Commentary

Barnett: A Moral March opponent makes his case

nbarnett@newsobserver.comFebruary 15, 2014 

Last weekend, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 protesters filled Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh in a show of opposition to laws passed and signed by the state’s Republican leadership.

Such a show gives the impression of a populace in revolt against a conservative agenda. And, indeed, polls show that the governor and state lawmakers are held in favor by less than half of North Carolina’s voters. But beyond the signs and chants and the powerful speech by the Rev. William Barber, the state’s NAACP president, there are people on the other side who feel misunderstood and miscast.

They are not the politicians – they can handle opposition, and some even revel in it – but the people who voted for them, who see their views reflected in this legislature and who resent the attention paid to protesters who have claimed for themselves the moral high ground.

Our editorial last Sunday praised the Moral March in Raleigh as an effort by engaged citizens to show that there is broad and deep discontent. That brought a letter from a reader that is distinctive for its sweep and its summary of the raw conservative grievances against those protesting. Republican lawmakers have great power, but their supporters have been on the defensive and relatively silent. So it is worth giving their sentiment here. (I was unable to reach the writer to discuss using his letter here, so the writer will remain anonymous.)

The letter:

Your view on the so called Moral Monday protesters makes me wonder. You do know that over 70 percent of the people in N.C. favor voter ID.

You do know that the Democrat machine that ran N.C. for decades put state government in a terrible financial shape.

Gay rights? I personally don’t condone homosexuality, I guess due to my Baptist upbringing. I do oppose same-sex marriage. I think the decline in morals will be the downfall of our country.

I am entitled to my belief as much as all these protesters. What [annoys] people like me is that these protesters act as though I have to like and condone their views. I can’t be entitled to my view anymore.

The Reverend Barber is the biggest racist in N.C. He sees racism in everything. Get over it. The Civil War was over 100 years ago.

He is typical of Democrats who want the government to provide everything for everybody. Get out and work for it. I worked 3 and 4 jobs to get through college. Got a job as did my wife. Raised 2 kids. Put them through school. Built and paid for my home. My kids worked also while they were in school.

No one gave me a damn thing.

We can’t afford to keep borrowing money for government programs.

The problem now is every minority or special interest group is telling the majority that we have to do things their way. We don’t have any rights.

It is great that the Rev. Barber is bringing in protesters from other states to tell the people of N.C. how we are suppose to live.

Why don’t you ever have an opinion looking at the other side of issues?

The letter-writer is angry, clearly, but also embittered. He’s God-fearing, he’s worked hard, educated himself, raised and educated two children. It sounds like he’s not wealthy, but no one gave him “a damn thing.” Now he feels his government is besieged by minorities seeking something for nothing while those who sacrificed and contributed are without rights.

That progressives have not been able to reach people like this letter-writer is a great failure and a great riddle. The writer – presumably a working or retired person of modest means – should see himself in the crowd on Fayetteville Street seeking better wages and help with education and civil rights. Instead, he feels himself the outcast and the enemy. So he identifies with and votes for people whose thinking seems closer to his, even if their policies tend to favor people much wealthier.

One issue here, as always, is race. It’s the subtext to much of our current polarization. The writer would have blacks “get over it.” But it’s not over. The Civil War was the start of the civil rights struggle, not the end. No one wants to be called racist, and people are almost universally sensitized to the wrongness of prejudice, but most people nonetheless do make prejudgments based on race. It may be a condition only time and exposure can change, but it would help if progressives also showed an awareness of white, working-class complaints about unfairness. It turns out that white guys in pickup trucks are subject to prejudgments, too.

The same goes for tolerance. That also means tolerating those who find the shift toward accepting gay marriage hard to reconcile with their experience and their religious views.

The same goes for government programs. Some are wasteful, exploited or outmoded. Progressives should talk more about fixing them instead of blindly protecting them.

But the truth is, the letter-writer, like everyone else, does enjoy government aid. His mortgage interest is deducted. His kids likely went to public schools. He enjoys and uses government services and infrastructure we all pay for.

He’s been given – and he still gets – a lot more than a damn thing.

Odds are, the letter-writer is never going to see himself in the Moral March. But those who lead such political movements should do a better job of explaining why he belongs there.

Editorial page editor Ned Barnett can be reached at 919-829-4512 or nbarnett@newsobserver.com.

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