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Governor McCrory’s long, strange month comes to a bizarre and ignominious conclusion

The worldwide fight for reproductive freedom is not a new or trifling concern. Especially for women of modest income, it is a centuries-old matter of life and death – an issue of fundamental importance to their very existence as free and independent human beings. Given this backdrop, it ought to come as no surprise that so many women (and men) have devoted their lives to securing, preserving and, where possible, expanding this most basic of liberties.

Many of these advocates have experienced or witnessed what it means for a woman to be denied this basic freedom and have therefore committed themselves to doing everything in their power to battle against those who would turn back the clock to the days of coat hangers and back alleys.

Sadly – tragically – North Carolina’s governor does not seem to grasp this simple reality. To Pat McCrory, reproductive freedom is, by all appearances, just another political football – an issue to be tossed around and manipulated as a candidate for fraternity president might deal with the matter of where and when to schedule keg parties.

A new and disturbing low

The plain truth of this pitiful fact about the Governor has been there for all to see for several days – ever since he officially reneged on his seemingly straightforward campaign promise to oppose any new restrictions on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. But the matter has really come to a head over the last 48 hours as the Governor signed a sweeping anti-abortion bill on Monday and then, in an act of remarkable cluelessness and disrespect, dashed midway into the street in front of his mansion yesterday to deliver cookies to women protesting his decision.

Adam Linker of the North Carolina Health Access Coalition described this latter event aptly on The Progressive Pulse blog:

“The people chanting on Blount Street are there because they care about women’s health. And they don’t just care about women’s health a little bit. They have dedicated their lives and careers to promoting and protecting women’s health. They endure insults and attacks and threats to improve women’s health. Not only that; but the people across the street from the Governor’s Mansion are incredibly knowledgeable. They know more about health care delivery than anyone in the Governor’s administration.

Now I will add what should be an uncontroversial statement: a mature leader would have invited the people from across the street to a meeting. At such a meeting Gov. McCrory could have learned more about the abortion legislation and its practical impact. He could have heard from some of the state’s best minds on how this bill could hurt women. The two sides may not have agreed, but the Governor would have come away a smarter and better person.

Instead, Gov. McCrory decided not to meet with the protesters. And, after signing the bill, Gov. McCrory released a statement saying that the protesters care more about politics than women’s health. He said this about people who spend every waking moment working for women’s health.

Even without this context bringing women a plate of cookies under armed guard, but refusing to speak to them, would be demeaning and patronizing. (At least he didn’t pat them on the head and ask them to run along.) With this context it’s breathtaking.

I can’t begin to explain or comprehend the Governor’s behavior. I have no idea who is advising him. It feels like he is simply in over his head. I hope for the good of the state he turns things around. He could be the lone sane voice with some say over the policies coming out of Raleigh. He could stand against social legislation and turn our collective attention toward economic development. He could try to repair the wide breach he has opened with his insults.

He could start by listening to the people standing a few feet outside of his mansion gates.”

What was he thinking?

Linker is right that McCrory’s cookie incident was so bizarre as to be virtually unfathomable to anyone trying to apply common sense. But seen in the strange light that currently surrounds North Carolina’s 74th governor, there is at least a smidgen of wacky “logic.”

As veteran political guru Gary Pearce noted in an online post two weeks ago,

“Governor McCrory has a bad habit: He says what he thinks will impress the person in front of him. That gets a politician in trouble. And it has him.

It’s why he’s breaking his promise on abortion. It’s why he made himself a punching bag over whether he was in a Moral Monday crowd.

His eventual Moral Monday story sounded like Jon Lovitz’s “Pathological Liar” character: ‘Yeah, that’s it: I was walking down the street and somebody in a crowd cussed me. It was a Moral Monday crowd. Yeah, that’s the ticket.’

When asked at a debate last year what abortion restrictions he would support, McCrory shot back: ’None.’ It sounded good at the time. But now he has to resort to almost Clintonesque word-parsing to explain his about-face.

Same thing with Moral Monday crowds. Maybe he figured nobody in Raleigh would hear what he said in Wilson. Sorry, Governor, there is that darned Internet….

Rob Christensen wrote Sunday: ‘McCrory, who, like many politicians, has a strong desire to be liked and a thin skin for criticism, seems shell-shocked. The turmoil has left him muttering about ‘outsiders’ protesting in Raleigh and complaining about his treatment in the news media.’”

Put simply, July has been hell for the Governor. His poll numbers are sinking fast, he has become the butt of jokes and the object of protests, and he’s angering important and influential people left and right. Despite this reality, however, he doesn’t think of himself as some kind of modern day George Wallace or a crusading fanatic like Rick Santorum. He thinks of himself as the same old “moderate” guy who ran a fast-modernizing city for 14 years; the kind of guy who might hobnob with bank CEO’s in the morning and then deliver cookies later in the day to a city council adversary with whom he’d been fencing over the location of a streetlight.

The problem, of course, is that his self-perception doesn’t comport with the reality of his actions in real life over the last few months on issues of enormous and lasting import to nine-million people. As I noted in a post entitled “The Governor’s abortion bait and switch” yesterday:

“There’s no getting around the fact that one of the keys to Pat McCrory’s 2012 victory in the race for Governor was the widespread perception that he was a “moderate.” In many places in North Carolina, voters proudly displayed ‘McCrory for Governor’ and ‘Obama for President’ campaign signs in the same front yards….

Today, of course, we see that this was all a sham. Yesterday, by signing the measure described by the North Carolina Family Policy Council as a “sweeping pro-life bill” Pat McCrory revealed once and for all that he is either a closeted, right-wing social issues extremist, a craven lapdog, a stunningly cynical political manipulator or some combination thereof.”

When this sad development is combined with the Governor’s hard and disingenuous turn to the far right on everything from public education to taxes to guns in bars and playgrounds, it’s clear that there’s no going back for the man. He’s made his bed and will be forced to lie in it for the next three years.

Viewed in this light, it’s easier to see that the cookie incident was quite likely the last desperate act of a desperate man in a desperate month – a man who is watching his self-image and longstanding public identity evaporate into the ether as he becomes, permanently and for the worse, a very different person.