OK, call me a little obsessed. I will not move past the 2013 gubernatorial election. I’m not over it.
Remember everything we heard in the 2016 primary? About a new way of doing politics? Ushering in a new era of political action based on new energy in the Democratic Party? Well, that wasn’t new. Remember, this most recent energy dates back to Bush II, to the election of Obama, then we slept, then the Tea Party filled the populist vacuum instead of us — the real populists — and then Occupy Wall Street, etc. etc.
When Scott Walker busted up collective bargaining for most public employees, including teachers, it was an all-out war in Wisconsin. Perhaps a losing battle, and no, the recall effort wasn’t successful, but they tried because what Walker did was an affront to the average person.
When Chris Christie exploited an economic crisis to arbitrarily cap municipal spending, slash school funding, nix federal funding for a New Deal-type rail project on the most heavily traveled rail line in the world, withdraw from a regional environmental accord, and vilify the public sector, there really was no widespread outrage, outside the advocacy sphere.
In fact, it drew in many key Democrats! They liked it!
For a little perspective: In 2003, when redistricting threatened to give Republicans five Congressional seats in the the Texas delegation, 50 Democrats from the Texas legislature stalled the vote by taking up temporary residence in Oklahoma.
In 2011, Wisconsin Democrats left the state to block a vote on the aforementioned anti-union bill in a state regarded as the “birthplace of the national union representing all nonfederal public employees.”
But New Jersey was impervious to that populist energy. We were blue, but not that blue. We were cool; lukewarm, not “hip.”
In 2013, after the Tea Party, after Occupy, after the relentless Republican obstruction against President Obama’s agenda, Democratic leaders—not all of them, but the ones with the most pull—were nonplussed. The Transactional Wing of the Democratic Party won out. One of those leaders at the time put it bluntly when he said Chris Christie’s ability to get things done was why he should be reelected. It didn’t matter what it was that was getting done:
“I don’t think there’s even a comparison there. I really don’t….Barbara’s a nice person. She’s been my colleague in the Senate. But I don’t think there’s even a comparison there.”
After the election, Buono acknowledged this transactional priority of the party that didn’t back her:
“New Jersey represents the last vestiges of the old boy, machine politics that used to dominate states across the nation, and unless more people are willing to challenge it, New Jersey’s national reputation will suffer among families who might otherwise move here, among businesses who might otherwise might locate here, and among those qualified, honest, candidates who might come here and run for office.”
This was the sentiment from our party’s standard-bearer. These aren’t the words of some outsider knocking the two-party system, and they could have been taken directly from the 2016 primary. But we still haven’t learned our lesson. I’m a proud Democrat. I’m not a Green or a libertarian; I’m a progressive Democrat. And there are a lot of Democrats like me. Call us the Barbara Buono Democrats.
So this election season, I’m going to behave like a Barbara Buono Democrat, because honestly, I don’t know what it means to be any other kind of Democrat. This election season, the Democratic Party must act like Democrats and advance progressive issues in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. They must fight like they do in places like Texas—TEXAS!—and Wisconsin because here, unlike in other places, we can actually win.
So, I endorse Barbara Buono for governor, because if our state’s party leaders were interested in winning and advancing policies that helped people, she would be running for her second term right now, coasting to a sure victory.