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As I watched a recent Moral Monday display, there came to mind another blast from the past: Mayberry.
A recent news story talked about Mt. Airy, Andy Griffith’s home town, and the model for Mayberry of TV fame. The town embraced that connection and used it to drum up tourism. But as television programs fade into the past, so do the memories that drew visitors. The town is wondering what to do next.
That comes to mind because of the Monday protests. The heroic age of the civil rights struggle fades into the past. But to many of the demonstrators, it still seems to be 1963, or perhaps 1968. But just as The Andy Griffith Show went off the air in 1968, times have changed.
The demonstrators chant old slogans and speakers recycle buzz words of the past. But they have no new ideas or realistic solutions. The problems of 2013 are seldom amenable to the solutions of the past.
Consider unemployment insurance. I heard protest leader the Rev. William Barber rail against how the legislature was cutting off benefits for people who got laid off from jobs through no fault of their own.
But of course lawmakers aren’t cutting off all benefits — they are returning the program to what it was supposed to be. In extending unemployment benefits, North Carolina went $2.5 billion in debt to the federal government. Let that sink in: the program went $2.5 billion in debt to fund extended unemployment benefits. It’s not a question of giving people a cushion when they lose their jobs — it’s a question of paying for that cushion.
Remember, every dollar paid in unemployment insurance is money taken from funding that could pay for education or better roads — or just to allow people with jobs to keep more of the money they have earned.
And extended unemployment could be a trap for many. It tempts people to hold out for a great job, but if they stay out of the workforce too long, their skills and contacts erode, making it harder to get a job.
We could also talk about how the Obama administration has bungled its job of helping the economy grow. But that doesn’t fit the 60s narrative either.
Building an economy that helps everyone is a tough job. Just chanting 60s slogans won’t do the trick.
Then take the slogan of “Solidarity forever!” that the crowd chanted when they moved into the Legislative Building. Ah, yes, the old alliance of progressives and minority groups. Many of the chants and speeches hailed the links between progressive politics and racial advances.
That hasn’t always been true, however. Lee Craig, a professor at N.C. State, is author of Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times. I heard Craig speak recently, and his studies have uncovered the racist roots of progressivism.
Daniels owned a local newspaper, was a staunch progressive and was a political kingpin when the Democrats solidified their hold on power around 1900 — and instituted segregationist policies.
Daniels was an unabashed white supremacist. As the U.S. secretary of the Navy under President Wilson, Daniels strengthened segregationist policies there, too. He continued to back white supremacy all his life, Craig said.
So the old slogan of “Solidarity forever!” is exposed as myth, like the idyllic Mayberry that never existed either.
The Monday protesters live in a Mayberry of their own imaginations. The things they protest are long gone; their demands are meant for a time long gone. The demonstrators would do better to face up to the real problems of today.
—Jim Tynen is communications director of the Civitas Institute in Raleigh.