A Kindly Uncle Toughening in a Time of Crisis


PARAMUS – Phil Murphy often comes across as a kindly uncle who logically suggests why people during this time of crisis should do the right thing.

He really isn’t a brash, “Get the hell off the beach” type of guy.

People can’t simply change their personality and make-up, but they can change their approach. And the governor may be trying to do that.

He used today’s coronavirus briefing to warn a bit cryptically that come Saturday, “It’s my way or the highway.”

He said he did not want to sound mysterious, but that’s precisely how he sounded.

But there were hints.

More than once, the governor said he planned to “tighten the screws” in regard to social distancing. And as the number of virus cases in the state rose to 890, he said the only way to flatten the curve is to keep people from getting close to each other.

For days, many have commented negatively on young Spring Breakers having fun on the beach in Florida. On that score, Murphy brought up another scene – TV footage of people jogging, walking and having a good time along the San Francisco waterfront. No social distancing there.

Whatever he has planned for New Jersey. Murphy said he wanted to make sure it is done right, and also that it is something “with teeth.”

“Done right” was not a throwaway line. The briefing was being held in Paramus, Bergen County and sitting close – but not too close – to Murphy was James Tedesco, the county executive. All this week, Tedesco and the governor’s office have been trying to reach agreement on an executive order regarding social distancing and the like.

Presumably, what the governor has in mind will clarify things across New Jersey.

The Paramus setting at Bergen County Community College was the location of a drive-thru testing site. Some 600 were tested.

And the governor reiterated something we have heard a lot lately – if you are feeling well and have no symptoms, do not get tested.

Murphy to his credit is holding daily press briefings that allow ample time for questions.

But there is one aspect I find a bit grating. And granted, it could be because years in journalism have made me a bit cynical.

Every briefing begins with the governor effusively praising the state officials with him and whoever else is on hand. A “cavalcade of stars” is how he sometimes puts it.

Today, those in attendance included Tedesco and Rep. Josh Gottheimer who the governor called a “warrior.”

I get it. Over the top mutual admiration is a big part of the political DNA.

But there’s an ongoing crisis; we’re not at a campaign fundraiser.

How about we stop beginning every briefing talking about how wonderful everyone is? Just get to the facts average people – not the political crowd – need to hear.

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