J. Peder Zane

July 15, 2014

Zane: NC budget battle exposes caricatures of Art Pope for what they are: false

America's liberals have spent years both inflating and demonizing Art Pope, saying the Republican businessman and philanthropist who now serves as state budget director is pulling the state's levers. The budget battle in Raleigh exposes the false picture they have painted.

What’s the matter with Art Pope? If you buy the liberal spin, the answer is key to understanding why North Carolina’s GOP-controlled government can’t agree on a budget.

For America’s liberals, Pope is the Rosetta Stone of Tar Heel politics. They have spent years both inflating and demonizing this Republican businessman and philanthropist who now serves as state budget director. Through Moral Monday protests and echo-chamber journalism, they insistently claim that North Carolina is no longer a democracy. It’s not even a one-party state. It is a one-man state. And that man is Art Pope.

If you buy the liberal spin, you agree with Bill Moyers that, “Art Pope wields so much power here that he’s been called everything from kingmaker to king. Pope is very, very rich. And he has shelled out so many millions of dollars for conservative causes and Republican candidates that his adversaries accuse him of buying the state government.”

If you buy the liberal spin, you believe New Yorker magazine reporter Jane Mayer got it right when she called the GOP takeover of the state legislature in 2010 “Pope’s triumph.”

If you buy the liberal spin, you think Democratic consultant Marc Farinella spoke truth to power when he told Mayer: “In a very real sense, Democrats running for office in North Carolina are always running against Art Pope. The Republican agenda in North Carolina is really Art Pope’s agenda. He sets it, he funds it, and he directs the efforts to achieve it. The candidates are just fronting for him.”

If you buy the liberal spin that Pope is the wizard behind the curtain, controlling the levers of state government, how do you make sense of the bare-knuckle battles over issues such as teacher salaries, Medicaid funding and film industry incentives?

You start by rejecting the simplest answer – that those fights reflect honest differences among Gov. Pat McCrory, Senate leader Phil Berger and House leader Thom Tillis. That can’t be right; those three, after all, are merely stooges doing Pope’s bidding.

You flesh out this vision by imagining Pope’s impossibly busy schedule. He must start his day by issuing one set of instructions to Berger. Next, he delivers completely different marching orders to Tillis. Then he still has a head-scratcher: how to deploy McCrory to maximize the conflict? He’s up to the task. After all, he’s an evil genius.

Finally, when no one is looking, he rubs his hands together and allows himself a gratifying “moo-who-ha-ha.”

If you buy the liberal spin, there’s still one more question you must answer to maintain your caricature of Pope: Why is he manufacturing this crisis? Why would he turn the GOP love triangle he bought and paid for into a legislative Bermuda triangle? Here are a few possibilities:

An avowed libertarian, perhaps Pope is creating problems to show that government doesn’t work.

Perhaps, like President Obama, he’s bored with his job. Instead of going to Starbucks or shooting pool, the contentious budget impasse may be Pope’s idea of fun.

The darkest explanation is that Pope is suffering from dissociative personality disorder, which Psychology Today defines as “a severe condition in which two or more distinct identities, or personality states, are present in – and alternately take control of – an individual.” In this scenario, the political debates are just the voices in Pope’s head arguing with each other.


Of course, the only thing crazier than that explanation is the liberal spin about Pope. Once you reject that, you recognize modern liberalism’s growing dependence on unceasing propaganda, phony bogeymen and conspiracy theories. You see how the budget battle in Raleigh exposes the false picture they have painted of Pope not just in marginal, far-left blogs, but in the nation’s most prestigious news outlets. You realize that they’ve done the same thing to the Koch brothers.

Tin-foil hats are now de rigueur in the mainstream media.

What’s the matter with liberals?

At bottom, too many of them, especially those with the loudest voices, are absolutely, 100 percent convinced they are right about everything. They don’t see honest political differences.

For them, conservatives are a bunch of stupid bigots controlled by a group of selfish plutocrats such as Pope. This is why we don’t have 50 Democratic governors, and 535 Democratic members of Congress.

This nuance-free perspective casts complex political issues as simple moral questions. There is only right and wrong in the battle between good and evil. This view may be false, but it is comforting. In North Carolina it means liberals do not have to confront the gnarly issues that cost them power – including rampant corruption, a lousy economy and broken government programs. They just have to blame one man.

Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at jpederzane@jpederzane.com.

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