With so much attention being paid to the presidential race and the reliably controversial comments of one of the major party candidates in recent weeks, it’s been tough for state-level politicians and advocates to break through and garner much attention for their own inane comments. Like the badminton and trampoline athletes at the Rio Olympics who find themselves constantly overshadowed by the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, these hard right North Carolina voices are no less serious about their work and over-the-top reactionary views; it’s just a matter of a crowded election year news environment in which there’s only so much mainstream media coverage to go around.
Here then, as a service to some local voices of reaction that might’ve otherwise gotten lost in the media shuffle, are some of their recent “medal worthy” takes that deserve to be recognized and held up to the light of day – even if it’s just to remind caring and thinking North Carolinians what it is that they’re up against.
The bronze medal: Congressman offers heartfelt defense of corporate loan sharking
As many NC Policy Watch readers will recall, one of the most important initiatives currently percolating in the federal government this summer is an effort by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to rein in the abuses of the predatory “payday” and “car title” loan industries. Several weeks back, the Bureau issued proposed national rules that would short-circuit some of the worst practices of companies that rake in billions each year by peddling extremely high cost loans to the nation’s most vulnerable consumers.
This is not to say that the proposed rules are perfect; far from it. In comparison to states like North Carolina that have already rid themselves of these sharks with strong state laws, the feds are actually taking a very lenient approach that allows payday and car title shops to make multiple loans at very high interest rates.
All that said, there is no doubt that the CFPB is largely trying to do the right thing and acting in spite of countless attacks from the predatory lending industry and a bevy of aggressive industry defenders in Congress. Take North Carolina’s own Congressman Patrick McHenry, for example.
McHenry has long been a staunch defender of the predatory loan industry, even going back to his time in the North Carolina General Assembly. In recent years as his profile has risen in Congress, McHenry has also been a frequent recipient of payday industry campaign contributions. In 2015, advocates filed an ethics complaint against McHenry and 10 other members of Congress alleging that they accepted contributions from the payday lending industry shortly before or after taking official actions in support of the industry.
Despite all this, McHenry remains unrepentant. Last week, according to the Shelby Star, McHenry was asked by a constituent at a town meeting in Gaston County why he continues to take money from the industry, even though it had been banned from the state since 2006.
“I’m worried about somebody who has a car that breaks down, who has a refrigerator break down and they have two kids at home who need to eat, and they need to make it to Friday to get their paycheck,” McHenry said.
“He said people living on the edges need a regulated way to make it to their next paycheck. Those against payday lending don’t know what it feels like to live from paycheck to paycheck,” he added.
Right. Just what someone in a desperate financial situation needs: a 400% A.P.R. loan that will come due in two weeks and, in most instance, be “rolled over” multiple times. McHenry’s “concern” for the poor and downtrodden – especially in light of his countless votes to slash social spending and promote regressive tax policies — is so inspiring.
The silver medal: Think tanker blames Democratic Party for American racism
The far right’s take on American racism never ceases to amaze. Despite the fact that the two major American political parties have both done what amount to 180 degree turns on race and race-related issues over the last half-century-plus, some on the right just can’t seem to accept and get their arms around what has happened to the “party of Lincoln.”
Check out how John Locke Foundation Director of Legal Studies John Guze closed an essay he authored last week on the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision striking down North Carolina’s voter suppression law for having intentionally targeted African-American voters for discrimination:
“For over a century African Americans were staunchly devoted to the Republican Party, and for good reason. The Democratic Party, let us not forget, was the party of slavery and the KKK, of Black Codes and Jim Crow, of John Calhoun and Woodrow Wilson and Bull Conner. The Republican Party, on the other hand, was the party of abolition and emancipation, of the first Civil Rights Act and the Reconstruction Amendments, of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass and James Meredith. The Republicans lost the support of black voters in the 1960s, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t someday win it back.”
As was explained in this space in March of 2015, however, Guze is treading on very thin ice here:
“According to this particular bit of revisionism, because of the long ago identities of the ‘Democratic’ and ‘Republican’ parties, modern progressives must bear the baggage of the racist and reactionary Democrats of years gone by while modern conservatives are somehow entitled to bask in the glow of their attenuated connections to the party of Lincoln.
This is, of course, ridiculous and about as logical as arguing that being personally pleasant to people of color inoculates a Governor from allegations about the real world impacts of his policies.
Fortunately, such efforts are doomed to failure. Everyone involved in the modern ideological debate knows in his or her private moments which team is which. And if by some miracle President Lincoln were to reappear next month on the 150th anniversary of his death, rest assured that he would too.”
The gold medal: Lt. Governor endorses premise that voting is only a “privilege for those who deserve it”
This week’s top prize for most outrageous right-wing assertion by a North Carolina public figure must, however, go to Lt. Governor Dan Forest. Among other things, Forest is a big fan of former presidential wannabe Ben Carson, with whom he hosted a “Facebook Live” segment last week. During the segment, Forest approvingly quoted Carson in this remarkable entry on his Twitter account:
“’Voting is a privilege reserved to those who deserve it.” –Dr. Carson on voter ID laws”
To which, all a body can say in response is: Wow…just wow. North Carolina’s Lt. Governor, a skilled and energetic politician who clearly aspires to higher office, believes that voting is “a privilege reserved to those who deserve it” and not a right. And conservatives wonder why they struggle to attract votes from racial minorities, immigrants and other disadvantaged groups in society.
Forest’s and Carson’s stance is, of course, nonsense. As Garrett Epps of The Atlantic explained in an excellent essay a few years back, while conservatives have regularly attempted throughout U.S. history to limit voting rights for groups they disfavored, voting is clearly established as a constitutional right. It is, he notes, singled out more than any other right mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. That’s part of the reason the U.S. went to great lengths to guarantee universal suffrage on countries in which it once fought wars – like Japan, Germany and Afghanistan.
The bottom line: As with so many other conservative talking points in recent years on everything from climate change to LGBT rights, Forest’s latest assertion on voting rights is a dangerous and cynical stance that he’s disguised in familiar and seemingly unthreatening words. The judges give him a “10” for misstating and misleading on this most important of policy matters.
(Image: Adobe Stock)