Under the Dome

SUNDAY DOME: In the silly season, parodies sprout

Deez Nuts is just the latest bit of sophomoric patter to find its way into this year’s political dialogue. For those not following, Mr. Nuts – or is it Deez? – is the name made up by an actual 15-year-old from Iowa and submitted on forms to be a candidate for president.

The kid behind it joined hundreds of others in filing with the Federal Elections Commission the necessary paperwork to launch a run for president. Also in: a cat and a crawfish.

But the Deez Nuts name drew enough social media attention that, sure enough, Raleigh’s left-leaning Public Policy Polling added it to a poll in order to inject some humor into the presidential contest.

We know this was an effort at humor because The New York Times interviewed PPP’s director, Tom Jensen, about Deez Nuts and Jensen said “the name makes people laugh, and it’s a long presidential election.” The Times placed this important story online between more sober reports about Jimmy Carter’s cancer fight and President Obama’s recent letter to Congress on the Iran issue.

PPP surveyed Deez Nuts’ standing in North Carolina and two other states, launching Nuts into the outer blogosphere – and bringing some unflattering national attention to North Carolina voters after the unscientific results showed support for Nuts at 9 percent here. That was better than in Minnesota and Iowa.

It’s been that kind of year.

There is, of course, a long tradition in politics of barbed humor, parody, caricature and satire. But the current pace of hyperbole and farce has pushed the political discourse downward.

Twice this year, PPP has released results indicating that Gov. Pat McCrory will have a tough re-election on his hands against Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is expected to run. The governor’s real campaign team responded to both with phony “news releases” from an entity it calls “RRR,” which it says stands for Polling of Republicans by Republicans for Republicans.

One release mocked PPP’s results and said RRR’s own (made up) poll had produced strong support for the governor from an “exhaustive survey of 1,200 registered, Republican voters, 10 independents and 100 Democrats.”

The fake RRR survey showed “Republican Pat McCrory winning by a landslide,” one release from the governor’s real campaign team said. “RRR could not find anyone voting for Roy Cooper. But to make the poll fairer, we added in 10 independents and 100 Democrats to the sample, all of whom voted for Pat McCrory as well.”

RRR is the handiwork of Chris LaCivita, an experienced hand at national politics who is McCrory’s general consultant and strategist. The McCrory team also doesn’t pass up an opportunity to point out that PPP shares office space with the liberal advocacy group Progress N.C. Action.

Where the GOP sees villainy in a web of liberal interest groups that operate in North Carolina, Democrats are horrified at the mention of Art Pope or the industrialist Koch brothers and their network of think tanks, pollsters and campaign financing.

The left has produced parody videos and fake Twitter accounts that depict McCrory unkindly. Parody Twitter accounts relentlessly mock the governor and his cabinet members as well as, on the other side, Cooper. Activists from both parties are not safe.

“Where’s Roy?” with an image of Cooper looking like the children’s book character Waldo periodically surfaces on Twitter. It needles Cooper for not staking out positions on issues the GOP thinks he should.

On a recent weekend, the state Republican Party tweeted a series of book titles that mocked the publication last year of a book about Moral Mondays written by a nemesis: the Rev. William Barber, head of the state’s NAACP. “How to Start a Movement and Make Money at the Same Time,” was one such fake title.

“Having my cake and eating it,” accompanies a photo of McCrory doing just that at patmccroryforgovernor.com, a Web address that McCrory probably should have claimed.

In the “about McCrory” section, it offers no details beyond: “Let me check with Art Pope before I answer that.”

The state GOP recently created its own parody Web site – roycooperforgovernor.com – that is anything but Cooper for governor. It shows former governors Mike Easley and Bev Perdue with the large text: “Join the team that will bring North Carolina backwards.”

It lists “honorary co-chairs” of the faux Cooper campaign as President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Outgoing GOP executive director Todd Poole said some of the handiwork reflects the media landscape and that “many newsrooms are more likely to cover the parody releases, organized protests of paid activists and the other low-hanging fruit.”

Much of it is an effort to persuade the media to challenge Cooper.

“Some groups,” he said, “may want outlandish headlines to distract the public’s attention (and the media may be willing to give it to them the space, i.e. “Deez Nuts”). But what we want is something more basic: the media to ask Roy Cooper the questions he continues to avoid and the media continues to not ask.”

Dome asked Michael Bitzer, provost and political science professor at Catawba College and a frequent online observer, for his take on this current state of political dialogue.

“Since the first truly competitive presidential election between Jefferson and Adams, political sniping has always been around,” he said in an email. “Typically it has been the political operatives and staffers who have engaged it, and with the advent of social media, it’s been significantly more obvious. But I think it also reflects the polarized environment that everyone is in nowadays, especially those strong partisans who won’t listen to the other side and just summarily dismiss arguments with petty attacks.

“I think social media certainly aides in the roughness of the discourse, because it seems like every day some new parody account pops up on Twitter or Facebook to lampoon and deride a candidate. But it certainly isn’t helping to raise any sense of political discourse, especially when it’s batted around by fellow partisans for cheap laughs.”

Dome checked its calendar. There are 443 days until Election Day in 2016. Plenty of time for more parodies and stunts. Sigh.

Craig Jarvis

Tips: dome@newsobserver.com

Berger: Budget spending is a test of GOP discipline

Senate leader Phil Berger said that the deal to settle on a state budget that has spending of about 3 percent over last year was a necessary compromise that should lead to a final budget deal soon.

The Senate had wanted to spend less; the House more.

Berger, an Eden Republican, could not say for sure that lawmakers would make a deal on the budget by the current Aug. 31 deadline.

“If things start moving as I hope they will,” he said, “we have the ability to get things finished by the 31st.”

Berger was a guest on the Domecast, our weekly podcast covering political and government topics in North Carolina. The show is available for free at iTunes or find it at newsobserver.com/dome.

Berger acknowledged that the session – and a budget deal – has taken time.

“Sometimes, it just takes a while to get to a specific number, to get to an agreement,” he said. “The House and the Senate were very far apart in terms of spending.”

He noted that lawmakers have extra money this year, with a surplus of about $450 million. In past years, that wasn’t the case.

“This year is the first year since Republicans have had the majority that we’ve not been cornered, or held in as far as our spending was concerned,” Berger said.

“The availability number (this year) was much greater than anyone really anticipated. So what this is, at least as far as I’m concerned and as far as many members of the General Assembly are concerned, is this is kind of a test. Are we going to have the discipline to maintain some control over the growth in government? Or, are we, just because we have extra money, going to spend the extra money?

“I think we see, with the agreement on the spend target, at least the beginning of some of that discipline. That’s been a huge hurdle and I think getting over that hurdle should allow other things to take place that will get us to an agreement.”

Among other topics Berger discussed was the historic preservation tax credits that Gov. Pat McCrory has rallied behind in travels around the state. Berger said it was unclear how that issue would end up, saying it will be part of House-Senate negotiations.

“The Senate’s position on that has been that those credits were slated to expire,” Berger said. “The law said they will expire at a certain date. And our belief is that when you tell folks something is going to happen a certain way, then you need to act consistent with that. Otherwise, you’re just, every year, having to re-argue and re-decide things that should have been settled.”