent history one whose reason for being mystified even his own campaigners ("He had no message;" "Why did he even want to become president?" etc…) And it was also Al Gore's anti-war speech in which the former vice president officially came unhinged and went Michael Moore, which Springsteen felt inspired to post on his Web site, calling it "one of the most important speeches I've heard in a long time."
This is what can happen to an unexercised brain when it finally tunes in and first hears something that sounds smart but doesn't require too much mental stamina to digest. The brain buys what's being said, along with the worldview that the smart-sounding thought is being espoused through. The Boss, like many other New Jersey folk, doesn't make the intellectual connection between how he lives his life and how the party he supports should reflect it. This leaves him wide open and up for grabs. Unfortunately, the side doing most of the grabbing is the left.
Enter the media. Where the mind has a vacancy, the media will fill it. And in the unthinking masses of Jersey, our liberal media have done their programming. As to the primary forms that the media take there in contrast to the national trend of increasing reliance on the wider range of news and perspectives available on the Internet and cable for a great many of the plain folk in Jersey, it seems to have remained the local paper (Newark Star-Ledger, Philadelphia Inquirer) and TV network news.
This may partially account for the angry glares I've gotten while performing political comedy in the Garden State, despite the accessibility of the jokes. During a six-show week at "Catch a Rising Star" in Princeton a few years ago, one crowd after another let its hostility to thinking comedy be known. There was resentment at my very presumption of making them think when they just wanted to drink. They didn't want their minds engaged, period. Fortunately for the audience, mine was just a 10-minute opening for two pleasant road hacks, the edgier of whom offered a joke about incest in Alabama as the risqué punch line of the evening.
A year later, I was performing in post-9/11 New Jersey, in a family restaurant rather than a club for comedy goers, and the people young and old expressed pleasant surprise at the political material, some even covering their mouths guiltily. This post-9/11 Jersey gave me hope.
So, more recently and more cynically did the Jim McGreevey affair; it gave me hope that the state neighboring New York would prove a wild card that surprised everyone on election day and chose George Bush over John Kerry. For, the one thing that snoozing minds are capable of besides being led, is reacting to jolting stimulus as evidenced by the on-cue voter rebellion against Democrats after former Governor Jim Florio raised taxes in 1991. It was heartening that Jersey's masses made at least that connection, but depressing that they can be gotten through to only on such basic, reactionary, primitive levels. Alas, this time there was no getting through even on these levels.
A state of mindlessness begs for subjugation. It's no accident that New Jersey is one of the most heavily regulated states in the union. You can't pump your own gas, get affordable auto insurance, purchase a liquor license for under half a million or be on the shore without beach tags.
New Jersey certainly has its share of bright and talented people, and I've encountered many Garden Staters who make an impression. These are not the sleepwalkers being described, and they know who they are: they're the ones reading this article having discovered the Internet by now as an alternative news source to the local broadsheet. Furthermore, they likely have intimate knowledge of the phenomenon being described here. Jersey also has had its share of good leaders, but I can't help marveling at the chaos-like randomness from which even the state's good choices take fruit.
But then, isn't that the case with national elections themselves wherein we hope for just the right mix of wisdom, folly, knowledge, ignorance, passion, incidence, pro-Americanism, anti-Americanism, conscience, self-interest, magnanimity, pettiness and kismet.
Hopefully making things a little less random and getting ready to claim some of the up-for-grabs folk is the fledgling world of pro-American, conservative media. Every time its members see the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, it should serve as a reminder of the importance of capturing the minds of the mindless, and of focusing on places like New Jersey, where thinking happens against the odds and therefore demands the right kind of coaxing.
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JWR contributor Julia Gorin tours with Right Stuff Comedy and performs in the monthly New York-based show Republican Riot. Send your comments by clicking here.
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