Prior to COVID-19, New Jersey Democrats got their kicks each morning trying to figure out new ways to humiliate the governor from their own party, plotting any number of audience laugh or outrage-inducing whoopee cushion and electric handshake antics at his expense even before their feet hit the deck. It will be interesting now to see if they will be able to do that to a guy who climbed off a hospital gurney with his sleeves rolled up to confront this deadly crisis.
Prior to COVID-19, Murphy was a lordly goofball from Goldman Sachs to that seething strand of party members either irritated because their own climb up the cruddy ladder of New Jersey politics didn’t result in anyone looking their way to be governor; or because they had allowed themselves to be programmed by the South Jersey brain trust and its affiliates to treat Murphy like a buffoon on direct orders from Mr. Upstairs. Or some combination thereof. If the depiction was unfair it was convenient, and politics is the art of saving time (and thought) through the use of readily accessible images (especially in an illiterate age – or state) for the purposes of securing power.
Now Murphy looks competent, wearing New Jersey’s version of a Cuban Missile Crisis game face but also essentially unchanged from the steadily likable guy who seemed unbothered by other people’s pettiness thrashing around him, shelved for a moment the kitchen sink’s worth of negative headlines pumped his way by George Norcross III’s tirelessly trudging Trojan spearcarriers. Not that they were all without merit. But they all had jugular intentions, even as this wretched (but predictable, if we could have seen) storm gathered globally. Just as with Hurricane Sandy, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) must through this scourge assume a supporting role, strains of laughter over Murphy’s staff bumblings muted or even absent now – save a few cackling hold-outs – as the state grimly assumes war footing to tackle COVID-19.
Has the COVID-19 Murphy been perfect?
The indefatigable Harvard theatre alumnus still can’t resist a game show style demeanor amid the solemn trappings of crisis. Still, that’s hardly the defining behavior of a governor who lacked definition prior to the virus. What mostly comes across is the character of someone aware of the moment, but also conscious of our traditions, who knows generations who shouldered more than we have thanks to them are watching us now to see if we have the guts and smarts to handle our own agonizing pack-tramp up Omaha under heavy machine-gun fire. On that front, Murphy – coming off surgery to remove a cancerous tumor – is proving strong, not only handling himself in a way befitting a leader – with a large dose of goodwill and compassion – but deferring to professionals and communicating clearly and in his own voice.
This could change at any time.
We are in the midst of a crisis.
We are in the middle of a run up the beach with the pillboxes pouring flames down on our beloved state.
The number of dead yesterday was higher than the day before, and it will get worse as we move ahead.
It’s hardly an occasion for a medals ceremony.
Any medals if they’re ever given obviously should go to the heroes who wear masks and gowns in the hospital ERs in Teaneck and elsewhere, and to the EMTs and cops and working class people who have ground it out through this horror show. To the extent government assists them, it will have offered something other than merely failing to see this coming. I talked to my best friend the other day as he waited to get up at 4 a.m. to ride on a crowded cough-crunching bus to go man his ironworker shift alongside other men in a city where the mayor says maybe more than 50% of the population will get the virus.
But – in a little brief moment before we hear the next county by county body count of those who are our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, the people we went to school with, ran against or played with or lived beside or fought or loved – looking back on the months leading up to the explosion of this event, with sinister basement operatives (on both sides, incidentally, both in Murphy’s immediate orbit and the orbit of his rivals) spending time feverishly immersed in what InsiderNJ columnist Bob Hennelly described as a mindless game of Dungeons and Dragons, it will be interesting to see if anyone sobers up on the other side of this real world madness in a state intent on table top self-destruction.
How will the budget get redefined?
Will Murphy have done enough to prove himself and define himself as a leader?
Will the state follow him?
Not to be overly punishing on the political class that stays in place regardless of who occupies Drumthwacket: Did a Goldman Sachs guy from out of town require a crisis lest we award our loyalty to another unknown too easily?
Lawmakers who were calculatedly skeptical (sometimes with good reason but often because they craved staying in fashion) about the front office mostly have good things to say at the moment.
Again, that could change at any time.
On the other side of this, if indeed we can get there as we endure another day of death – will Democrats fat with power actually do the work of the state of New Jersey for a change instead of indulging their own repressed theatrical impulses to stage and restage – to the edification of no one and for the purpose only of contributing to an overall lack of fitness in time for the next inevitable crisis – a Bertolt Brecht-weird community theater production of Titus Andronicus?