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With McCrory, cooler heads don’t prevail

At times of great tumult, great leaders lead, not gratuitously make things more tumultuous.

North Carolina would be in a better place today if Gov. Pat McCrory remembered that. He needs a good dose of Rudyard Kipling and his definition of what it means to be a man: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,” the British poet wrote in 1910. “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too…”

McCrory has not been able to keep his head when others are blaming him, and while he surely trusts himself, he’s not making allowance for his critics’ doubting, too.

Thousands of protesters have gathered at the state legislative building in recent weeks for what’s become known as “Moral Mondays.” They object to many policies of the Republican-led General Assembly. Hundreds have been arrested for their civil disobedience.

No one expects McCrory or his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate to suddenly reverse course on their philosophy and beliefs and embrace the protesters’ views. These are deep, legitimate differences of opinion on public policy issues and on most of them, that gap will not be bridged.

What one would expect from a strong leader, however, would be – for starters – simple respect. Better yet, McCrory and Republicans could take the high ground by embracing the protesters and celebrating their passion for the state and their First Amendment right to assembly.

Instead, McCrory labeled the protesters, almost all of whom are from North Carolina, as “outsiders.” Rather than suggesting a dialogue, McCrory said one of his favorite songs is Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” and that he and legislative leaders would stand firm against the protesters.

McCrory’s blustering has been tame compared with that of Rep. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover. In an op-ed in the Chatham Journal, Goolsby called the protests “Moron Mondays,” “complete with clowns, a carnival barker and a sideshow.” He called participants “aged former hippies,” “the radical fringe” and “the Loony Left.”

These labels presumably apply to some of the 46 percent of voters who voted against Goolsby in his close election seven months ago.

The protesters have raised the political temperature in North Carolina. McCrory, Goolsby and other Republicans, by belittling them and their views, have ratcheted that temperature up further. Now, the state is the focus of bad press nationally. This past Monday, a new low: A newspaper reporter – the Observer’s religion reporter, Tim Funk – was arrested while doing his job covering the protest. Police, knowing he was a reporter, slapped Funk in handcuffs as he was interviewing a protester, rather than displaying some judgment and moving him along.

McCrory campaigned in part on the idea that he was a bridge-builder, that he could unite North Carolina and bring different factions together. Turns out, he relishes a fight.

A better approach comes from, of all people, House Speaker Thom Tillis. Tillis, who is running for the U.S. Senate next year, told WNCN-TV that he’d like to have a dialogue with the protesters.

“I think they are people that have an honest disagreement. I really wish that we could find a way to engage them in a productive way…” Tillis said. “There are so many positive things we can do if we just lower the volume and sit down and talk and show some mutual respect. And I really welcome the opportunity to do that.”

Great idea, Speaker Tillis. Make it happen. And take Gov. McCrory with you.

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