Spinmeisters weaving their web

Spinmeisters weaving their web

The right wing’s ongoing effort to make reactionary policies seem reasonable

Right-wing politicians and talking heads are in damage-control mode these days as they attempt to put a positive spin on the disastrous legislative session that adjourned last month (and the new “special” sessions they plan to convene in the weeks and months ahead). House Speaker Thom Tillis met with editorial boards in recent days and the supposedly nonpartisan market fundamentalist think tanks dutifully echoed Republican claims.

As Chris Fitzsimon noted previously in columns like this one and this one, this is nothing new. Republicans have been desperately seeking to deny the obvious truth about their new state budget and some of the other “accomplishments” of the 2011 session since before it adjourned.

Still, there is something of late that indicates a new sense of urgency. Whether it’s a perceived need to respond to falling poll numbers or just a premeditated effort to coordinate their mid-summer messaging and “soften” their collective image, folks on the right are out there dispensing whoppers with great regularity.

Education posturing

As reported this week on The Progressive Pulse here and here, one of the top talking points for House Republicans appears to be the transparently absurd notion that they are all passionately committed to helping at-risk kids and saving teacher jobs. To listen to Tillis and House Education Committee co-chair Rep. Bryan Holloway talk lately, you’d think they were a couple of liberal softies.

This is from an article in Raleigh’s News & Observer that followed an interview Tillis did with the paper:

“He said some children who haven’t received the education they need early in life are being wasted as productive members of society.

‘I’m absolutely certain that some number of those people who are being lost were lost before they ever get out of third grade,’ Tillis said. ‘They didn’t have early childhood development opportunities. They didn’t have the core ability to read by third grade. They didn’t have the skills they needed to be educated past third grade.’”

Mind you, this is the same man whose budget slashes spending on early childhood education and devastates the state’s excellent More at Four pre-Kindergarten program.

Holloway, meanwhile, was quoted in an N&O story about the demise of the state’s much-beloved Governor’s School as saying:

“It was not a matter of wanting to cut the Governor’s School. It was a matter of us wanting to keep teaching and teaching assistant positions.”

Say what? Keep teacher and teaching assistant positions? Earth to Rep. Holloway: Your budget will cause thousands of teachers and other essential school personnel to be pink-slipped. You could have avoided these cuts simply by not giving a tax cut to rich individuals and large, multi-state corporations. (Interestingly, Bob Luebke of the Pope-Civitas Institute must not have gotten the memo about image softening; he blamed the cuts to the Governor’s School on its “pro-gay agenda”).

Both of these claims come on the heels of an interview Tillis did last week with the Asheville Citizen-Times that included this rather remarkable passage about the most powerful man in the legislature and the budget he crafted and championed:

“Tillis said he didn’t know yet how many classroom positions would be cut but said he would reconstitute a special oversight committee to look at teacher changes from 2010-11.

The Republican-led budget spent $258 million, or 2.3 percent, less on education than Perdue proposed. Critics said it would cost 13,000 public education jobs, but GOP leaders said that was overstated.

If cuts do badly hurt systems — particularly rural or small ones — Tillis said he would work to help them.”

Did we hear that right? Tillis just rammed through the most controversial state budget in decades and now he’s claiming that he doesn’t really know what its impact will be in the single most important and highest profile area (and is already promising to fix the damage)?

Finally, if you have any doubts that conservative spin-doctoring; there was this column from the head of the John Locke Foundation (one of the groups funded by conservative activist Art Pope that’s been championing a supposed conservative “revolution” in state policy for months). In it, the author claims that the budget differences between Governor Perdue and the Republicans were essentially negligible.

Got that? The group that spent months talking about Republicans fundamentally transforming North Carolina politics is now pushing the line the new state budget is about the same as the one proposed by Governor Perdue!

Gussying up the denial of basic rights

There are other areas in which the far right has been trying to soft-pedal reactionary policy proposals. This month’s session (in which Republicans plan to push through some of the most reactionary voter suppression laws in the country and advance redistricting maps that will, if the congressional map is any indication, be almost comically partisan), is being sold as no big deal.

Of redistricting, Tillis told the Citizen-Times that “I want us to be able to look people in the eye and say, ‘We did this by the book.’” He has also portrayed plans to override a gubernatorial veto of the hugely controversial proposal to mandate photo identification for all voters in the state as – ho hum – a “no brainer.” Meanwhile, in an eight-page letter drafted by their lawyers, the Senate and House Republican legislators spearheading redistricting made this statement (apparently with a straight face):

“From the beginning, our goal has remained the same: the development of fair and legal congressional and legislative districts.”

Like the virtual adjunct staff to the Republicans that they are, the Pope groups obediently chimed in with pieces like this article and this TV interview in which they offered similarly sunny portrayals of the special elections law session.

Finally, there is the matter of the planned September session to consider several constitutional amendments (most notably, the offensively mislabeled “Defense of Marriage Amendment”). Tillis did his best in the Citizen-Times interview to make a hate/prejudice-inspired proposal that would deny fundamental human rights to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians sound like some kind of technical, rulemaking change.

First, he implied that it wasn’t really his idea, but something driven by polling. Then there was this remarkable statement:

“I mean, I hate to make something as emotional as this issue be boiled down to data, but the fact of the matter is there seems to be a pretty compelling story to be told there. So I think to the extent that we are promoting the institution of marriage, and institution of marriage is a bond between a man and a woman, that is something that I support.”

All of which goes to show that: 1) Even when right-wingers are trying to sound “moderate” they can say things that are remarkably stupid, offensive and demonstrably wrong and, 2) Spin can only do so much to disguise extreme views and attitudes.

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.