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The miseducation of Pat McCrory



I wasn't surprised when Gov. Pat McCrory denigrated the liberal arts in higher education last week.

While advocates argue that liberal arts courses sharpen a student's ability to think critically, analyze issues and see the world from different perspectives, McCrory sees a flaw in their reasoning. After all, he had a liberal arts education and got nothing out of it.

If he did, McCrory wouldn't talk nonsense about unemployment insurance. And he wouldn't swallow the conservative line that North Carolina must slash unemployment benefits by more than $1 billion annually for the 9 percent of our workforce who can't find a job—to save the people who do have jobs, and their employers, a fraction of that amount.

That's not just cruel, it's stupid. If the state reduces benefits, it will mean that jobless workers will no longer qualify for extended benefits under the federal unemployment insurance program. Put the two things together, and the result is more than $1 billion a year yanked out of the struggling state economy.

And if his liberal education had worked, McCrory wouldn't blast away at Medicaid overspending. He wouldn't confuse the cause of the problem—the General Assembly's deliberately lowballed budgets—with the effect that, duh, Medicaid pays eligible expenses, and last year's expenses exceeded the Republicans' fantasy budget.

And McCrory certainly wouldn't be using this bogus scandal (N.C. Justice Center's Adam Searing's word for it) as a reason for North Carolina to reject the program expansion offered under Obamacare. Starting in 2014, Medicaid expansion would deliver at least $2 billion a year in federal funding to our economy, and would improve health care for 500,000 low-income people.

Turning down Medicaid expansion would save state taxpayers little, yet McCrory seems to be leaning that way for ideological reasons. That's opposed to logical reasoning, which is taught in ethics classes that are part of a sound liberal arts curriculum.

In an ethics course, topics might include: Is it ethical to shut poor people out of health care because the boys at the country club—and in the General Assembly—already have health care?

According to the critical analysis offered by Republican legislators, expanding Medicaid and extending unemployment insurance will only encourage more people to be poor. By their logic, being poor is a choice. I mean, who wouldn't choose to be out of work if, by doing so, you could be poor?

This, if memory serves, is the kind of faulty reasoning that could cause you to fail an ethics class. But perhaps McCrory, who graduated from Catawba College with a degree in education and political science, didn't take ethics.

McCrory's slap at the liberal arts came in a conversation on Bill Bennett's syndicated radio program. That's the Bill Bennett who served as secretary of education in the Reagan administration. Bennett is notorious for trashing affirmative action and diversity studies. McCrory was eager to please.

"The educational elites," the governor said, teach courses that provide "no chances of getting people jobs." He would tie university funding not to "how many butts are in seats, but how many of those butts can get jobs."

With that, he and Bennett were off on a jocular tear about worthless courses in gender studies and philosophy, as well as the strange (to McCrory) fact that a majority of community college students are women taking college-prep and nursing courses. He implied that their presence in what used to be trade schools is preventing men from learning to be good old-fashioned welders and mechanics.

It was country-club wisdom at its finest. McCrory even managed to work in a swipe at courses in Swahili—no racism intended, I'm sure.

Just two privileged white men complaining that the riffraff, instead of knowing their place and learning a trade, are taking courses about why the world is dominated by privileged white men—and how it could be different if it weren't.

If only it were parody, we could all be laughing.

Because it's real, however, we are stuck with the fact that McCrory, our governor, is uninformed by gender studies. Consequently, he has no idea why a working woman—earning less on average than a man and more likely to be laid off—might rightly consider unemployment insurance to be a vital backstop in her life, when all he sees is a tax on business.

McCrory, announcing that he would sign the draconian legislation, declared that it was "a tough decision."

No, governor, a tough decision is whether to buy food for your children or pay your mortgage after you lose your job.

And because it's real, we are stuck with a governor who didn't benefit from a course in African-American history. Consequently, he's for requiring voters to present a photo ID at the polls, oblivious to the fact—which blacks understand all too viscerally—that photo ID is yet another obstacle to voting rights.

Yakking with Bennett, McCrory said he wants to cut business taxes and maybe even eliminate the personal income tax. He's checked with "the business community" on this. He's also checked with "the small business community."

This is what passes for different perspectives in McCrory's world.

I'll say this, McCrory is a proud product of the old Western civilization courses that Bennett prefers and that McCrory's patron, wealthy businessman-turned-budget director Art Pope, wants taught in our colleges and universities.

In these courses, America's history is a march of progress led by white men—men of commerce—creating wealth for everyone. Oh, sure, there were some hiccups along the way, some regrettable policies like slavery and such. But women, minorities and the poor have an equal chance now, right?

And all because the privileged white men were benevolent. No diversity studies required—or wanted.

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