Has there ever been a more delightful political slogan than “let them eat crudité”? Much like Marie Antoinette’s own apocryphal declaration, the phrase symbolizes the yawning gap between a decadent, exploitative elite and the struggling poor and working-class people they rule over. Here, though, the conflict is playing out on Twitter instead of in the blood-red streets of Paris, and it’s unlikely that anybody involved will be losing their head — though someone may lose a Senate seat.
This week a spectacularly tone-deaf campaign video that Republican Pennsylvania Senate nominee Mehmet Oz first posted in April resurfaced on social media. In the video, Oz wanders around the produce section of the grocery store Redner’s (which he mispronounces “Wegners”), picks up a random assortment of vegetables, a container of premade salsa and a package of guacamole, marvels at their prices and then blames President Joe Biden for the cost. At the beginning of the video, Oz explained that his wife “wants some vegetables for crudité,” and proceeds to spend the next 31 seconds inadvertently doing a spot-on Lucille Bluth impression.
He later claimed that it had all been a “joke,” but there’s nothing funny about a rich man pretending to share a common cause with poor and working-class people.
At the end of the video, in an apparent effort to relate to the viewer, he says, “Guys, that’s $20 for crudité and that doesn’t even include the tequila” in his unmistakable Jersey accent. He later claimed that it had all been a “joke,” but there’s nothing funny about a rich man pretending to share common cause with poor and working-class people he's built a career exploiting.
It was yet another example of the out-of-touch and often bizarre behavior that has defined the New Jersey multimillionaire’s cringeworthy Senate run. And it gave his opponent, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a golden opportunity to have some fun at his expense.
Immediately, Fetterman’s savvy social media team — whose lightning-quick reaction time has helped solidify his reputation as the Democrats’ reigning meme lord — went to work creating campaign stickers with the slogan “Wegners: Let them eat crudité.” According to his campaign, it raised more than $500,000 in the 24 hours after the video went viral, and $65,000 of that came from sales of the sticker.
Wealthy Republicans absolutely love cosplaying as working-class everymen, and Oz’s performance was dismal even by those subterranean standards. It was immediately clear that not only is this a man who seems wholly unaccustomed to doing his own shopping, but he has also never had to worry about what the price tag says, or learned the fine art of comparison shopping (let alone couponing or bargain-hunting).
Seeing a Trump-endorsed television celebrity who owns 10 multimillion-dollar properties in the U.S. and Turkey and who made a fortune from shilling snake oil and quack medical advice to vulnerable people try to pretend that a $2 head of broccoli is going to hurt his wallet is at the very least laughable. But it’s also insulting to the millions of people who do struggle to afford food under a brutal economic system that would prefer to see us all starve — a system that Oz, as a Republican, is running to uphold.
Veggie trays aside, though, one of the defining characteristics of Fetterman’s campaign has been his steady drumbeat that Oz is, quite simply, not from here. It’s true; Oz was born in Ohio, grew up in Delaware, took a quick detour through Pennsylvania for college, then moved to New York City in 1986. He’s split his time between the city and the tiny suburb of Cliffside Park, New Jersey. He only claims to have moved to Pennsylvania in 2020 (likely after he saw a potential political opening).
By painting Oz as a grasping carpetbagger, Fetterman is just telling the truth
By painting Oz as a grasping carpetbagger, Fetterman is just telling the truth — the disgraced TV personality knew he didn’t stand a chance of gaining any political power in his true-blue home state, so he slid across state lines on a technicality and hoped nobody would notice.
Unfortunately for him, we’ve noticed.
I’ve seen some chatter from academics on Twitter who are concerned that, given Oz’s Turkish ancestry, the “you’re not from here” rhetoric could be used against other candidates in more insidious or downright racist ways. While that’s certainly something to keep an eye on, it’s just not what’s happening in this case.
Here’s the thing: Pennsylvania and New Jersey have a very … specific cultural relationship. Trust me on this one; I was born and raised in the South Jersey Pine Barrens, went to college in West Philadelphia (I even dated a guy who went to Penn, but it didn’t last — we were just too different) and then moved to New York City for work before landing back in my current home base of South Philadelphia. The tri-state area is a complex beast, and to truly understand its nuances, you have to be local (and the same can be said of other parts of Pennsylvania, too — it’s really like five or six different states crammed into one).
New Jersey and Pennsylvania are neighbors and rivals; that rivalry can be friendly, but is more often tempered with a light dusting of disdain (or outright disgust, depending on whom you ask). Pennsylvania drivers hate Jersey drivers, and vice versa; depending on geography, we either cheer for the same sports teams (go Birds!) or bitterly root against each other’s favorites. We all say “water” and “coffee” weird but in region-specific ways. It’s a matter of yinz versus youse, Steelers versus Eagles, Sheetz versus Wawa, and knowing that you absolutely cannot buy tequila in a Pennsylvania grocery store. (And anyone with a real connection to the region knows that only tourists go to Pat’s or Geno’s for cheesesteaks, which must be why Oz beelined there last month.)
Then there is the fact that North Jersey and South Jersey also have completely different relationships to Pennsylvania, and Oz doesn’t even come from the right part of the state to be trying to lay claim to Pennsylvania.
He’s from North Jersey, which is twinned with New York City and barely even touches Pennsylvania, geographically or otherwise. Conversely, much of South Jersey is basically seen as an extension of Philly. If Oz lived in Cherry Hill and drove across the Ben Franklin bridge for work every day, that’d be one thing, but seeing some guy from North Jersey trying to horn in on our turf is absurd.
And as a proud South Jersey girl, it’s endlessly irritating to see my home state constantly mentioned in the same breath as an elitist fraud who wouldn’t last a minute around the rural isolation, working-class pride and dirt roads that define my part of the Garden State, let alone in my current neighborhood in South Philly.
In Philly, there is a football chant that has become something of a citywide motto: ”No one likes us, we don’t care!” It seems like Oz cares a lot. His desperate craving for attention and validation, evident in the cruditè video as well as his overall online presence, also marks him as an outsider.
And, hey, Oz, I get it: I’m not from here, either. I moved back to Philly three years ago, and even though I’ve settled down a few blocks off Broad Street and have no plans on leaving, this city has always been my second — not first — home. For me, home is New Jersey. It always has been and always will be; no matter how far I roam, I’ll always be proud of where I come from—and my accent will always pop out when I say “water” or “coffee.” From one New Jerseyan to another, I hope he can admit he feels the same way, quit acting like a jagoff and just go home already.