A simple lack of respect

A simple lack of respect

- in Weekly Briefing

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The right sinks to a new low with latest accusations against Moral Mondays protests

There are a lot of reasons that thousands of North Carolinians have remained motivated to devote big chunks of time from their busy lives to attending Moral Monday events at the state Legislative Building over the past year-plus: the sustained assault on public education, the disastrous failure to expand Medicaid to a half-million people in need, the attacks on voting rights, the harshest-in-the-nation cuts to unemployment insurance. The list goes on and on.

If there’s a single factor, however, that serves as perhaps the most important catalyst, it might just be this: the utter lack of respect that state leaders have accorded the protest movement and its leaders.

On the day the right swept to power in the General Assembly in January of 2011, the days of genuine conversation and give and take in the North Carolina political world basically came to an end. Rather than at least listening seriously to those who voiced grave concerns about the radically different direction they were taking the state, conservative leaders made clear that protesters were, in effect, the enemy – a group to be ignored, belittled and, if possible, thoroughly routed.

Speaker Tillis, Senate President Pro Tem Berger, Budget Director Pope and Gov. McCrory can issue all the carefully measured statements they want about their supposed respect for free speech, opposing points of view and willingness to hear from protesters, but ultimately, their actions speak louder than their words.

And on this front, nothing speaks louder than: a) the repeated efforts to silence the protests with police power and b) the absurd and offensive attacks directed at the movement, its leaders and its objectives.

A new round of ridiculous attacks

Much has been written about the attempts to arrest, block and hide from Legislative Building protesters in recent months, but much less attention has been devoted to the supposedly substantive critiques directed at the Moral Mondays movement by conservative leaders and the advocacy groups funded by Pope.

Last year, as you may recall, the Pope-Civitas Institute launched a venomous and, at times, dishonest series of broadsides against the movement in which it published photos and other identifying information about protesters and then followed it up with a series of outrageous accusations that movement leaders were motivated by personal financial gain.

Now, this year, in a new line of scurrilous attacks, the Pope people (along with Senator Berger and other conservative advocacy organizations) are attempting to argue that the Moral Mondays movement is seeking to foist a massive and debilitating tax increase on the North Carolina citizenry.

Here’s Pope-Civitas director Francis X. De Luca in a recent fundraising appeal:

“Dear Friend,

William Barber and his “Money Monday” allies want $4,000 a year from your family

That’s $333 per month-per family of four-to meet the $10 Billion worth of demands from the loudest and most vitriolic sector of North Carolina’s Left.

Let me be clear: Our victories for freedom of the past two years are under attack.

And I need your help to defend those victories and build on them!

Will you join with me in this fight with a donation of $33?

North Carolina was controlled by the Left for more than 140 years. They are desperate to regain their stranglehold on power.  It’s clear what they would do with that power: buy votes with special favors and taxpayer giveaways.

They did it for many years, and they’re telegraphing that they would love to do it again.”

Most of De Luca’s bizarre and downright delusional claims (140 years of rule by “the left”??) are based upon a Pope-Civitas “report” (really just a blog post of a few hundred words) that purported to “analyze” some of the agenda items advanced by the Moral Mondays movement at various times and place a “price tag” on their implementation. In keeping with its comically slanted nature, the “report” even featured an unflattering photo-shopped image of Rev. William Barber superimposed over a collection of $100 bills.

Not surprisingly, the “report” was then dutifully repackaged into an article for Forbes.com by a staffer at Grover Norquist’s far right Americans for Tax Reform and then shared by numerous North Carolina conservatives on Twitter and other social media as a Forbes product.

Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.

Well, actually you can – at least the Pope-Civitas people did.

The real cost of a moral budget

In point of fact, neither Rev. Barber nor his supporters are calling for $10 billion in new taxes (or just under a 50% increase in the state General Fund budget) as the Pope-Civitas people would have you believe. As Alexandra Sirota of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center reported in a genuinely serious essay on the topic, the true cost would actually be closer to $1 billion. Moreover, and importantly, once various progressive budget changes were fully implemented, the net fiscal impact on the state would be a net gain of $106 million.

Barber himself echoed Sirota’s findings in an essay this past weekend in Raleigh’s News Observer entitled “Repealing tax cuts makes a moral budget possible”:

“This short session, the Forward Together Moral Movement called upon our legislators to repeal huge tax cuts for the wealthy that hurt the most vulnerable among us. Those harmed by these policies – the sick without Medicaid, working families without the Earned Income Tax Credit – spoke for themselves. But the extremists look away. They veil their immoral choices behind the rhetoric of economic necessity. There simply isn’t enough to go around, they say.

But the General Assembly created this year’s so-called budget crisis by passing hefty tax breaks for the wealthiest and the corporations last year. If our lawmakers found the courage to repeal the unfair tax policies, we would gain up to $1.2 billion in additional revenue.”

Of course, the Pope-Civitas people and their political allies know Barber’s real positions and those of the movement he leads. They understand that expanding Medicaid would bring billions of federal dollars into the state and that the cost of many of the items identified for repeal – most notably the harshest-in-the-nation cuts to unemployment insurance – would not fall upon average taxpayers. They know that were they to sit down and engage in serious discussions with their opponents, common ground could be found. Unfortunately, they’d rather make outrageous assertions to gin up their political base than engage in serious debate.

Lack of respect

All of which brings us back to the matter of respect and the lack thereof repeatedly demonstrated by the state’s conservative power structure. The Berger-Tillis-Pope-McCrory foursome is simply not interested in the give and take of governance in a closely divided state. Instead, they’re interested in a winner-take-all, our-way-or-the-highway brand of politics in which average citizens – teachers and public employees, students, union members, fast food workers, people of faith, environmentalists, the unemployed, and dozens of other groups of dedicated citizens – are demonized as scheming “radicals” bent upon lining their own pockets.

And so it is that so many thousands of informed North Carolinians are so downright outraged by what’s taking place in the state capital these days. Yes, folks are angry about the radical rightward lurch in state policies, but what really keeps many of them coming back is the way in which their modest demands are so grotesquely and routinely distorted (and utterly ignored) by the powers that be and the minions they employ.

As long as the folks in power adhere to this cynical, take-no-prisoners approach to governance, look for the protests to continue and to grow.

 

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.
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