I live in Middlesex County and I love it. I often threaten fisticuffs with anyone who dares to say that there is no such thing as “Central Jersey”. I have a friend whose son is in a band called Exit 9 and I have seen people who love that exit enough to make it a tattoo. I love the bumper stickers on the back of cop cars that say “middlesextips.com”, we don’t give great sex tips or bad sex tips just ones in the “middle”. I know more couples than I can count where one person works in Philadelphia and another works in New York City.
One of the things that happens when you live in the middle is that you appreciate the good and bad of both sides. Those couples that commute to Philly and NYC? They realize that on any given day traffic sucks in New Jersey no matter where you are. No one has a monopoly on lousy traffic. Similarly, when you live in the middle no one has a monopoly on power or solutions to problems. Central Jersey doesn’t have a comparable king maker to George Norcross or Brian Stack and that might be a good thing.
So why does this ode to the middle matter?
I already telegraphed my bias toward things in the middle, but I think that we need to start thinking about how to recapture the “middle” as an important political force. We are watching our political parties splinter apart both in New Jersey and nationally. The Democratic Party can’t decide whether it wants to be in the center like Bill (but not Hillary) Clinton and Steve Sweeney or to the left like Bernie Sanders and Phil Murphy. It’s worse for Republicans. They seem to be splitting in three ways; 1) bat-shit crazy Trump populists 2) principled conservatives and 3) Please let me survives this mess mainstreamers.
There has to be some sweet spot in the middle where centrist democrats and survival republicans can make a stand for stability. Interestingly, New Jersey’s own Josh Gottheimer and Leonard Lance might be leaning the way towards that, if Lance survives that is.
Another reason for singing the praises of the middle is that is where some of the best ideas are. One of Bill Clinton’s best lines ever was his belief that abortion should be safe, legal AND RARE. There is room for improving our broken system for buying and tracking guns AND limiting the type of guns widely available to any messed up high school kid. There is a need to make structural and long lasting reforms to how we fund New Jersey schools AND to ask those who can afford more to pay more.
I am hopeful that the primary elections today will send more people from the middle to do battle in November. Good things happen when both sides have strong middle of the road candidates who are not hog-tied to the letter after their name.
New Jersey has a chance to send that message to the national stage by nominating centrists in both parties. Let’s hope it happens.
Matt Hale is professor of political science at Seton Hall University