If the stakes weren’t so high, watching the reaction of the state’s conservative political establishment to the Moral Mondays phenomenon would be downright entertaining. Indeed, if you cup your hand to your ear, you can almost hear Gov. Pat McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger casting about wildly for ways to defuse the protests.
First, the right tried to dismiss the movement as the work of “outside agitators.” Then, it was supposedly the work of elitist college professors.
Next came the intimidation tactics, as the Pope Civitas Institute – a group founded and funded by the state budget director – began compiling and publishing an online list of arrested protesters along with personal information about each individual.
In recent days, it’s been a hodgepodge of ineffective responses. The governor himself called the protests a “peripheral issue.” At about the same time, however, his commerce secretary appeared to pay the protests a backhanded compliment by telling reporters that the turmoil surrounding the 2013 legislative session was making it hard to sell North Carolina to out-of-state businesses.
If there were a contest for “most preposterous and pathetic” response to the protests thus far, however, the winner has to be the latest spate of attacks in which the attack groups have a la Mitt Romney and his infamous “47 percent” speech, resorted to claiming that protesters and protest organizers are simply motivated by personal greed.
In both a recent fundraising solicitation and a new “study,” the Pope-Civitas group alleges Moral Monday protesters have descended on Raleigh because some of the groups involved want to steal public funds.
Yet another broadside personally attacked NAACP President William Barber, claiming that his motivations in leading the protest are a byproduct of the connections between the church he pastors and some nonprofit service providers that administer public funds.
As with the Romney speech, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the utter disconnection from reality that these libelous attacks bespeak.
On the one hand, they are just so downright crude and ham-fisted that you almost have to cringe in embarrassment for the Pope-Civitas people. Seriously, the notion that giant organizations with proud histories like the NAACP, AARP and the YWCA are protesting the myriad regressive actions of the 2013 General Assembly because some branch happens to administer a few thousand dollars in public funds is just so patently absurd that it’s hard to believe that a supposedly serious group would stoop to allege it.
Similarly, to imply that Barber – a courageous man who works night and day at enormous personal sacrifice, physical pain and even personal risk; a man who directs a tiny paid staff and who has, for years, tirelessly traveled the length and breadth if the state in an old minivan to help countless underdog causes – is doing what he is doing in order to advance his own personal financial agenda, is just so utterly wrong and, for lack of a better word, malicious, that it must render any fair-minded observer virtually speechless.
So, setting aside the possibility that the attacks are just the desperate dishonesty of a political attack group that would do and say just about anything (something that admittedly remains a distinct possibility), how can one explain such rubbish?
Here’s the most likely explanation: simple ideology-induced obliviousness.
By all indications, the Pope-Civitas people are so enmeshed in the world of market fundamentalist economics – a place in which the personal acquisition and accumulation of wealth and property is endlessly celebrated and assumed as the driving human instinct and predictor of human behavior in all circumstances – that they simply can’t grasp the notion that Moral Monday protesters would be seeking to vindicate something higher – something like … wait for it, morality.
Put simply, these people appear to have become blinded by their own propaganda. Like old Soviet-era Stalinists and modern religious theocrats they find it impossible to acknowledge the simple truth that’s painted in living color right before their eyes – namely, that millions of North Carolinians are not buying the snake oil they and their allies are selling and do not want to see the clock of state turned back a half-century or more.
Let’s hope that their dishonest and delusional words continue to meet with the widespread and dismissive derision they so richly deserve.
Rob Schofield is the director of research and policy development at N.C. Policy Watch.