What Do Voters Crave?

There’s a lot to like in Matt Bai’s well-written New York Times Magazine story about Jon Corzine and the New Jersey governor’s race: a pithy explanation of the state’s financial woes; an interesting meditation on politicians as civics teachers; a short, sharp take-down of Chris Christie, Corzine’s immensely disappointing Republican opponent. But this passage doesn’t seem right:

Corzine was supposed to bring a measure of sobriety to New Jersey’s political circus. But when the bottom falls out, people want more than analysis; they also want to know that you understand and share their anguish in some way, that even if you have a few hundred million dollars in the bank, you still go home at night to your luxury condo in Hoboken and lie awake agonizing over the Hobson’s choices you’ll have to make the next day. It isn’t in Corzine’s nature to reveal such emotions, even if he feels them. And this is why the economy alone doesn’t entirely explain Corzine’s precarious situation or foreshadow, necessarily, the same thing for other incumbents running next year. As a governor, Corzine may be misunderstood, but as the comforting presence that voters are craving, he simply seems miscast.

No one would consider Corzine’s aloof public manner, which Bai ably captures, a political asset. But are we sure that what New Jersey’s voters—whom Bai elsewhere refers to as “ornery” and “chronically cantankerous”—are craving is a “comforting presence”? As the rest of the article makes clear, Jersey residents are unhappy with Corzine because the problems he was expected to fix when he was first elected are very much still around, and he seems to lack the political wherewithal required to address them. It’s not that people no longer want a “measure of sobriety”—it’s that Corzine’s brand of sobriety hasn’t delivered results.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.