By this point, I’ve heard pretty much every Florida joke in the book. Knowing I’m a great fan of the state, my friends from other places get a kick out of sending them to me.
I receive jokes about the heat, and jokes about the people, and jokes about the politicians, and jokes about the wild eccentricities exhibited by the famous “Florida Man.” I like receiving them, because I like hearing jokes about pretty much anything, especially things I know about. But, of late, I’ve begun to notice something interesting: While these jokes remain funny, most of them no longer ring true. They, in fact, are out of date.
Nowadays, if one is looking for joke fodder from a state full of political lunacy, social dysfunction and crumbling infrastructure one must now look elsewhere.
One must look to California.
I find it hard to believe that I’m writing that sentence. As a kid, I idolized California, which seemed, on my many visits there, to represent a sort of sunny, fun, innovative, middle-class paradise. But, somehow, the powers-that-be really have managed to screw it up.
Its once-beautiful cities are now full of homeless camps — and, in San Francisco, of excrement. Decades of mismanagement has led to water shortages, power outages and wildfires. Thanks to faddish policing, crime has gone through the roof. Everywhere, the cost of living is becoming unbearable.
And the culture? Once upon a time, California was a relaxed, happy place: “Take It Easy,” sang the Eagles, Los Angeles’ most famous band. Now, almost every high-strung fad in America — our current obsession with pronouns, our preoccupation with “safety,” no-questions-asked sex-change operations for children — seems to have originated in the state. It’s a mess.
Or, more accurately, it’s a joke. Currently, the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, is trying to start a fight with the state of Florida. This week, he even challenged Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis to a televised debate. But Newsom can’t even convince his own family that California has the superior model. It was recently revealed that, during the pandemic, Newsom’s parents-in-law not only moved from California to Florida, they gave money to The Friends of Ron DeSantis — a SuperPAC dedicated to re-electing the governor their son-in-law has made his nemesis. That one had to hurt.
The story of Newsom’s in-laws is common — and understandable. Florida’s unemployment rate is 2.7%. California’s is 4.1%. Florida’s energy grid works. California’s does not. Florida showed that it could make responsible decisions throughout the pandemic. California not only screwed up its response; its leaders were repeatedly caught breaking their own rules. In August, Florida announced that it had added twice the number of new jobs than the average US state. I could go on.
A recent letter in The Wall Street Journal confirmed anecdotally what the data are starting to show: that Californians are voting with their feet. “Until about a year ago,” the Journal’s correspondent reflected, “I don’t recall seeing even one car with a California license plate here in Miami-Dade County. Now it isn’t uncommon for me to spot several a week.”
When I was a teenager, I used to visit some family friends in California who told me what it was like there in the 1950s and 1960s. “Everyone wanted to move to this sunny, open, beach-strewn place,” they would say. “It seemed like the future.”
As a Floridian in 2022, that description sounds rather familiar. Since I moved here in 2017, most of my friends have been from the East: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland. But now the Californians are beginning to arrive. And the jokes they tell about the place they left behind seem poignantly, painfully true.
Charles C. W. Cooke is a senior writer at National Review.
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