Be sure to check out today’s Fitzsimon File for a more thorough reaction to last night’s State of the State speech. For now, however, here are few preliminary observations:
The good: Pat McCrory can display a winning personality and there’s a reason he’s won a lot of elections. Even with all the mispronunciations and malapropisms, he can be very likeable and sincere. This was on display last night as he related stories about dirty water fountains, his first job as a student teacher and driving on North Carolina highways. He’s not a fat cat or a right-wing ideologue at heart — which partially explains why he’s often so bad at playing those roles on TV. The Governor likes tangible things to fix — which is one of the reasons he’s much better at talking about rehabilitating run down state buildings than discussing large, overarching issues like taxes and health care.
The bad: Unfortunately, the Governor just doesn’t seem to (or doesn’t want to) grasp the enormous gap that exists between his rhetoric (and his espoused ideal of Eisenhower Republicanism) and the policies that he has implemented over the past 25 months. Simply put, a genuine Eisenhower Republican would not have helped impose the most draconian unemployment insurance cuts in American history, enacted huge tax giveaways to the top 1%, denied affordable health insurance to hundreds of thousands of working North Carolinians or presided over the decimation of the state agency charged with protecting our rapidly declining natural environment.
The ugly: The most disappointing moment in the speech came when the Guv barely tiptoed around the most important issue facing the state in 2015: Medicaid expansion. Rather than taking up the matter head on and saying what he clearly really thinks — namely, that we should follow the lead of dozens of other states and expand the program under the Affordable Care Act — McCrory merely pussyfooted around the subject and offered only vague allusions to “North Carolina plan” rather than “Washington plan.”
Any insider paying close attention knew what he meant: He wants a waiver from the Obama administration like the ones given to many other conservative governors so that he can expand the program. Sadly, however, he couldn’t bring himself to say this simple fact plainly and clearly. Maybe he was worried he’d provoke a frown from Phil Berger, but it’s hard to see how he’s ever going to get such a change passed into law without making Berger frown several times.
In the end, this frustrating blink on Medicaid expansion was emblematic of a hard, central truth about both the speech itself and the first half of the Governor’s term in office: Pat McCrory is driven more by his desire to be Governor than by any desire to put a coherent, overarching vision consistent with his espoused ideology into action. Unfortunately, unless this changes and soon, hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians in need will continue to suffer mightily and unnecessarily.