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Reflections on the New Jersey Governor's Election

Great Seal of New Jersey

I strive to do my best to keep my online persona separate from my real life persona for a variety of reasons, chief among them being so that people will reflect upon my comments based on their own merits, independent of who I am as a person.

One thing I'm not shy about, however, is the fact that I'm from New Jersey and proud of it. We're a fairly diverse State, being just a short drive from major cultural hubs like Philly, New York, Boston, and DC, without being any one of them. So it's not like you're gonna derive my gender, age, race, or anything else just from knowing that. And in a State of 8 million or so people, I can blend in fairly easily.

Yeah, yeah, go ahead, say what you want about how trashy and corrupt my State is, but this is my home. It's where my heart is and there are plenty of things for me to love about it. Most people are familiar with the type of solidarity Texans have when out of State and meeting up with fellow Texans, but it may surprise you to learn that New Jerseyans have that too.

(And for the record, no one I know says "Joisey.")

Admittedly, I'm more well-versed in federal and international politics than I am in State or local politics. I'm not up-to-date on the whole Bridgegate scandal with Chris Christie, so I can really only judge by what I see and hear from other sources. I hold no particular loyalties to the man. If he's guilty, fine, punish him accordingly. If he's not, that's also fine, get off his case and move on to more important things. Fat jokes are acceptable, but only if they're actually funny.

One thing I do know is that I was at home when Hurricane Sandy hit us. I'm sure Floridians go through worse on a yearly basis, but for us, it was really scary. Such storms are a rarity for New Jerseyans, in as much as snow is for native Georgians, who close the schools if they even get three inches, whilst we walk to work in six feet.

Snow in the North vs. Snow in the South

Suffice to say, you tend not to prepare for freak occurrences like that.

Thankfully, the impact to myself didn't extend to more than a few hours without power, though many others lost their lives, or at least their livelihoods. Atlantic City suffered some of the worst, between the storm and the back-to-back fires; but we're a resilient "fuck you" kind of State that looks after our own. God knows no one else will.

Again, not being too familiar with State politics, most of my first impression of Chris Christie was colored by how he handled the aftermath of those disasters. Speaking for myself, I thought he did as well as anyone could have under the circumstances, and showed great leadership in a time of crisis. That doesn't excuse any alleged misconduct and certainly doesn't mean I agree with him on all political issues; but I think it's important to weigh and measure people's deeds and how they act during our darkest hours.

"These are the times that try men's souls," as the saying goes.

I know not everyone agrees with me on Christie, and that's ok. I'm willing to hear opposing views about his actions and his policies, especially from people who might have been hurt by them.

Something else I'm not bashful about is the fact that I'm a Trump supporter and have been for a long time. Again, that doesn't mean I agree with him on everything; but at least on the big things, we tend to move in the same direction.

I find that most of the people who oppose him wholesale tend to be single-issue voters (usually also identitarians, socialists, and communists). It's not that their particular chosen issue isn't important, so much as they become hyper-focused and lose all sense of everything else going on in the world. I can sympathize with that. I used to be like that, but I'm telling you: don't be like that! It's not healthy for you or your fellow humans to be so narrow-minded. If nothing else, it makes you look crazy to people who don't give your particular issue the same degree of importance, whatever it might be.

In contrast, I prefer the more nuanced criticisms levied by people like Ben Shapiro, who aren't above praising an enemy for doing right and criticizing an ally for doing wrong.

Why am I talking about Trump and Christie in the context of the New Jersey elections, you ask?

Ok, so for those of you who might not know, the two main candidates for New Jersey governor this year are Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Kim Guadagno. Again, I don't spend a lot of time following State politics, so I knew as much about these two a few weeks ago as most of you do now, but this seemed fairly important, so I decided to look into it.

One of the benefits of being an independent is it empowers you to make more rational choices. Not being tethered to a single party or candidate, you become free to pick and choose individual policies and candidates based on their own merits, rather than dogmatic partisianship. I like both JFK and Reagan, Ike and Coolidge, Cleveland and Jefferson; so for me, it's not about what side you're on, or even what you say, but what you do and what you stand for.

Philosophically, I'm a libertarian, and as much as I'd love an LP candidate, we don't really have the political power to win in a historically blue State like New Jersey, so it's a choice between the main two; and contrary to what you might think, being libertarian isn't a shorthand for Republican. I dislike Bush as much as I dislike Clinton.

Dem-Rep same snake

Most of the time, Republicans and Democrats are two heads of the same snake.

So I watched the NJ Gov debates online setting aside all other considerations and just listening to the merits of the candidates' statements. The fact that Guadagno was Christie's Lt. Governor didn't mean much to me, since again, I hadn't been paying much attention to State politics anyway to know whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Guadagno seemed mostly interested in discussing property taxes - something I happened to know was a serious problem in New Jersey. We do have really high property taxes and cost of living. The economic conservative in me really liked that.

(Fun fact, we're also the only State you have to pay to leave, i.e. tolls on every exit.)

Murphy seemed more concerned about social issues, as I'd expected. I liked his proposal for legalizing marijuana more than Guadagno's; and moreover, I liked his reasoning for it better than hers. The war on drugs is racist in its origins and disproportionately impacts a lot of blacks and hispanics, which is highly unjust.

By this point, I had already started to adopt a persuasion filter; and beyond their policies, I also looked to see who was the more persuasive candidate in terms of diction, body language, and so forth.

Guadagno, I thought, was funnier, more charismatic, and charming, especially when she invited that young man on stage, reaching out, making physical contact with him while basically having him talk into her boobs. I got a laugh out of that. Apart from that, she seemed very calm, in control, and professional as you'd expect from someone who'd already served as Lt. Governor.

Murphy, meanwhile, seemed distant. He fumbled a lot. His hands were all over the place. Personally, I didn't really like the smug, shit-eating grin he wore at times. It reminded me of creepy Joe Biden in many ways. Midway through, he seemed really defensive when he started talking about making sure we had a discussion based on facts, evidence, and the truth. In rewatching it recently, I drew parallels between that and CNN's "Facts First" ad or MSNBC insisting they're not an echo chamber. In terms of persuasion, it just looks suspicious in the sense of why do you have to even remind people of that if that's what you've been doing all along?

I'm just speaking on the optics and impressions I got. I don't claim to know one way or the other what's in either of their hearts.

Along those same lines, I felt Guadagno was more unifying, talking about issues that affected everyone regardless of demographic: jobs, taxes, etc. Whereas Murphy seemed more divisive, talking about identity politics, wanting to make New Jersey a sanctuary city, and about framing his criticisms of Guadagno in terms of their relation to Trump and Christie.

Here's why that approach is an exercise in confirmation bias.

If you dislike Trump and Christie already, that tactic could certainly help endear you to Murphy; but if you happen to like Trump and Christie, you're not gonna be won over by that sort of rhetoric. If anything, it's just gonna remind you of all the things you don't like about the left and further alienate you from that position. If this election had happened at the end of Trump's term, and if Trump managed to do a good job, it wouldn't be as persuasive.

Was it effective in this instance?

I guess it was for most New Jerseyans, since Murphy wound up winning the nomination by a fairly large margin. Contrast that with the results from Christie's 2013 election and it seems a pretty stark reversal.

So now, I'm left to deal with the reality that we have Murphy as our governor.

My own cognitive dissonance won't be as great as that experienced by anti-Trumpers, mostly because, as much as I would have preferred Guadagno to win, I knew that was a long shot from the get go. As I said, we're a fairly blue State. So mostly, it'll come down to how, if at all, I can help persuade Murphy and New Jerseyans towards a purple shift.

One of Trump's most effective tools of persuasion are what Scott Adams calls his linguistic kill shots. Associating a person with some sort of catchy insult that reinforces your preconceived notions of that person: Lyin' Ted, Crooked Hillary, Low-Energy Jeb, Crazy Bernie, etc.

That's certainly a tool I didn't think Guadagno possessed in her arsenal when going up against Murphy. I myself had tweeted out on multiple occasions, trying to pair the idea of "lawlessness" with Murphy's name, and advising that Guadagno do the same.

Now, before you judge me harshly for that, understand that it's not a knock on Murphy's character so much as his policies. The fact is, he's publicly stated, and in no uncertain terms, his desire to make New Jersey a sanctuary State. Regardless of how you might feel about immigration, the fact is, he would be willfully ignoring federal immigration laws, which makes the term "lawless" an accurate descriptor in this case. As governor, his title would be chief law enforcement officer, and his job would be to enforce the law of the land, not unilaterally override it. If you don't like the law as it stands, we have a process for changing that.

It's called the legislative branch.

Sure, we can talk about prosecutorial discretion and the difference between what is legal and what is right. Believe me, none of that is lost on me. Again, I'm the one who agreed with him on the war on drugs, remember? Which would likewise make him lawless but in a way I believe coincides with what is right, rather than opposing it. People who are for open borders probably feel the same way on that particular issue, and we can - and likely will - have that discussion in the future. For now, just try and see this as a lesson in the linguistics of political persuasion.

Incidentally, the war on drugs is one place I dissent with Trump and Sessions, but that's yet another conversation for another time.

(Not to mention, taxation is theft, which would likewise make Phil lawless in a bad way.)

So what can we expect from Governor Phil Murphy? Well, assuming he does what he claimed in the debates, this would be my prediction:

  1. New Jerseyans are gonna see an increase in their net taxes, or at least less of a decrease, relative to the rest of the country.

  2. New Jerseyans are gonna see a decline in job growth compared with the rest of the country.

  3. New Jersey will most likely become the next State to legalize marijuana, which is a big win for freedom and social justice.

  4. New Jersey might experience white flight if we're allowed to become a sanctuary State, as many white conservatives - especially if they're business owners - move to more southern States (and if you think it's purely due to racism, you might be a single-issue voter who views the world entirely through the lens of identity politics).

  5. It'll be slightly harder to get a gun in New Jersey.

  6. We'll see a general decrease in domestic crime outside major cities like Newark and Paterson, but an increase in crimes related to immigration (whether by immigrants themselves or in retaliation to it, which that part would be racism, or at least xenophobia).

I won't go so far as to say a straight loss on jobs, because it depends on what gains Trump and the Republican Congress can make at the federal level that might offset this; but compared with the rest of the country, I feel we may continue to lag behind. Things would have to go pretty poorly for there to be a total reversal, but I feel we would have done better economically under Guadagno.

Murphy mentioned Georgian tech growth overtaking New Jersey, not realizing the very sort of economic policies he's advocating are what led to such a shift in the first place. The real game changer - and where most of my optimism lies - is with his promise to legalize marijuana. If we wind up following the Colorado model, it'll be hard to predict just how that could dampen the negative impacts of his other anti-business policies. We might see job growth in particular industries related to that sector while still seeing a loss in everything else, such as manufacturing in places like Elizabeth.

In fairness to Murphy, it wouldn't matter much who's in office, in terms of there being a major shift due to the impact of technology as online shopping and automation continue to consolidate the service sector. What policy can effect, however, is where those jobs wind up and how quickly they are displaced.

As with anything, the devil's in the details.

Following the election of Donald Trump, I encouraged Americans to give the President a chance, to remain optimistic, while promising they would not be sorry if they did. At a federal level, that seems to be panning out well overall. It seems only fair that I now give Murphy the same chance in the hopes that he does a good job and leaves New Jersey a better place than when he found it. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and to have open and frank discussions with people I disagree with. I don't expect I'll like the outcome and where we are four years from now, but I remain optimistic that I can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution.

I choose to be part of the solution.

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