Point of View

McCrory, memory: an ethical task

July 19, 2013 

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory publicly announced his intention to sign the “motorcycle abortion bill” if the legislation reaches him in its current form. McCrory’s statement comes after his 2012 campaign pledge that he would sign no measure further restricting abortion.

While the governor contends that the bill improves the safety of women at clinics, it is still unclear why he refuses to challenge the legislature on the bill.

Even though the bill itself is a document worth discussion, McCrory’s comments raise a larger point. Far too frequently politics is considered solely a matter of power, interests and competition. We forget, then, that a central act of any polity is to offer its people participation in a process of remembering.

Memory, as a collective act, is a rigorous task that creates a community’s character. Memory disciplines the people into telling the truth about the past that has created the present.

Memory requires truth-telling. The bill does, in fact, add restrictions on abortions. Part II, for instance, limits abortion funding through health insurance exchanges. Part IV requires the presence of the prescribing physician when inducing drugs are administered. While one could certainly argue that these are valid requirements, they are restrictions. By signing the bill into law, McCrory will directly act counter to his previous comments. It should not be suggested, however, that the governor should never change his positions.

One of the greatest problems with positions of public stature is the unfair burden that beliefs remain static. But McCrory is compelled to explain.

Memory, for McCrory, would require telling the people of his campaign pledge and truthfully explaining why he thinks a promise reversal necessary. Is it because of pressure from his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly? Is it because of internal pressures by members of his administration? Is it because he really thinks there are important safety measures within the bill that are needed for the women of the state?

Memory demands public answers in such a truthful way that politics is realized – that is, by answering the people, McCrory offers participation in the kind of collective rigor that creates community honesty and collective character. Such memory has the capacity to break down partisan divisions and build a new narrative for the state.

Public intellectual Stanley Hauerwas has written on truthfulness and memory. Hauerwas was my teacher, and we often disagreed. The kind of politics he advocates is often implausible for practice. But Hauerwas articulates an important point. Remembering is a moral task. Because it is a moral task, remembering is also very difficult. It requires a willingness to accept the fact that our common life depends very deeply on who tells the story, where the story is told and how the story is told.

In order to understand why McCrory would sign the controversial bill, we should ask those very important questions. Who is explaining the bill? How is it being described? The political future of North Carolina can look different from the present only in the kind of community made possible by a people who have learned to remember and then tell rightly the story that shaped our present.

Andrew Barnhill is a graduate student at Duke University and the eastern regional director of the Young Democrats of North Carolina.

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