Remember this moment

By Rob Schofield | Oct 21, 2013

RALEIGH - How far off the rails into Crazy Land have Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and the Tea Party taken the American government in recent weeks and months? Pretty doggone far. Things got so bad in recent days that even the Rev. Pat Robertson – yes, that Pat Robertson – and the editors of the notoriously right-wing Wall Street Journal attacked the move. 

Sadly, things in North Carolina are, arguably, even worse. While it's true that neither Gov. McCrory nor the General Assembly has brought the world economy to the verge of meltdown, for thousands of vulnerable families, they might as well have. 

Already this year, McCrory and the legislature have turned down billions in federal unemployment insurance and Medicaid dollars that would have stimulated the state economy and, in thousands of cases, allowed average families to keep paying their rent and light bill. Now, more than 20,000 of these families could soon be trying to survive – literally, survive – without the pitiable sums North Carolina metes out in its already Scroogian "welfare" program, Work First. 

Thanks to the Governor, his state budget director, Art Pope and DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, North Carolina was the only state in the union to shut down this program in response to the federal budget impasse. To make matters even more outrageous, the state took this extreme and unnecessary step at the same moment that it was releasing state funds to help open the federally-funded Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

Before jetting off to a confab with oil and coal industry lobbyists at a Mississippi casino yesterday, McCrory tried to cover his tracks on the Work First cutoff by appearing with Pope and Wos at Charlotte press conference to dispense a few bucks to the state's food banks.

To its credit, however, the Governor's hometown newspaper (the Charlotte Observer, which endorsed his 2012 candidacy a year ago this week) wasn't having any of the dog and pony show. After pointing out McCrory's duplicity if lambasting federal officials for treating federal services and the people who depend upon them like "chess pieces" after having done precisely the same thing for months, the paper called the food banks event "a political stunt that was actually damage control for his administration's own shortcomings."

So, what happens next? Sure, global chaos has, thankfully, been averted, but what comes after that? Will Americans and North Carolinians simply go on their merry ways as if nothing truly important has really happened? Will they continue to buy into the demonstrably false claims about the Affordable Care Act and the federal deficit? 

Let's fervently hope not. Rather, let's hope that the vast majority of Americans who reside outside the through-the-looking-glass world of the Tea Party extremists have been awakened by this dangerous near miss and are spurred to determined and sustained action to make sure that the Republic is never again subjected to such a destructive hostage-taking event.

Interestingly, on this count, the nation would do well to check out a case study right here in Wake County North Carolina. Just a few years ago, voter apathy and a Tea Party uprising led to the public schools in the most populous county in this closely divided state to be overrun by ideologues and bullies bent upon radical change.

Like the U.S. government itself, the system was dragged dangerously close to a precipitous cliff in the name of a radical, market fundamentalist ideology.

Four years later, those dark days are, thanks to the sustained and impassioned advocacy and organizing of hundreds of normal, average citizens, fast receding in the historical rear view mirror. Faced with losing their award winning school system, average citizens stood up and told the far right ideologues: "Not with our schools, you don't!"

Obviously, the stakes are much, much bigger and the issues more complex, but at some basic level this is exactly the same response that is needed from the American public in the weeks,  months and years ahead. Faced with the grim reality of the extremist plans that the far right harbors, it's well past time for people to stand up and say "Not with our country, you don't."

Rob Schofield is Director of Research and Policy Development at NC Policy Watch.