So I was at this event today. I agree with everything the governor said: if you’re going to lower taxes, you need to cut spending. You want to lower taxes because Jersey needs to be more business friendly. Compare the “millionaires tax” (it’s actually a tax on those making more than $400,000) with that of other states: New York and Pennsylvania have lower rates. How do we expect to be competitive with them? The “millionaires tax,” after all, does hit small business.
Moreover, his remarks on education seem to me about right. We’re pumping enormous amounts of money into failed schools. We need to have real reform and consider how to save money at the same time. And yet that’s actually where I think the rhetoric needs to be more measured. Not because of the teacher’s unions: while there are many excellent teachers, Christie is exactly correct that the unions are doing nothing but pumping money into ads that do nothing but attack him personally.
No, the rhetoric needs to be more measured because people are picking up on the tone the wrong way. They’re uttering the names “Camden” and “Newark” like nothing good could ever come from there. Some of them are nuts enough to think that no aid whatsoever should go to poorer areas and that tax cuts and merit pay can instantly make areas that have more gang members than people safe. And yeah, some people aren’t just crazy but hateful. Those people are looking for any excuse to spread hate, and the narrative of failing schools in bad areas taken too far helps them spread poisonous stereotypes far too easily. It needs to be absolutely clear we will never abandon our fellow citizens, that the money is a secondary issue.
Which brings us to the courts. I agree that a less activist NJ Supreme Court at this moment is a good thing. But I don’t know that’s a general principle, because I don’t know that the high courts exist to simply clarify a few legal questions. I’m not saying they exist to legislate from the bench, either, but the concerns that generated the judiciary as a third branch of government are beyond a strict constructionist/living constitution-type debate. To wit: SCOTUS exists because a part of the government has to be explicitly dedicated to the preservation of constitutional form. The executive and legislative branches both have often made claims – sometimes claims that are exactly correct – to be supreme in their interpretation of the Constitution. Constitutional form is not the same thing as strict construction because its scope is larger. People can strictly interpret the Constitution and maintain the worst injustices. The concern of constitutional form is whether we are a republic or not.
On that note, it seems to me that the fundamental issue is whether populism has limits. If it does, then the courts will exist and make unpopular decisions that will be derided as activism as a matter of course. I think the governor would be well advised while talking about the need to change the court and his frustration with them “legislating from the bench” to say something about the importance of the court in general. One could say that justice for most is obedience to the laws, and the laws both make us more like each other (we are all equal under them) and emphasize our equality even in making them (anyone can legislate, if elected properly). “Justice” may be dependent on “equality.” If that’s the case, then statesmanship begins by moving people from their self-interest to the higher concerns that unite us. I don’t want money wasted on failing schools. But I’m scared of what people we might be if we didn’t waste money in order to try.