Governor Phil Murphy: New Jersey’s ‘Happy Warrior’

“Who is the happy Warrior?

 Who is he / What every man in arms should wish to be?”

-William Wordsworth*


Governor Phil Murphy’s daily press briefings are not exactly fireside chats although he has now taken to referring to our state as a ‘house on fire’.

He repeatedly uses the analogy all the while chronicling for us, in a steady, steadfast sort of way, the grim and deadly statistics of COVID-19.

Given all that, who would blame Phil Murphy if he showed up just one time, just one afternoon, at just one of his daily appearances, and after hours of preparation, with a frown on his face, a dejected look, let’s say, knowing he’s then obliged to explain the state’s efforts to combat a stalking worldwide virus?

And, who could blame him if he stepped up looking for the entire world like he’s carrying the weight of this deadly pandemic on his shoulders, which, for the most part, he is, and he’s carrying that weight right on his own doorstep.

Lastly, who would want to blame him if he seemingly lost his patience like he did in response to a particularly inane suggestion from an Atlantic County public official, a Judge of the Surrogate Court, no less?

The Atlantic County Surrogate suggested we need to “sound the alarm and reopen New Jersey immediately without restrictions…trust American freedom, ingenuity and the US Constitution…. untie the hands of the private sector so it can rescue NJ from this nightmare.”

In response, the Governor, who no doubt hears alarms in his limited sleep, summed things up by simply stating: “If we untie the system right now there will be blood on our hands…. we need responsible leadership.” And, therein lies the argument.

Similar to Donald Trump endorsing conservative protests in three states against measures like social distancing, absent expanded testing protocols or reliable data, the Atlantic County official’s urging to “open things up without restrictions”, threatens to disrupt the progress made by public health initiatives to slow the spread of this novel coronavirus. And, Murphy, one of the many responsible leaders, knows it.

For one thing, the Governor’s assessments and presentations are honest and forthright. “So far, so good, we just can’t let up,” he has said. “We have to stay at it.”

“We’re at least a year away from a vaccine for COVID-19 and there are no proven therapeutics,” he said just last week, adding,  “I beg you to open your eyes to science.”

One can only hope that there will come a day when federal efforts catch up to state heroics and honest information, that from chaos comes wisdom and resolve, that scientific data becomes more important than dates born of wishful thinking and that soon there will be improvements in testing protocols and a vaccine made available on the open market.

But, as for Phil Murphy, here’s a guy who was thrown into the breach of the most dangerous public health crisis in a century, a plague which is now slashing and rampaging through every hamlet and city in New Jersey, a state whose welfare and public safety is his responsibility.

And, he suited up for all this (to borrow one of his sports’ clichés’) following just one week after his own surgery for cancer in his kidney.

Phil Murphy spends considerable time in his press briefings eulogizing those who have lost their lives while also giving shout outs to heroic front line workers throughout the state.   As he seems to be that rare combination of the man and the moment, perhaps, it’s time he got a shout out of his own.

One of Phil Murphy’s heroes is Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson’s VP (1964-68), a two-time US Senator from Minnesota and the Democrat Presidential nominee in 1968. He nickname was the Happy Warrior.

Governor Murphy cited Humphrey last week with a quote that obviously is meaningful to him:

“It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped. “

What distinguished Phil Murphy as candidate in 2017 was his ability to convince voters that he wanted and intended to help people. I think he’s been proven right.

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