(With quotations taken or adapted from Charles Dickens)
Marley was dead. A big Republican contributor from the firm of Scrooge & Marley, he'd once helped a young Duke Energy functionary rise to be mayor of Charlotte.
But Jacob Marley died years ago, and unless this is distinctly understood and accepted, nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate about his protégé, Pat McCrory.
Oh, McCrory! What a grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous politician he'd become. Nothing was ever his fault, though he took credit for anything good. Last week, the Associated Press reported that he accepted large payments from Tree.com, a mortgage finance company, after he was inaugurated as governor. The total: $185,000.
This is the sort of thing governors must not do. A governor holds a public trust and accepts what the public pays him while in office. He can't have his hand out for more from private sources.
But what did McCrory care? Money was the very thing he liked.
So as Christmas approached, McCrory would not admit error. He drove his poor staff to issue denials, evasions, even a 34-page document attacking the AP for writing about his many failings. No wind that blew was bitterer than he.
Nor had he missed the opportunity to dispatch a campaign fundraising letter complaining of his ill treatment. Which is why, on Christmas Eve, he was in his counting house when a stranger came to the door.
"At this festive season of the year," the fellow said, "we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute." Would the governor consider accepting Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, helping hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolina residents?
"Bah, humbug!" McCrory replied. "Are there no prisons? No minimum-wage jobs? They should move to another state and decrease our surplus population."
That night, McCrory was visited by Marley's ghost.
"Dreadful apparition!" McCrory cried. "Why do you trouble me?"
"I am here to warn you. You still have a chance to escape my fate."
Marley's ghost explained that, because of his avarice in life, he was doomed for eternity to walk the earth dragging the chains forged by his sins.
"But you were always a good man of business," said McCrory, gasping.
"Business!" the ghost exclaimed, wringing its hands. "Mankind was supposed to be my business! The common welfare was supposed to be my business. Haven't you read Charles Dickens?"
Before Christmas dawns," Marley's ghost continued, "you will be haunted by three Spirits. Heed them, or you cannot hope to shun the path I tread."
And so it was that the first spirit, the Ghost of McCrory's Past, arrived after midnight to recount his early life. "Behold, you were a frat boy," it said as they floated over Catawba College in the '70s. "You graduated with a teacher's certificate, but you never used it. You might've helped many children to be full of gratitude."
They watched as a young McCrory set aside nobler aspirations to seek his golden idols of public fame and private fortune.
Finally, McCrory could stand no more. "Conduct me home!" he pleaded. "Why do you delight to blame me for pursuing wealth?"
Soon, the Ghost of McCrory's Present appeared. Now, they were looking at the results of his two years as governor. Friends of McCrory's, all rich, were feasting on his tax cuts. For the needy, he'd slashed unemployment benefits, withheld health insurance, left their children without schoolbooks.
"Why," the spirit asked, "do you care so much for those who need little and so little for those who need much?"
McCrory, chastened, pleaded for understanding. "Forgive me if I was wrong," he said, casting his eyes to Heaven. "What I did was in the name of your family."
"There are some upon this earth of yours," the spirit replied, "who lay claim to know us, but their deeds of selfishness and bigotry are as strange to us and our kith and kin as if they had never lived. Charge their doings on them, not us."
Two ragged children appeared then from beneath the spirit's cloak.
"Spirit, are they yours?" McCrory cried.
"They are Man's," the spirit answered. "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, but most of all beware this boy."
"Have they no resources?" McCrory exclaimed.
"Are there no prisons?" the spirit replied.
The third spirit, the Ghost of McCrory's Future, was the worst. McCrory, who craved public approval, saw that unless he changed, he would leave office a despised ex-governor, blamed for driving North Carolina's economy into the ditch.
"Spirit," McCrory said, "this is a fearful place. In leaving it, I shall not forget its lesson. Trust me."
When McCrory awoke, it was Christmas morning, and he was a new man. "Oh, Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised!" he shouted.
McCrory was as good as his word. From that time onward, he took care as governor to lift up those in need. He was no longer greedy. He admitted his mistakes. He gave up golf and worked in soup kitchens instead. To them, he donated the $185,000 that he shouldn't have taken from Tree.com in the first place.
He cajoled and persuaded his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly to join him in bringing health care to the poor, improving the schools, investing in public infrastructure; and when they did, good jobs were abundant.
Why, they even raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour. In stages, of course. Even miracles have their limits.
McCrory received no further visits from spirits. But it was said that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.
May that truly be said of us, and all of us!
This article appeared in print with the headline "A Christmas Carol."