Seasons of change in North Carolina politics
Now is the winter of our discontent.
Or so said Shakespeare’s Richard III, a fictional villain who may have borne at least some resemblance to the fellow just found buried under a parking lot in Leicester. The phrase opens the play, as Richard proclaims that the winter of discontent will be “made glorious summer by this sun of York” – not a reference to the Yorkshire climate but a metaphor for his brother Edward assuming the throne of England.
I’m far from an expert on the Bard, just an amateur admirer. But I’ve always thought this line to be one of his best, because of its ambiguity. In context, it is optimistic – a winter of discontent yielding to a summer of promise. But most people remember only the first line, which sounds like a complaint. And Richard is, after all, far from satisfied about his brother’s good fortune and seeks to overthrow him. So a complaint would be in character.
The current moment in North Carolina politics contains a similar ambiguity. A month into their new role as majority party, Republicans see a long, barren winter – not just for the GOP but for the state as a whole – coming to an end. They expect their new ideas on taxes, regulatory policy, education, and entitlement reform to create new growth and opportunity in the coming months and years.
Democrats see no glorious summer ahead for North Carolina. They see the new Republican leaders as potential Richards, not Edwards. They see those new ideas as a significant departure from the state’s traditional public policies, which is certainly the case.
This is, at least in the short term, an unbridgeable partisan divide. Although the disagreement need not be bitter, or expressed as personal attacks, it will of necessity be passionate. Republicans should expect every mistake or piece of bad news under their tenure to be elevated to the level of Shakespearean comedy or tragedy. Democrats should expect to object loudly, to fight doggedly, to rally thousands of people to their cause – and to lose. Republicans and conservatives did the same thing for many years. They survived. Democrats and liberals will, too.
The matter will be settled by the outcome, not the build-up. If the McCrory administration and the Republican legislature enact much or all of their agenda, it will take several years to evaluate the results. For example:
• If they enact conservative tax and regulatory reforms, will the economy become more competitive? Will North Carolina’s unemployment rate and growth in per-capita income move closer to the regional average over the next four years?
• If they enact conservative education reforms based on higher standards, greater accountability, and broader choice and competition, will the next generation of North Carolina students have higher levels of educational attainment and achievement?
• If they reform Medicaid and other entitlement programs, will rates of workforce participation and self-sufficiency rise? Will rates of government dependency and self-destructive behavior fall?
Political partisans often ascribe the worst possible motives to their rivals because of their own ideological certainty. They are sure their ideas are the only ones supported by evidence and proven by experience. So anyone with different ideas must have ulterior motives.
My own philosophical system, however, teaches me that intentions and results not necessarily related. One can intend to do good and instead do evil. Or one can intend only to pursue self-interest and, as an unintended but welcome consequence, advance the interests of others.
I do not assume that those who favor higher taxes, bigger budgets, and more governmental control over our lives are “determined to prove a villain,” as Shakespeare has his Richard III admit. I assume they mean well but are mistaken. It makes for better rebuttals, better moods, and better analysis. But it also requires patience.
The great political drama that is Republican rule in Raleigh has only just begun its first act. It’s a bit early to start writing reviews of it.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation, which has just published First In Freedom: Transforming Ideas into Consequences for North Carolina. It is available at JohnLockeStore.com.