A four-day holiday weekend gave me plenty of time to do some George-W.Bush-esque brush clearing in my backyard, slowly cook myself to death on the grill -- and think. Yet the conclusion was always the same: Despite the remarkable sacrifices of the men and women we honored on Monday, we civilians have used our hard-won freedoms to make a modern mess out of things.
Just in the last few hours since my brain returned to "work mode," He Who Shall Not Be Named Until My Next and 107th Blog Post On the Subject has held a beyond-Nixonian-surreal news conference in which he called one reporter "a sleaze" (remember the time JFK did that?*) and released the playbook for his, dare I say it, sleazy fake "university" where salesmen were taught how to prey on single moms with underfed kids.
Yet for all the incredibly justified importance we place on who's got next in the Oval Office, we also keep forgetting the real lesson of 21st Century America: That one man, alone, can't bring about the kind of radical changes that voters claim they are seeking. Many of President Obama's best ideas -- the closure of Gitmo, more aggressive moves on climate change, rebuilding America's infrastructure -- have been non-starters because we have too many incumbents in Congress hellbent on both embarrassing the White House and preserving the status quo.
And yet, in Our Dumb Century of reality-show politics, it has proven all but impossible to get voters to focus on the so-called down-ballot elections, or to get innovative outsiders to run for political office in that broad band between Congress and your local school board. This is not just a Trump (oops, I said it) thing. In Wisconsin earlier this year, an analysis showed that thousands of Bernie Sanders voters didn't bother to vote in a state Supreme Court race that was narrowly won by a conservative who opposes just about everything that Sanders stands for. That's just stupid -- but it's the People Magazine political culture that we've made for ourselves.
About that Bernie Sanders revolution...a couple of problems. One big one is that Sanders -- despite the admiration that I and millions of other voters have for his taking the fight to the kleptocracy -- will not be our next president. I love political poetry but I majored in political science -- and the math doesn't add up. The other problem is that a real political revolution has hundreds of foot soldiers on the ballot; the number of serious candidates in 2016 promising to chase out the money changers is far less than that. If a real progressive movement is to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the Sanders insurgency, that won't come until 2018, and it's going to take a ton of work at the grassroots level.
But there are still a handful of real election plays left in 2016. And if you're serious about starting a second American Revolution, I can't think of a better place to launch your cannonballs than South Jersey. On June 7 in the Garden State's 1st Congressional District, Democratic primary voters can toss one of the worst machine hacks in all of Congress -- the anointed Rep. Donald Norcross -- for an idealistic reformer named Alex Law seeking to be the youngest member of the U.S. House.
Talk about a slam dunk.
Norcross is exactly the kind of Democrat who makes you want to burn your voter registration card -- a tool of special interests and big donors. Since a clear path for his ascendancy to Congress was carved with the resignation of another machine pol -- Rep. Rob Andrews -- in 2014, Norcross has used his safe seat to spit on both the environment (siding with Republicans on the destructive Keystone XL pipeline) and world peace (opposing the Iran nuclear deal). He's sided with the reactionary GOP on 39 key votes, more than any other Jersey Democrat.
But his lousy votes aren't even the best argument for dumping the incumbent. He's also the Washington branch office for arguably the most arrogant political machine in America, run by his brother George Norcross. As a state lawmaker, Donald Norcross's crowning achievement has been corporate welfare for campaign donors and other big companies who move a few miles and create a handful of jobs in return for huge state tax breaks -- a tool that's been exploited by the likes of George Norcross and their GOP pal Chris Christie. The program has done little to lift citizens of poverty-plagued cities like Camden from poverty, its alleged purpose.
Replacing Norcross with 25-year-old Alex Law, a former IBM consultant, would be the political equivalent of an earthquake. Law would oppose the Keystone XL pipeline and other projects that contribute to climate change, raise the minimum wage to $15, work toward changing the campaign finance system that makes the Norcross political machine possible, overhaul student debt, and push for legalized marijuana.
Recently, Law said in a video that the Norcross gang is "is a machine made up of the worst kind of politicians, ones loyal to machine first and constituent second. It is a machine with parts oiled by money plundered from the state and our hometowns. It is a machine people are afraid of." He's fighting back by spurning big-money politics just like Sanders -- whom he supports -- and using his computer savvy to target likely voters, especially millennials.
So, yeah, it's an uphill climb. Norcross has money, trade-union support, name recognition. But he's also a poster child for everything that rank-and-file voters say is what's wrong with American politics. One week from today, South Jersey Democrats have a chance to show that American revolution is more than just a Molly Pitcher rest stop on the Turnpike -- that it's a living, breathing thing.