Why politicians from New Jersey aren't born to run

Shows such as The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire only make sense in a place like New Jersey, where everyone has a chip on their shoulder, is hustling to make a buck, and is desperate for prestige (as South Park memorably summarized it in 2010, “It’s a Jersey thing”). That’s the reason, too, that Abscam, the FBI sting operation that informs the plot of the acclaimed new movie American Hustle, was centered around Atlantic City and took down mostly New Jersey politicians, too. Even more than the typical elected official, Garden State pols want money, power, and respect.

But as Tony Soprano (played so memorably by the late Jersey native James Gandolfini), could tell you, the same forces that spur ambition and success also carry within them their own demise. It quickly becomes difficult to know when serious lines are being crossed or the wrong messages are being sent to the people around you.

It’s telling that in his rise to national prominence, Gov. Christie captured headlines less for what he did than how he did it. Where other Republican governors have implemented major structural changes to collective bargaining (Wisconsin’s Scott Walker) or educational policy (Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal), Christie has essentially governed as a big-government conservative, spending more money each year he’s been in office and doling out conventional corporate welfare to favored constituents. The State of the State address he delivered yesterday didn’t change any of that.