One of the persistent problems with being a journalist besides the constant harassment, moral depravity and instances of extreme violence at the hands of stubby-fingered political aides, is the lack of respect from an ungrateful public. A journalist's job is to inform society of the grave errors and precarious situations it's entangled itself in. Besides these gloomy pronouncements, journalists should also issue a caveat, a dire warning if you will, letting people know that if left unchecked, the government/environment/unstable Third World regime might destroy us all.
So we tell people of the open manhole and not to get too close, because that could mean falling in. However well-intentioned or researched the reporter's articles are, people inevitably fall in, just before muttering something about the "damn liberal media".
This past week I was assigned to cover the arrival of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to our little podunk part of the state. The governor came to Cape May County Airport and stood in a cavernous airplane hangar and delivered what was a rehearsed speech on the evils of the New Jersey Education Association, a teacher's union he accused of everything from child molestation to witchcraft.
Christie has it in for the NJEA because the union's hucksters make more money than God and have this haughty attitude they are above reproach. Christie probably felt a tinge of envy.
According to Christie, the NJEA collects $130 million in dues annually and spends the money on television ads attacking the governor's proposal that teachers should pay more into health care costs.
While I agree with Christie that teachers should pay more and should not automatically have tenure, his speech was the same generic NJEA-bashing speech he gave for the last five months. All across the state, he's stumping against the teacher's union.
The problem is, it's the same message he's regurgitated ad nauseam for quite a while. I understand it's New Jersey and the unions don't want their gravy train to end. However, it's good to modify your message and add new material. Give the people something relevant to chew on, and don't come across as a bloated schoolyard bully threatening the union with corporal punishment if they don't acquiesce to your demands.
His bravado and chest-thumping only forced the union to dig in deeper and not budge. What happened to bipartisanship and compromise? Where's the love, Gov? Why twist the arms of your enemy when you could persuade them with that silver tongue and Oscar Wilde-esque wit? A few pithy yet jocular anecdotes would win your nemesis over and you would be heralded as the state's supreme statesman.
Sadly, the governor's tactics in accusing the NJEA of "hurting the children" were made without compunction. His threats and scolding only emboldened his supporters, while driving a rift between his administration and educators.
In the process, he's looking like a douche.
Christie's message came across as the NJEA were allied with Satan and should be cleansed from the earth in a deluge of fire. His intent, that the state is in financial trouble and public employees should take the burden off the taxpayers by contributing more toward their pensions and health benefits, was lost to the rhetoric.