Greetings from that happy hunting grounds of New Jersey political yesteryear, and no Brendan Byrne, I don’t plan to vote in the upcoming election like those contemporaries of mine from Hudson County.
I simply decided to express myself in writing before the art of writing dies, and dies utterly, along with those other more quaint accoutrements of a buried era, like the dictograph or tom tom drumming.
I know you don’t know me, and those few of you who know me think I’m irrelevant. That handful of others who actually have heard of me – aside from those passing insider multitudes with a nodding acquaintance of that lean bronze bust in the statehouse – probably detest me.
I got slapped with the racist tag and that essentially polished off my legacy. Not complaining. I get it, the times, as one of your grey bearded poets once sang, they be a changing.
But please don’t lose sight of my one little political gem of an accomplishment, if nothing else, New Jersey.
My purpose here is not to gloat. This communique does not come easily mind you. I was taught humility and as an academic I would like to believe that I have a proclivity for a certain thoughtfulness and forbearance, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
I simply want to seize on this moment to do a mild (and dignified, if possible) endzone dance for being able to uphold my position as the only New Jersey governor or elected official to have the historical distinction of having made the successful transition from the hurly burly of New Jersey to the White House.
Thoroughly unhip, I understand; if I had a better grip on your age’s more exacting modes of communication, I’d tweet, or simply send a selfie with a wordless, self-satisfied smirk on my face.
But I’m not here to bash Chris Christie and Cory Booker.
Still, I want (the very grammatical construction causes me pain) my story told, and no one will tell it anymore, because no one has any interest in anything other than his or her own story (not criticizing, mind you, merely identifying the trends of your time), and so I peep my own American epic from the grave as one who’s not too welded to the past to refrain from raising that little, insistent mortal trumpet once more – and just once – to my lips in hopes of making contact.
Now I know a lot of you are ganging up on my successor, Mr. Christie, who brought political woe on himself, undoubtedly. But he chose a path chosen by many, a countless number of them wiser than the two of us, both molded as we are by an imperfect democracy. But hubris is not a new phenomenon, merely a common human stumbling block that gobbles up the best of them. As unfamiliar as your generation is with me, so too does it suffer – I fear – an inability to truly digest the implications of tragedy as conceived by the Greeks. I don’t mean to be pedantic. I know that my background as a university professor would prove thorny in your age, at best, so I know I won’t win any points for invoking anything reflective of book learning or sophistication.
But without oversimplifying my story (because I was, of course, ambitious, too),I didn’t get to the White House because I bullied people, or tried to one up Frank Hague at his game, on his terms, or because I took on the dimensions of those tough guy personalities of my age or attempted to channel regular Joe attitudes to the exclusion of some deep abiding belief that my own quiet, precision-driven persistent vision and the treasures of a real education might prevail.
I’ll have my critics. Did then. Do now. Will, in those fading circles of history buffs who go to bed unread and in many instances unloved. Chris and Cory may be more personable than I was, or more popular at parties. Their populism and yes, perhaps innate common sense, and real political horse sense, definitely in Chris’ case, enables them both to exhibit certain very advisable gains in the area of race relations and social equality that arguably eluded me.
Certainly they will have those benefits associated with a time that is not as self-promotionally averse as my era was, and with that in my mind, unable at last to resist by virtue of the open door you widely swing, I humbly chest thump from the great beyond, Oh my beloved New Jersey, as the sole product of your shores to have clawed my way to the big dance.
Forgive me, but if I don’t say it, who will? I’m still the John L. Sullivan heavyweight champ of New Jersey politics.
Study my playbook, ye who dare dethrone me, and may my political reign long endure.
Woodrow Wilson was the 28th president of the United States and 34th governor of New Jersey.