More cause for optimism

More cause for optimism

The right is relegated to just making stuff up

It's a favored catchphrase of sports fans everywhere – usually uttered by supporters of a talented team that finds itself up against an overmatched opponent. It goes something like this: "If we can't beat these guys, then we don't deserve to be champs." Think, for instance, of the U.S. soccer team and its World Cup match with Algeria this week.

Such statements are rarer in the world of policy and politics, where public admissions of self-confidence are frowned upon as bad form. For progressives – who usually find themselves overwhelmed by the resources at the disposal of their ideological opponents on the right – such statements are a particular taboo. As any advocate who's done battle with a well-heeled corporate opponent learns early in his or her career, even the most logical and best researched argument can be easily thwarted by the sheer power of money and/or fear-based appeals to people's worst instincts. When in doubt, goes the thinking, hope for the best and expect the worst.

All of this notwithstanding, there are occasional moments when an honest North Carolina progressive simply has to survey the current political and policy landscape and the "line-up" mustered by the folks on the ideological right and think – maybe even out loud – "if we can't beat these guys, then we don't deserve to win."

Such a moment must have occurred this week for any progressive brave and/or bored enough to have perused the Civitas Review (formerly known as the Red Clay Citizen) – the blog of the  Pope Civitas Institute. Though the blog is always chock-full of wacky and outlandish posts, one stood out this week as so over-the-top ridiculous, uninformed, and just plain lame that it had to give heart to any thoughtful person who might find themselves worried at times about the state of "the battle of ideas."

Here is the post in its entirety:

"Hit By Lightning, Attacked By Bear, Legislation Pending

Well, not exactly, but you have to wonder if the legislature might be eager to help this "victim" of lightning and mauling.  The legislature went full till (sic) after video poker, errr, sweepstakes machines because the machines literally attack poor people in the streets and in their homes.  Without stopping to solve the budget woes, they went forcefully after the machines led by the Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake and former head of Self Help whose brother ran the Center For Responsible Lending which helped usher in the mortgage meltdown.)

So, I guess Stein and Co. might just have to pass some legislation against lightning or bears in some way.  I mean, this fella' was just a victim and Stein should be concerned.  The difference is that you can really avoid sweepstakes machines, but Stein and the rest of the senate doesn't think your (sic) smart enough to do so on your own.

"They represent gambling on a massive commercialized scale," said Sen. Josh Stein

Hmm. . doesn't he support the NC Educational (sic) Lottery?  Oh and Harrah's Casino in Cherokee?  I think it is you Sen. Stein who also represents gambling on a massive commercialized scale with taxpayer dollars."

Got that? That bright, honest and energetic young state senator who just about everyone recognizes as one of the state's rising political stars is actually responsible for the collapse of the economy, the enactment of the state lottery and the introduction of casino gambling on the Cherokee reservation. Oh, and the nearly unanimous efforts of the state Senate to restrict the latest incarnation of video poker?  It's actually an effort to destroy the poor, defenseless souls who run the video "gaming" industry and to micromanage every detail of every individual's life in a relentless assault on individual freedom. Who knew?   

Reality check

Where does one begin to respond to such ridiculous and ineptly crafted drivel? Let's try the following:

Don't they have any editors over at Civitas? It's true that this absurd little stink bomb is just a blog post by a former Pope, Inc. employee who appears to have found work as a right-wing radio squawker, but come on guys, if you're going to allow your website to be used to attack someone in such a personal way, exercise at least a little oversight.

Senator Stein was never the "head" of the Center for Community Self-Help or any of its affiliates. He did work there for a time early in his career as a real estate project manager for the Self-Help Credit Union. There, among other things, he did some wonderful work to rehabilitate some abandoned Durham drug houses and convert them into single family homes. It was his first job out of Harvard Law School and he was in his late 20's. Good job, but not the boss. 

More prevarication about the meltdown. While it is true that the Senator's brother is a long-time consumer advocate who did indeed help lead a Self-Help affiliate known as the Center for Responsible Lending, the assertion that the Center "helped usher in the mortgage meltdown" is unadulterated bull. This particular allegation is the long-debunked attempt by some of the robber barons who actually were responsible for the national financial crisis to shrug off the blame and, with the help of their toadies in the right-wing think tanks, pin it on consumer advocates and, of course, racial minorities.

Their "logic" goes like this: Many of the victims of the predatory mortgage lending binge that helped contribute to the housing bubble were low and moderate income people who should have never gotten home mortgages. All of the lenders and scam artist who made obscene profits off of these cockamamie loans would never have made them if it weren't for the encouragement they received from government regulators for helping poor and minority borrowers. The devil made them do it!  

Give us a break. As has been demonstrated in multiple places, this assertion is an absolutely ridiculous cover-up. The mortgage meltdown was caused, among other things, by decades of greed and casino capitalism. It was not caused or even "ushered in" by the nation's modest efforts to encourage lending to people of color or by consumer advocacy groups that have long fought for sane financial regulations and stronger consumer protection laws. Indeed, even before the creation of the Center for Responsible Lending, it was the folks at Self-Help who helped craft North Carolina's anti-predatory lending law (a law that helped insulate North Carolina from some of the worst of the effects of the mortgage meltdown and that has served as a model for national reforms).  

The lottery? Cherokee reservation gambling? Let's get this straight – the author is blaming Josh Stein for the "Educational" Lottery and Indian casino gambling?!

Uh, Earth to Civitas:

Stein was elected in 2008. The lottery was passed and enacted in 2005 over the objection of many progressives including Stein's predecessor and rough ideological twin, then-Senator Janet Cowell. As for Harrah's Casino, it was opened in 1997 when Stein was wrapping up his work at the credit union. While we probably shouldn't put it past Civitas to concoct some nutty explanation of how Self-Help and other consumer advocates are responsible for Indian casino gambling, this is scurrilous fairy tale-telling of the lowest order.

Going forward

As noted, the silver lining in all of this is two-sided.

First, it confirms yet again just how marginalized the far right think tanks have become in the Tea Party era. It can't be long before a Civitaser will be blaming Stein for fluoridation and its threat to our "precious bodily fluids."

Second and even more encouragingly, it reminds progressives of just how thin the ranks really are over on the other side of the ideological debate. In other words, if we can't beat these guys, then we don't deserve to win. 

About the author

Rob Schofield, Director of NC Policy Watch, has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator. At Policy Watch, Rob writes and edits daily online commentaries and handles numerous public speaking and electronic media appearances. He also delivers a radio commentary that’s broadcast weekdays on WRAL-FM and WCHL and hosts News and Views, a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.