Wednesday, July 5, 2017
New Jersey, where much to my surprise I have now been living for more than half a century, has certain obvious disadvantages. It is crowded. The cost of living is very high. The tax burden—property, sales, and income—is crushing. But there are compensations insufficiently appreciated by the state’s detractors. One of the chief of these is that we have very colorful politicians. New Jersey is true blue, so that the national politicians (senators and governors) are usually Democrats, though we occasionally allow exceptions for politicians whose first or last name is Christie. We are in something of a fallow period on the senatorial front at the moment. Neither one of our two senators is under indictment, and one of them is not even under threat of indictment.
The Governor’s mansion is where the action tends to be. The hero of this essay is our current governor, Chris Christie, but one needs to know a little about the tradition. Among notable recent governors was Jim McGreevy, who got into hot water when he appointed his Israeli lover as his homeland security advisor. Circumstances surrounding this appointment, in turn, led the governor to make a dramatic revelation that he was a “gay American”. The first half of this phrase caught his wife and daughter by surprise, and the second part confused his many supporters who had voted for him thinking he was an “Irish Catholic”. Upon resigning the governorship, he continued in his upwardly mobile, linear career by becoming an Episcopal seminarian.
Chris Christie is remarkable, in the first place, for being a Republican. In his taurine manners he is a faint type, shadow, or adumbration of our incumbent president, in relation to whom he was an also-ran. I had very high hopes when he first took office, as one of his initial acts was to tell the New Jersey teachers’ unions right where the hog ate the cabbages; but it has all been downhill since. As you probably already know, Christie set something of a political speed record (sixty to zero-point-three in about twelve seconds) at the time of the Bridgegate Scandal in September 2013, when in a moment of unusually petty petulance directed at the mayor of Fort Lee his henchpersons closed down a couple of lanes of the George Washington Bridge, causing the Mother of All Traffic Jams. He tried to recover by running for president. He fell on his face, but not before doing one good deed: putting the quietus on the candidacy of Li’l Marco Rubio. He then tried to attach himself to the winning candidate, Mr. Trump, only to face a long series of incremental humiliations that might be said to continue until this day.
He was more or less quietly living out the last days of his governorship when, a few days ago, Shoregate struck. (What they call the beach in California they call the shore in these parts.) The Governor (Republican) and the State Legislature (Democratic) have been locked in what the papers call a “fiscal battle,” the upshot of which was a partial shutdown of state government. This situation, which has inconvenienced New Jersey’s citizens quite differentially, has caught the imagination of the Fourth Estate. You know of course about the Main Stream Media and their sinister doppelgänger the Lame Stream Media. But you may be unaware, as I must admit I myself was until only yesterday, of the Jet Stream Media. On a beautiful, clear, summer’s day an enterprising journalist from the Newark Star-Ledger took to the air in a small plane and, on a hunch and a prayer, took a joy ride following the New Jersey coast line in a southernly direction. About sixty miles south of Newark and New York, on a thin barrier island, is one of our state’s greatest treasures: Island Beach State Park, several miles of fabulous swimming beach along a nature preserve. Now state parks are obviously state property, serviced and maintained by state employees. Should it ever happen, God forbid, that the entire state government should shut down over, say, a budget dispute, state parks would be part of the shutdown. The parks would be closed. Those were the actual conditions on the day that the journalist undertook his flight. He was curious to see what an empty mid-summer beach might look like from the sky. He was also aware of a fact to me as yet unknown: among the gubernatorial perks is a shore cottage right in Island Beach Park.