“I don’t read the Washington Post. That is not where I get my ideas.”
Many years ago, when there were still lots of conservatives voting in Democratic primaries, a congressional candidate pandered to conservatives by trashing a liberal newspaper. But he lost ground with other voters who thought he should keep up with congressional issues covered in that newspaper even if he disagreed with its views.
More recently, a widely respected conservative political commentator also lost a little ground when asked to comment about a recent article about North Carolina in The New York Times. He responded by saying that he did not read that paper because of its liberal slant.
His questioner was taken aback and wondered aloud how anyone who followed public affairs could ignore what the influential paper wrote about our state.
It would be just the same, the questioner remarked later, if a liberal commentator or politician bragged about ignoring the respected reporting of the Wall Street Journal because of its more conservative editorial stance.
Liberal or conservative, we want our political and thought leaders to understand and consider the facts and opinions cited by smart people on all sides.
There is another good reason to read papers like the Journal and Times. When they write about North Carolina, we get to see ourselves as others see us. We learn what parts of our public life outsiders judge to be important or interesting enough to command attention throughout the country.
For instance, last week the Times’ Atlanta bureau chief Richard Fausset wrote about the tension in North Carolina Republican ranks because of a “move to the center” led by House Speaker Thom Tillis and Governor Pat McCrory.
Many Republican legislators are happy with last year’s conservative revolution, which, Fausset writes, “cut taxes, pared unemployment benefits and eliminated business regulations. They allowed concealed guns in bars and restaurants, curtailed access to the voting booth and enacted new rules for abortion clinics.”
These legislators believe voters in their districts will endorse these changes in the fall elections. They have no interest in backing away.
“But,” writes Fausset, “Mr. McCrory and Mr. Tillis must run statewide in an environment where Democrats remain a serious political threat.”
However, says Fausset, Tillis is not backing away from his role in taking North Carolina out of a federal program that granted extended benefits to the unemployed, which his campaign says “played a role in an unemployment rate drop from 10.4 percent, when Mr. Tillis was elected speaker in January 2011, to 6.2 percent today.”
If the Tillis campaign persuades voters that taking away unemployment benefits from North Carolina’s unemployed brought about a 4.2 percent drop in unemployment, he could turn a possible negative into a positive issue.
So, in the fall North Carolina voters will be asking: Was the drop in unemployment related to the reduction in benefits?
Ironically, the Times addressed the question in Sunday’s edition in an article by University of Michigan Professor Justin Wolfers. Republicans, he writes, “argue that ending benefits will spur the long-term jobless to look harder for work” causing employment to rise, while Democrats “say that ending benefits will force the unemployed to cut their spending, which may have broader ripple effects that could slow the labor market recovery.”
Which side has the winning argument?
Seeking an answer, Wolfers compared North Carolina’s unemployment rate changes with those in nearby states that did not follow our state’s reduction in benefits. Finding no significant differences, he concluded, “My reading of the North Carolina experiment is that it provides little support for either side.”
With or without help from the Times or the Journal, North Carolina voters can make their own decisions this November.