The worldwide fight for reproductive freedom is not a new or trifling concern. Especially for women of modest income, it is a centuries-old matter of life and death – an issue of fundamental importance to their very existence as free and independent human beings. Given this backdrop, it ought to come as no surprise that so many women (and men) have devoted their lives to securing, preserving and, where possible, expanding this most basic of liberties.
Many of these advocates have experienced or witnessed what it means for a woman to be denied this basic freedom and have therefore committed themselves to doing everything in their power to battle against those who would turn back the clock to the days of coat hangers and back alleys.
Sadly – tragically – North Carolina’s governor does not seem to grasp this simple reality. To Pat McCrory, reproductive freedom is, by all appearances, just another political football – an issue to be tossed around and manipulated as a candidate for fraternity president might deal with the matter of where and when to schedule keg parties.
The plain truth of this pitiful fact about the governor has been there for all to see for a couple of weeks – ever since he officially reneged on his seemingly straightforward campaign promise to oppose any new restrictions on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. But the matter has really come to a head in recent days as the governor signed a sweeping anti-abortion bill and then, in an act of remarkable cluelessness and disrespect, dashed midway into the street in front of his mansion the next day to deliver cookies to women protesting his decision.
McCrory’s cookie incident was so bizarre as to be virtually unfathomable to anyone trying to apply common sense. How he could have thought that the act would be received as anything other than a dismissive and sexist insult defies imagination.
But seen in the strange light that currently surrounds North Carolina’s 74th governor, there is at least a smidgen of wacky “logic.”
As multiple veteran political observers have noted recently, the governor has a bad habit of wanting to be liked and trying to impress the people in front of him. Given that background, the recent hard fought conflict and criticism he has endured on several issues has left him a bit shell-shocked.
Put simply, July was hell for the governor. His poll numbers are sinking fast, he has become the butt of jokes and the object of protests, and he’s angering important and influential people left and right. Despite this reality, however, he doesn’t think of himself as some kind of modern day George Wallace or a religious crusader like Rick Santorum. He thinks of himself as the same old “moderate” guy who ran a fast-modernizing city for 14 years; the kind of guy who might hobnob with bank CEOs in the morning and then deliver cookies later in the day to a city council adversary with whom he’d been fencing over the location of a streetlight.
The problem, of course, is that his self-perception doesn’t comport with the reality of his actions in real life over the last few months on issues of enormous and lasting import to nine-million people.
A few months ago, things were different. One of the keys to Pat McCrory’s 2012 victory in the race for governor was the widespread perception that he was a “moderate.” In many places in North Carolina, voters proudly displayed ‘McCrory for Governor’ and ‘Obama for President’ campaign signs in the same front yards.
Today, of course, we see that this was all a sham. By signing the measure described by the North Carolina Family Policy Council as a “sweeping pro-life bill” the governor revealed once and for all that he is either a closeted, right-wing social issues extremist, a craven lapdog, a stunningly cynical political manipulator or some combination thereof.
When this sad development is combined with the governor’s hard and disingenuous turn to the far right on everything from public education to taxes to guns in bars and playgrounds, it’s clear that there’s no going back for the man. He’s made his bed and will be forced to lie in it for the next three years.
Viewed in this light, it’s easier to see that the cookie incident was quite likely the last desperate act of a desperate man in a desperate month – a man who is watching his self-image and longstanding public identity evaporate into the ether as he becomes, permanently and for the worse, a very different person.
Rob Schofield is the director of research and policy development at N.C. Policy Watch.