Friday, February 4, 2011

Red Jersey

Is New Jersey becoming (or is it already) a red state?

New Jersey has typically been regarded as a solidly blue state. Even when under a GOP governor like Christie Whitman, those Republican chief executives have been categorized as “moderate”. But with the disappearance of moderate Republicanism and the election of Chris Christie, is New Jersey still as reliably blue as its reputation is?

There are a lot of scary parallels between the administration of George W Bush, the reddest president ever, and the ascension of Christopher J Christie.

In both cases, their election to office was far from overwhelming. Bush was appointed to office when the Supreme Court nullified the Florida vote count, and while Christie was elected fairly, he received less than fifty percent of the vote in a three-way race. Both are disciples of political dirty trickster Karl Rove.

While neither man was elected in a landslide, both decided to govern not from the middle that elected them, but from the corporate-controlled far right. At the start of the eight month pre-9/11 reign of Bush, I remember the attitude among many to be “he’s dumb as a rock, but how much harm can he really do?” They were wrong on both counts. Bush was more sinister than dumb, and the harm to the nation is with us even today with a nearly-ruined economy and seemingly endless wars of choice. In the days before 9/11, one of Bush’s first  extreme announcements was his defunding of critical  embryonic stem cell research - that was the awakening that told us he would put his religious ideology ahead of common-sense progress for all Americans.

The September 11 attacks gave Bush the excuse he needed to push his agenda. Muslims became the bogeymen that Bush used to get legislation that would increase surveillance on Americans, start an illegal and immoral war, privatize many military services, and use torture against Muslim drivers and cooks. Like Bush, Christie has his own bogeymen - in this case public sector employees. Christie is just as effective in blaming all of the state’s woes on unions as Bush had been in demonizing Islam.

What might appear to be a significant difference between the regimes of the two men is that for six of eight of Bush’s years, he had a compliant Congress made up of members of his own party, while Christie faces a Democratic legislature. But this difference is merely superficial. With only a few exceptions, the New Jersey legislature has been complicit in Christie’s agenda objectives, as most recently demonstrated by the Democrats’ willingness to further decimate our public school system by providing taxpayer money to parochial and private schools at the expense of our public school system.

Bush’s drive to destroy the middle class almost succeeded. The Bush Recession nearly destroyed the American economy, and it may take another generation to reverse its effects while the gap between the richest and poorest citizens has reached record levels.

Like Bush, Christie enjoys a decided advantage in adoring media coverage. The comparison between Bush’s cheerleader, Fox News, and Christie’s right-wing outlet NJ101.5 is apparent. And like with the Bush misdeeds, here in New Jersey the mainstream media fail to do their journalistic duty by digging beneath the surface of many stories. Under Bush, the truth about WMDs in Iraq was not exposed until it was too late. In New Jersey, the state mainstream media’s failure to investigate the infusion of taxpayer money into the Revel casino, Christie’s dubious secret slush funds, and the real story behind the ARC tunnel cancellation are depriving the general public of the truth. Maybe we’ll eventually know more about these fiascoes, but probably not until after Christie is safely installed in his second term. And like his peers such as Rick Perry of Texas, who are recognized as bona fide right wing extremists, Christie also has a penchant for rejecting federal funds that have been provided by state taxpayers.

As the opposition party, the Democrats have been ineffective in promoting their agenda. But it would be a bigger disaster for us and our children if the Republicans win majorities in the state legislature this November. Unchecked, Christie would accelerate his move to the extreme right, and his recent inappropriate appearance at an anti-choice rally would pale in comparison to what else he might do. A GOP-controlled State House would allow the Koch/Tea Party/Corporatists to completely take over, screw the poor and middle class, accelerate the anti-gay, anti-woman culture war, and ensure confirmation of radical right-wing activist Supreme Court justices, similar to what happened on the federal level when Congress was under Republican control.

So what does the future hold? Is the reddening of New Jersey inevitable? As at the national level, the Democrats in the state legislature are not monolithic, and there are a few like Senators Weinberg and Buono who are effective at speaking truth to power. And there are progressive candidates in the wings like Jeff Gardner who have the potential to help reverse the corporatist juggernaut. But for them to be effective, they need more like-minded colleagues, and moderate Democrats need to be lobbied to promote progressive initiatives.

There’s no way that progressive Democrats can match the money and media access of reactionary Republicans. There is anger on the left aimed at the “Democrats in name only” in the state legislature. That anger needs to be translated into action. As with the election of Barack Obama, it will take an immense grass-roots effort in every district to help bring legislators to Trenton who care more for the middle class than for soulless corporations. Successful election of progressives will help all New Jerseyans. If we fail, we become just a red Arizona with snow.

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