Commentary

Christensen: NC politics has gone from polarized to paranoid

rchristensen@newsobserver.comJune 22, 2013 

The politics of polarization is now in danger of becoming the politics of paranoia.

First Art Pope and the Koch brothers. Now BluePrint NC. And “eviscerate.’’

The Democrats lost control of the legislature during the 2010 election. It was a devastating defeat for them because it came just before redistricting. It enabled the new GOP legislature to draw favorable districts for themselves in the legislature and Congress. Being in power also meant that the Republicans began getting all the special-interest money that had previously gone to the Democrats.

The Democrats are now in the minority and cashless.

The Democratic narrative is they lost because several free-spending plutocrats – Pope, who heads a Raleigh-based chain of discount stores, and Charles and David Koch (pronounced like the soft drink), two billionaire industrialists originally from Kansas – financed a takeover of the state.

No Daddy Warbucks

Pope and his array of conservative organizations were active in the 2010 elections, as was the Koch-financed advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity.

But the tale of Daddy Warbucks buying the state is a liberal fantasy. The year 2010 was a Republican landslide, fueled by a political backlash against President Barack Obama’s health care initiative and the rise of the tea party movement. Republican enthusiasm coupled with Democratic complacency proved to be a deadly combination.

If Republicans had won the legislature by a few seats, perhaps you could credit the Pope money. But the GOP took the Senate by a 31 to 19 margin and the House by a 67 to 52 margin in what was part of a national Republican landslide in 2010.

Is Pope a powerful guy? Sure. He has spent millions trying to influence politics and public policy in North Carolina. But if Pope and the Koch brothers had never been born, the Republicans would still be in control of the legislature.

It’s not like there are no conservatives in the state of North Carolina.

No vast conspiracy

Which brings me to the conservative fantasy – being flogged by Pope, Gov. Pat McCrory and other Republicans: that there is a vast Democratic conspiracy to take them down.

Never have the Democrats had less clout in North Carolina. They have lost control of all three branches. The state Democratic Party is in disarray. The party’s sources of money have dried up. No new leaders have stepped forward. It’s best response so far has been getting arrested – a tactic traditionally reserved by the powerless in societies.

And how did this vast Democratic conspiracy develop you might ask?

Faced with what they knew would be an unstopped onslaught of Republican-backed legislation , liberal groups held a strategy session in December on how they might slow it down.

A three-page memo was prepared by Jessica Laurenz, North Carolina director of America Votes, a liberal group that works with a coalition of other liberal groups.

The memo says the Democrats didn’t have a prayer to pass anything they wanted, but their best shot was in “mitigating” the damage done by Republicans by crippling GOP leaders McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Leader Phil Berger. The memo lays out numerous ideas, including videotaping GOP leaders’ speeches, hiring private detectives and in other ways attempting to “eviscerate the leadership and weaken their ability to govern.”

Laurenz said she drafted the memo as a talking point and it was never adopted by the group – although McCrory says he is videotaped by opposition at most public appearances, which is typical in today’s politics.

The memo was distributed by Blueprint NC, a liberal group that acts as a clearinghouse for some 50 liberal groups ranging from organized labor to environmental organizations. All this made a splash back in February when a copy was leaked to the news media.

In recent weeks, Republicans have been arguing that any criticism of their policies from any of the 50 or so liberal groups that were on the receiving end of the memo are part of a well-oiled plot to “eviscerate them.”

Criticize them for cutting off benefits for 70,000 people who are losing their unemployment benefits? Left-wing plot to “eviscerate” them.

Critical of their decision to turn down federal funding of Medicaid that would extend health care insurance to as many as 500,000 more people? Left-wing plot to “eviscerate” them.

News media organizations that report the criticisms? Reporters are accused of enabling the plot to “eviscerate” the Republicans.

All of this from some young women dreaming up ways – obviously totally ineffective – to stop the conservative agenda.

So there we have it.

The Republicans in power in Raleigh could not possibly want a smaller government. They are merely puppets of megalomaniac billionaires.

There could not possibly be any legitimate criticism of cutting off unemployment benefits or not extending health insurance.

It is a left-wing plot to “eviscerate” the state’s elected leaders.

We have gone from political polarization to paranoia. Pitiful.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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