Commentary: When liberals give Big Government a bad name

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When’s the last time you heard someone proudly refer to themselves as a liberal? Progressive, yes. Democrat, sure. But not liberal. Almost never liberal. Ever wonder why? It’s because conservatives have successfully convinced everyone, including liberals, that liberalism is a nanny state, it’s big government trying to tell everyone else how to live their lives. This “I’m smarter than you” perception is off-target most of the time, but sticks, because every so often, some liberal bonehead politician stumbles right into the stereotype.

Enter Democratic New Jersey state Senator Dick Codey. As everyone prepared to travel on the snowy, sleety day before Thanksgiving, Codey tried to take advantage of holiday populism by announcing he was “aiming to” limit shopping hours in New Jersey for all future Thanksgivings. Under his bill stores could open no earlier than 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. 

Sure, we all complain around Thanksgiving dinner about the stores that are open, but that’s just populist sentiment to fill the time between gravy-laden turkey and piping-hot sweet potato pie. Grandpa Jones thinks stores shouldn’t be allowed to be open, but he also thinks Obama should be impeached, so proposing legislation to satisfy the “in bed by 9 p.m.” crowd is bound to be problematic. For starters, most of us end Thanksgiving dinner by passing out in front of a football game.

While Codey wants to protect retail workers from working on the holiday, what about NFL players, coaches, cheerleaders, concession stand workers, parking lot attendants and everyone else who has to work during the game? Then there are the fans, upwards of 100,000 of them per game, who gladly ditch the family squabble around the dinner table to watch millionaires pummel one another. Should they be banned from skipping Thanksgiving, too? A couple of years ago, the Jets even hosted a Thanksgiving game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. I don’t recall Codey calling for a boycott of the game and all the tax money I’m sure it brought in.

Stores, like football games, are only responding to public demand. Turns out people like the idea of capping off Thanksgiving dinner by plodding around stores buying cheap junk for people. The simple fact is stores are opening earlier not because they’re greedy, but because people want them to. Specifically, millenials shoppers want them to. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), nearly 25 percent of 18-24 year olds shopped on Thanksgiving Day. Not only that, according to a survey by LoyaltyOne, half of everyone between 18 and 34 have no problem with stores being open on Thanksgiving.

Codey is 68, and though I’d be careful to associate age with idiotic do-gooderism, I don’t normally hear many 20-somethings uttering the phrase, “Back in my day…” Codey obviously has views about what Thanksgiving should be, but the problem is wanting to force those views on everyone in the state. It’s also a problem that may be taking care of itself. ShopperTrak did a preliminary reading of sales data which seems to show that sales on Thanksgiving are simply taking away sales from Black Friday, not increasing overall transactions. It seems that shoppers bought less over Thanksgiving weekend because they’ve been taking advantage of sales and promotions being offered by stores for weeks.

How soon our politicians forget we live in the era of online shopping. Does Codey plan to ban Best Buy, Sears and others from selling items on their website on Thanksgiving? After all, workers have to process those orders and act as customer service reps when problems occur, just as they word in a brick and mortar store. Of course not, that would be ridiculous. As is Codey’s bill. If a politician trying to force holiday spirit on citizens doesn’t fit the conservative stereotype of being a big government liberal, I don’t know what does.

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Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe.

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