Pol Tries The Howard Stern Defense

It took 36 years, but we may finally have a sequel to the legendary Twinkie Defense.

The Howard Stern Defense.

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To summarize briefly for those under 55, the Twinkie Defense was formulated by attorneys for Dan White, the San Francisco city supervisor who in 1979 killed Mayor George Moscone and fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk.

White wasn't responsible for his actions, his attorneys argued, because he was depressed, a fact underscored by his dramatically increased consumption of the popular Hostess snack cake.

The Twinkies made him do it.

Now, all these decades later and a continent away, Anthony Cappola has been caught doing a bad thing -- and he says Howard Stern made him do it.

Happily, we should note up front, the only death in this new case may be Cappola's political career.

Cappola is a Republican candidate for one of two seats in the 38th Assembly District, and his story goes like this.

Twelve years ago, when he was 29, he self-published a book titled Outrageous, in which he carpet-bombed everyone who wasn't him.

That included, just for a brief sample, gay people, Pope John Paul II, women in the military, pacifists, plus-size individuals, immigrants, vegans, politicians and Britney Spears.

One of the few passages that can be repeated in mixed company reads, "Beautiful lesbians are a sin . . .. Aside from making porn, they serve no purpose."

It's difficult to parse all of Cappola's points in "Outrageous," since much of it reads as if you had hired that infinite number of monkeys with that infinite number of typewriters and this was their first draft.

Still, the thrust is clear enough that Jon Bramnick, a fellow Republican and minority leader of the New Jersey Assembly, summarized it this way to NorthJersey.com: "Do you think anyone who knew what was in that book would ever support the guy?"

Cappola's running mate, Mark DiPisa, disowned him, calling the book "offensive garbage" and boycotting a debate where Cappola was in attendance.

In late September, when Politico New Jersey reporter Matt Friedman was about to refresh the citizenry on Cappola's publishing career, Cappola announced he was acceding to the wishes of the Republican party and dropping out of the race.

Then, some three weeks later, Cappola decided he was being too hard on himself and that it really should be up to the voters of the 38th district to determine whether the book created any, oh, say, character issues.

Personally, he told several interviewers, he didn't see that it did. When he wrote the book, he was an aspiring comedian. He was young. He was impressionable. And oh yeah, he told the Star-Ledger, "I was really into Howard Stern."

"I wanted to be a Howard Stern," he told other interviewers, adding that he "mailed a number of books to the Howard Stern show."

But then, he told the Star Ledger, "I grew up." Today he respects diversity. He has rediscovered his inner good person and seen the error of those lost years under the spell of Howard Stern.

If only Cappola hadn't owned a radio, apparently, things could have been so different. If only it hadn't been able to pick up WXRK. If only he'd worked the night shift and had to sleep in the morning.

If only, if only.

So now it's up to the citizens of Bergen and Passaic counties to decide whether Howard Stern had the kind of power that could cause a good, compassionate man to lose all control of his written words.

Should be interesting.

In fact, it's already interesting.

On the personal side, Cappola's campaign literature says he's a Bible study teacher and that he was the Newark Archdiocese teacher of the year in 1999.

Since that was four years before he wrote "Outrageous," when he was still a Sternaholic, it might be instructive to see his lesson plans.

On the political side, the disclosure of the book created a serious dilemma for the Republican party, since the 38th is one of only three or four among New Jersey's 40 legislative districts where Republicans felt they had a good chance to dislodge a couple of incumbent Democrats.

So after Cappola temporarily dropped out, the Republicans tried to replace him with a new candidate.

Unfortunately, because ballots were already printed, the GOP would have had to underwrite the $200,000 tab for printing new ones.

The party decided against it, which presumably should not be taken as a market valuation of a New Jersey Assembly seat.

It's also worth noting the irony in Cappola's "Howard Stern made me do it" defense, which is that however much Cappola may have wanted to become the new Howard Stern, he missed the point of the old one.

Stern used to be asked all the time about the radio hosts and comedians who wanted to be him, and he would patiently explain that most of them failed because they were clueless about why his act worked.

"They think all they have to do is say 'breast' or 'penis'," said Stern. "That's not what it's about. That's just boring."

The Twinkie Defense ultimately helped earn Dan White a sentence of seven years in prison. We'll know in November if the Howard Stern Defense helps earn Anthony Cappola two years in the New Jersey State Assembly.