Fixing the Perfect State

As governor, Pat McCrory has a pair of narrative dilemmas: how to 'reform' a state that might not need it, and how to maintain his campaign stance as (ha!) an outsider
N.C. Governor's Office

“My friends, we live in the greatest nation in the history of the world. I hope you’ll join with me as we try to change it.”

It’s a fake quote. Somebody wrote it, all right — Mark Steyn, a Canadian conservative pundit, writing in National Review Online — but it was a joke. It got attributed to Barack Obama anyway, and your great-uncle Chet who had just activated his Gmail account forwarded it to the whole family along with something about investing in platinum, and now it’s part of the ether, and we can look forward to it being attributed to every Presidential challenger for the foreseeable future. Thanks, NRO. Thanks, Chet.

But the fugazi quote illustrates, more ably than any real quote could, the essential dilemma of the political challenger. This city/state/nation is the greatest city/state/nation on this Earth, that could ever be imagined by man or deity, and yet its shine has been tarnished by our misguided and bumbling incumbent, who has squandered something-or-other, etc. If you’re a challenger, you have to construct a narrative of a broken system only you and your team can fix, and it’ll be a challenge — but we can do this! We will do this! It’s a fine line to walk. It’s also entirely a matter of political narrative. As an expression of policy, “let’s fix this great but damaged city/state/nation” is next to meaningless. Is there a city, state or nation that doesn’t apply to? (Burundi, maybe? Detroit?)

But that was the narrative Pat McCrory had to embrace as he ran a second time for governor. It’s made for some tricky terrain for the newly minted Gov. Pat to have to navigate:

In many ways, there are two starkly competing narratives being told about what is happening in North Carolina.

Last week, Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican, said the state was losing jobs, losing businesses and failing to educate its citizens.

“Our leaders had lost their way,” Berger told the Senate. “And our state lost its place as the leader of the South and the envy of the nation.”

Contrast that with the authoritative Almanac of American Politics, edited by conservative commentator Michael Barone: “In the first decade of the 21st century, North Carolina emerged as one of America’s leading-edge states, with a booming demography and vibrant culture that are in many ways typical of the way the nation was going — or wanted to go.”

So which is it? Has North Carolina lost its place or is North Carolina leading the way? Or is the state, like Guillory suggests, like a Hudson Belk department store with up and down escalators?

Well, it’s both, of course, as it is for a number of states in a nation just beginning to pull itself out of the quicksand of recession. McCrory does have a considerable head start in a state that sees a Republican — the first as a North Carolina governor since Jim Martin, who left office 20 years ago — as fresh blood.

For me, though, the best part of the campaign was the sight of Pat McCrory — Pat McCrory! — painting himself in campaign commercials as an outsider candidate, preparing to storm the gates of Raleigh with a battering ram and a legion of Brooks Brothers-clad guerrillas. “I was a mayor,” he said, as if that gives the former Duke Energy consultant antiestablishment cachet. Fight the power, Pat. They may take our offshore drilling permits, but they’ll never take our freedom!

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest