Lottery and Drones Bring Bipartisan Divisiveness

Are you tired of the partisan divisiveness that is poisoning the political environment of our state and nation?

Do you wish that the politicians from the two parties would work together more often on issues of common concern?

Me too.

Maybe we are getting what we wished for, thanks to the North Carolina lottery and our country’s use of unmanned drone aircraft to target and kill our enemies throughout the world.

Welcome to the world of bipartisan divisiveness?

You might get tired of this form of divisiveness, too.

The legislature, then controlled by Democrats, established the state lottery at the urging of Democratic Governor Mike Easley, whose pro-lottery positions were major campaign planks.

It was a popular issue for the governor, too. Schools needed the money. People wanted to play the games and were going across state lines to buy lottery tickets. A lottery would be a voluntary tax. Free money. 

Most Republicans opposed the lottery’s establishment. So did lots of Democrats. Liberal Democrats agreed with libertarian Republicans that running a gambling business is not a proper function of government.

Government, they said, should encourage its citizens to work and save for their future, not on fostering dreams of getting rich by winning the lottery. Certainly, they continued, government should not stoop to the low level of a carnival barker selling chances on games in which the odds of winning are stacked against the player.

Some lottery opponents argued that having state officials deal with the gaming industry would have special pitfalls. Don’t expect to lie down with dogs and not come up with fleas, they warned.

Today, the lottery is an established part of state government, and there have been fewer fleabites than expected.

But, with Republicans now in charge of state government, they could ditch the lottery.

Will they?

Governor Pat McCrory recommends only a first step, suggesting that the state “reallocate a portion of money away from the bloated and frankly annoying advertising and the large administration costs of the lottery commission.”

Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger and one-time vigorous lottery opponent Representative Paul Stam are not pushing for lottery repeal, only reducing advertising and administrative expenses and fees.

Even these modest proposals have put the lottery back in play. Some Democrats will join Republicans to cut the lottery’s wings. And some Republicans will vote with Democrats to maintain or enhance the lottery’s profits.

More lottery divisiveness, but it is bipartisan divisiveness.

Similarly the bitter partisan divisions in Washington collapsed for a moment last week after Senator Rand Paul filibustered the nomination of John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Paul used his speaking time to call for accountability and clear policy for the use of drone aircraft for targeted killings. Specifically, Paul demanded to know whether the U.S. president has the authority to direct the killing of some presumed enemy within the United States.

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham denounced Paul for trying to tie the president’s hands in the fight against worldwide terrorism. Meanwhile, liberals like Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson supported Paul. Robinson wrote, “The way we use drones as killing machines has to be consistent with our freedoms and our values. For grabbing us by the lapels, Rand Paul deserves praise.”

How much authority should the president have to call for drone strikes against suspected enemies of the country?

The question is divisive.

Bipartisan divisive.

Enjoy it while you can.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch.” During UNC-TV’s Festival, the program airs Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at
Next week’s (Thursday, March 21 at 5 p.m.) guest is Terry Roberts, author of “A Short Time to Stay Here.” (Note the Sunday airing will be preempted by UNC-TV’s Festival programming). The program will also air at Wednesday March 20 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring Haven Kimmel author of The Solace of Leaving Early.
A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.
More about Terry Roberts:
Madison County, north of Asheville and up along the Tennessee border, has been the location of two novels featured recently on Bookwatch: Ron Rash’s “The Cove” and Wiley Cash’s “A Land More Kind than Home.” Now there is a third fine Madison County novel. Terry Roberts’ “A Short Time to Stay Here” is a story of World War I and more than 2,000 Germans interned in a resort hotel in Hot Springs. It is a story of love, killing and conflict of different cultures that come together in explosive and surprising fashion.

Hope for our “contentious and fitful process”

Did anything good come out of last week’s resolution of the debt limit crisis?

Well, maybe.

But it was hard to find it in those first few days after the last-minute legislation passed, promising reductions in spending and raising the country’s debt limit so it could pay its bills.

Crisis avoided.

But nobody was happy with the deal. The stock market fell. Standard & Poor’s lowered the nation’s credit rating. Even those of us who do not understand such ratings were forced to accept and understand, for the first time in our lives, that the U.S.’s financial reputation is something other than top-rate.

Even more than the loss of financial prestige, we suffered a malaise that came from a conclusion that the political processes of the American democracy had collapsed into ineffectiveness. Not only was there a temporary mess, but also there was every expectation that it would continue. Most discouraging was the lack of any indication that the American people would rise up and demand something different.

In explaining the decision to downgrade the U.S. debt, Standard & Poor’s said that it was based largely on its conclusion that the political process was inadequate to deal with the financial challenges.

Here is how they explained it: “We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process. We also believe that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration agreed to this week falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary to stabilize the general government debt burden by the middle of the decade.”

Of course, disagreement, disappointment, unfulfilled dreams have always been a part of what American politics is all about. It is not disagreement that is the source of our malaise or the reason for Standard & Poor’s action.

The reaction to losing in politics is to remember that there is always tomorrow and those who care should keep working, keep preaching, and stay in the game.

What cannot work well in a system that requires compromise and respect for the views of others are the tactics of a political suicide bomber who says, “Do it my way or we will all go over the cliff. Your way is evil, so I will blow up everything and we will both lose unless you give in to what is right as I know it to be.”

So, back to my question, did anything good come out of the debt limit crisis?

There was a ray of hope.

It came in the form of a debate on the floor of the Senate between Senators Dick Durbin and John McCain. It was civil, cheerful, and respectful, although Democrat Durbin and Republican McCain were in sharp disagreement.

Their exchange lasted about 15 minutes with Durbin asserting that the nation’s high unemployment and repressed consumer demand called for increased government spending and McCain arguing that the recent stimulus efforts had been costly and ineffective.

For those like me who are discouraged, listening to these two senators can give hope that the American political process still has some life in it yet and that people like Durbin and McCain could, after their debate, sit down and work out a pragmatic solution that addresses our most serious problems.

Their conversation could be a prelude to some sort of realistic consensus, rather than the kind of angry truce that gave us the cobbled-together debt limit agreement.

Note: McCain’s and Durbin’s debate is available on line at