Any political movement that can turn out tens of thousands of protesters on a chilly morning in February must be deemed impressive.
To this conservative, the 2014 edition of Historic Thousands on Jones Street — an annual march initiated by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and now associated with the Moral Monday movement — was a remarkable feat of organization, logistics, and marketing. The NAACP did err in claiming that as many as 100,000 people participated in the march through downtown Raleigh. An estimate of 15,000 to 20,000 is more realistic. But that’s still a huge turnout by Raleigh standards, even if some of the participants were bused in from other states.
If organization, logistics, and marketing were sufficient to produce favorable legislation or electoral victories, the Moral Monday movement would be destined for success. I don’t think that is what’s about to happen, however. While the movement has ample financial and human resources, its strategy is fundamentally flawed.
The conservatives now in charge of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of state government, and of most county governments across North Carolina, believe their policies are right. They don’t believe they are sacrificing morality on the altar of political expediency.
For example, while they believe their fiscal policies of spending restraint and tax reduction will boost job creation and economic growth, they also believe these policies combat the moral evils associated with oppressive government. They recognize that government is necessary to fund core public services, and that these funds must come from taxation. But they reject the morality of using government coercion to confiscate and redistribute income, particularly when the action is motivated by envy.
North Carolina conservatives also believe that while temporary assistance for needy families is an appropriate state function, they oppose public-assistance programs that discourage work, enable self-destructive behavior, supplant voluntary charity, and sustain a debilitating culture of dependency. This belief extends beyond concerns of cost. Conservatives believe such welfare policies are morally wrong.
On education, conservatives believe it is a moral imperative that children have the opportunity to attend the schools most likely to help them succeed — which is why they favor public-school reforms such as merit pay and parental choice measures such as charter schools and vouchers. You may think conservatives are mistaken to believe these policies will have the intended effects. But if you think accusing them of immorality for embracing these reforms will do anything other than make you look unhinged and disingenuous in their eyes, you are kidding yourselves.
I don’t typically write about social issues in this space. But I will observe that when conservatives who consider abortion to be the killing of innocent unborn children enact measures they think will discourage women from having such abortions, accusing them of immorality makes you look reprehensible in their eyes.
Finally, accusing Republican politicians of failing to respect the democratic process, as Moral Monday protesters routinely do, sounds grossly hypocritical to North Carolina conservatives who spent decades on the outside looking in as Democrats gerrymandered electoral districts, ignored legislative procedure whenever they found it convenient, and even resorted to criminal activity to keep themselves in power.
Democrats have never received a majority of votes for a legislative chamber and then, because of gerrymandering, won only a minority of seats. But that actually happened to Republicans in 2000, 2002, and 2004. Where were the liberal activists and special-interest groups when these abuses were going on? Did they attempt to obstruct the Democratic legislative majorities as illegitimate? No, because they generally liked the legislation that resulted.
To many liberal activists and Democratic pols participating in Moral Monday protests, these rhetorical and strategic considerations are irrelevant. They have no interest in trying to persuade conservative politicians to adopt different policies. They simply want to destroy them, politically and sometimes even personally, in order to regain power. I can think of many appropriate adjectives for this. “Moral” is not among them.
Conservatives should resist the temptation to ridicule or dismiss Moral Monday protesters. It makes those conservatives look small. And Republican politicians should learn to exercise their newly achieved power with grace, humility, and wisdom. Still, at its core, the Moral Monday movement is based on a self-defeating principle: that the only people deserving of respect are those who already agree with you.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.