09.16.2013 0

The conservative lesson of Moral Mondays

moralmondaysBy David Bozeman

North Carolina’s infamous Moral Monday protests did not end with the legislative session.  Activists last week took their anti-Republican chorus to Southern Pines, with other towns and cities sure to follow.

North Carolina, of course, elected only its third Republican governor in a century in 2012.  Pat McCrory and an historic majority-Republican legislature hit the ground running — among other measures, they drastically curtailed unemployment benefits, rejected Medicaid funding, passed voter ID legislation and trimmed the state’s budget.  Like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, McCrory’s actions have emboldened his fiercest critics, leading to over 900 arrests during the legislative session.

Granted, the media tends to inflate the impact of leftist demonstrations, and signs and arrests don’t necessarily sway elections.  But the overriding point is that progressives in North Carolina have given their movement a much needed jolt by turning their venom into a positive, people-focused nationwide media phenomenon.

Never mind that there is little new to the Moral Monday vision.  It’s all been said before, it’s just that Republicans in North Carolina have rarely enjoyed an opportunity to put anyone on defense.  But who’s on defense now?  According to an August Public Policy Polling Survey, the governor holds an approval rating of just 39 percent with 51 percent disapproval.  The governor’s internal polling, however, shows him with significantly more positive numbers.  Nonetheless, North Carolina’s job situation has barely improved, and voters in 2014 could well go with the side — dare I say it? — they feel has their back.

And that is where conservatives and libertarians fail to connect with voters.  Governor McCrory curtailed unemployment benefits to keep the system solvent for the next economic downturn.  Because NC was already indebted to the federal government, he and the legislature rejected any federal extensions of jobless benefits.  But instead of passionately making that case directly to the people of NC, the governor allowed his motives to be defined by the mob.  Instead of asking citizens to swallow some tough medicine now for future economic health, the governor made numerous remarks about how filing for unemployment is “too easy” and how the jobless refuse to take minimum wage jobs, presumably because they feel too good for them.  In short, he played right into the perception of Republicans as uncaring and out of touch.

It is not vision or ideas that Governor McCrory and state Republicans — and Republicans nationwide — lack.  It is passion.  It is the inclination to harness the power of feelings.  To many on the right, of course, ‘feelings’ is a dirty word, but we all have them, and it only makes sense tactically to share our own and to tap into those of others.

Pat McCrory ran as a common-sense, working class guy from Charlotte, as opposed to a Raleigh-based politician.  Yet as governor, he, like many Republicans, fashions himself an administrator, a facts and figures geek.  Republicans take giddy delight in thinking of themselves as the strict, traditionalist fathers whose methods their children never appreciate until adulthood.  But whether we like it or not, the currency of political fortune lies not just in the hard details of policy but in passion, feeling and connection.  The great leaders, Reagan being one, recognized that.

The success of the Tea Party stands as a shining example of channeling the urgency of everyday Americans into real opportunity for change.  Unfortunately, the movement could never find one candidate on the presidential level to personify its ideals.  At some point, conservatives must define themselves instead of leaving it to the mob, blindly hoping that the truth will somehow win out in the end.  With the phrase ‘Moral Monday’ now part of our political lexicon, Governor McCrory is now appearing in TV ads touting his record.  It may not be too late for his earnestness to sustain a conservative majority.  Much will depend on how much passion he brings to his cause.

David Bozeman, former Libertarian Party Chairman, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.

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