An exciting, visionary political trend is sweeping North Carolina, and Charlotte's city council and mayor are on top of it. The trend? Rejecting reality itself.
The pessimists among us grumble that Foxx & Friends (F&F) are incompetent and irresponsible — just because they couldn't agree on how to raise money for roads, bridges, affordable housing, neighborhood improvements, transit expansion, arena renovations, greenways and other such trivialities. But those critics, I think, don't really fathom the movement seizing the state's politicians.
F&F felt the vibes and reacted by doing what lawmakers in Raleigh have proved is a quick, simple way to solve problems: denial. Our local leaders collectively denied that the city's problems were all that pressing, and — voila! — just like that, our tatty infrastructure, old arenas and rundown neighborhoods vanished in an instant, as if we'd all awakened from a bad dream. Now doesn't that feel good? It's amazing how much a government can do, or not do, if it simply refuses to give reality the time of day!
Credit for popularizing this kind of brainstorming goes to N.C. Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston, whose special approach to important issues brought him national publicity from TV host Stephen Colbert and various science publications. Rouzer, you may remember, is the mastermind who solved the problem of rising sea level along North Carolina's coast by refusing to believe it's happening. When scientific reports noted that the sea level between Massachusetts and North Carolina is rising faster than anywhere else in the world, Rouzer took action, in effect telling the ocean, "Oh no you aren't!," a la King Canute.
Rouzer came up with a bill that tells the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, which sets policies and rules for coastal development, to base all its predictions of future sea levels on past figures, not some silly modern science stuff. This way, tourists — and anybody interested in plopping down another condo on the coast's increasingly sodden sands — can hit the beach worry-free. It's pure genius, especially considering how much cash coastal developers throw at politicians. Members of the N.C. House of Representatives, which rejected Rouzer's brilliant solution, should be ashamed of themselves for stifling such a visionary.
"Rouzerthink" didn't come out of nowhere. Other state lawmakers paved the way in the last legislative session. When GOP members felt in their bones that the state had a big voter fraud problem — despite pesky researchers who reported that there was little to no evidence of it — they pushed through a voter I.D. bill. That was the glorious launch of the current fad for fact-free lawmaking in North Carolina. As often happens to intellectual pioneers, however, they were suppressed, as Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed the bill.
That didn't stop our far-seeing New Reality commandos. When newspapers made a big deal about a few thousand North Carolinians who were sterilized by the state from the 1930s to the 1970s, the state came close to compensating those folks for their trouble. But then came budget woes and the state senate decided to, if not deny reality, at least completely ignore it. Thus, the brave decision to further screw the victims by blocking the money was made easy. As state Sen. Don East, R-Surry, so sensitively put it, "[The money] doesn't change anything — if they're sterile, they're still sterile."
Some pundits say Foxx & Friends' "Roads? What roads?" approach was inspired by Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers. That makes sense, as Rogers boldly denied reality when he announced last year that there was no future for wind power in North Carolina, just weeks after two major studies said offshore wind power could provide electricity for the entire state. But I think F&F's real inspiration came from state Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, who has shown just how reality-proof he can be. Take fracking, Rucho's pet project. He took a couple of trips to fracking sites, hosted by Chesapeake Energy — a company that had to pay record-breaking fines for contaminating water supplies in a Pennsylvania community as a result of fracking. Did that faze Rucho? Please. He wasn't deterred one bit — not even when the estimated amount of "frackable" natural gas in North Carolina turned out to be hardly enough to bother with. Rucho pushed through a fracking bill anyhow and then helped override Perdue's veto of it. Victory for the visionaries!
By the time this is in print, we'll all know if 9th congressional district Republican voters are on board the "deny reality" train, too. If they were able to look past shady land deals and such old-school, reality-based concepts as "common sense" — which led many less visionary folks to mistakenly believe Robert Pittenger is a crook — it means the November election could be very interesting. Why? Well, not everyone understands the value of denying reality. That's the price visionaries pay, I guess.