Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


JOSH STEIN: HARD WORK MADE NC ELECTIONS "BUSINESS AS USUAL" IN VERY UNUSUAL TIME: When historians reflect on 2020, there will be plenty to characterize as unprecedented, out of the ordinary, and extreme. The North Carolina State Board of Elections’ approach to handling the election during a pandemic – despite histrionic partisan claims to the contrary – will not fall into that category. The board was charged with administering an election amid circumstances unlike any we’ve ever experienced. We take for granted just how complicated and miraculous a safe, fair, and free election where every legal vote is counted really is – even during a normal year. But pulling that off in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in a century? It was quite a tall order. When you look at the facts, you see that in the 2020 election, five and a half million North Carolinians, 75 percent of those registered, voted – the highest voter turnout percentage in over a century. It is as remarkable as it is boring – against all odds, exactly what is supposed to happen in an election happened. The process was fair, and the people spoke. I believe history will judge it the same way.

TIME FOR ANSWERS ON SEN. BURR'S STOCK SALES: In May, FBI agents served a search warrant on Republican North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, seizing his cellphone as part of a look into his flurry of stock sales in February, just before the pandemic sent the market into a tailspin. On the surface, this would seem a straightforward case. Check Burr’s phone and trading records. Check what he heard in briefings from health and intelligence officials. And see if he sold as much as $1.7 million in stock on Feb. 13 based on information unavailable to the public. In May, Politico reported that Burr has a history of skirting an ethical line on stock trades and sometimes “owned stock in companies whose specific industries he advanced through legislation.” Or this could be a case of political payback. Certainly, as Politico also has reported, President Trump and his circle might welcome the humiliation of the Republican senator who didn’t offer Trump absolute deference. Burr’s Intelligence Committee contradicted the president’s claim that the Russians did not meddle in the 2016 election on his behalf. And Burr provoked criticism from Republicans when his committee subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. to testify. Burr’s silence on the investigation into his stock sales may be his best approach legally, but it’s time for the Justice Department and the Senate Ethics Committee to shed light on the legal status of North Carolina’s senior senator.

THE ELECTION WAS "SECURE." START PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION NOW: It is time to similarly acknowledge that Democrat Joe Biden clearly defeated incumbent Republican Donald Trump. Biden IS the President-Elect. He IS entitled to the resources federal law provides for the smooth and effective transition of power. But some of North Carolina’s representatives in Washington have remained inappropriately silent over the Trump administration’s ill-informed refusal initiate a transition. Tell us, why haven’t you said it’s past time to move ahead with the transition? What good reason is there to deny this important resource? Do you believe Trump’s repeated and unfounded, contention that: “I won the election. … I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was a RIGGED ELECTION!” Failure to prepare the new administration is costly, as the commission that examined the short-comings in the nation’s response to the 9-11-2001 terrorist attack concluded. “Both Congress and the executive need to do more to minimize national security risks during transitions between administrations.” The nation’s priority is to get on with assuring there is a government that will serve and protect its citizens, not assuage the overblown ego of its current narcissistic commander in chief. Demand implementation of the transition and approval of the funding now.

THE ECONOMY NEEDS HELP. MNUCHIN'S RESPONSE: TAKE MONEY AWAY: At issue is Treasury funding for various credit-support programs the Fed launched under the Cares Act, adopted by overwhelming bipartisan consensus on March 27. Contrary to Mr. Powell’s publicly expressed wishes, Mr. Mnuchin says that the programs must cease new operations on Dec. 31, and unused funds, to the tune of roughly $450 billion, revert to the Treasury for reprogramming by Congress. The secretary offers two reasons: The Cares Act set a year-end sunset; and actual usage of the program has been minimal — only $25 billion in actual lending — so it is already overcapitalized. On the legal point, Mr. Mnuchin’s is a plausible interpretation, though hardly the only one possible. What is clear, though, is that his position suits Senate Republicans who have been lobbying the secretary to shut down the Fed programs lest they survive into a Democratic administration, where, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) has said, they “could be very, very badly misused.” A more cautious, less partisan view would be that the Fed’s programs should remain as an insurance policy against problems that very well might occur this winter due to a surging coronavirus. Yes, there are other sources of capital, not linked to the Cares Act, for the next administration to draw upon, as Mr. Mnuchin noted. Again, though, the question is: Why limit the next administration’s options, given how hard it will be to get a request for new funding through Congress next year? Defending his decision, Mr. Mnuchin made the valid point that what U.S. workers and businesses — especially those in the hard-hit restaurant, hospitality and travel industries — may need most is direct government aid as opposed to loans, Fed-backed or otherwise. Returning money to the Treasury, in theory, provides a source for such grants, which could be authorized in a new economic support bill during the lame-duck session. This is what Mr. Mnuchin, and the Senate Republicans who urged him to end the Fed programs, say they want. The Treasury secretary’s latest action puts a heavy burden on him and the GOP to make that happen.

IF BIDEN WANTS TO BE LIKE FDR, HE NEEDS THE LEFT: On Feb. 10, 1931, four years before Senator Robert Wagner of New York and Representative David Lewis of Maryland introduced President Roosevelt’s Social Security legislation to Congress, tens of thousands of Americans nationwide took to the streets at the height of the Great Depression to march for unemployment assistance and food aid. Organized by a then-burgeoning Communist Party, demonstrations ranged from peaceful protests to tense confrontations with law enforcement. In Boston, noted The New York Times in a contemporaneous report, “Two hundred Communists and sympathizers and about as many police staged a series of fights and scuffles along the Boston Common.” In St. Paul, Minn., “Communist-led demonstrators jammed their way into the House chamber of the Minnesota Legislature and held possession for more than two hours while they demanded relief for the unemployed.” In New York City, similarly, “nearly 4,000 men, women and children heard half a dozen speakers call upon the government to grant unemployment insurance, stop evictions and to furnish free food, heat and light to the unemployed.” Let’s return to the present. The conditions of January 2021 will be very different than those of January 1935. The situation isn’t as dire and the left isn’t as strong. Neither is the Democratic Party. What, then, can Democrats take from this story? Simply put, an ambitious, active left is one that widens the scope of reform. It’s a left that, even if you disagree with it, helps clear the pathways for action. It brings energy and urgency to liberal politics. And if nothing else, it’s a foil against which moderates can triangulate and make the case for more than marginal change, should they want it. Roosevelt was often frustrated with the left, but recognized its power and the importance of its vitality to his own cause. There was no building the American welfare state without the left, and if it’s to be rebuilt, the left will have to be part of it. Democrats, especially would-be heirs to F.D.R., should take care to remember that fact.


DR ANNA SCHENCK: TIME TO THANK OUR PUBLIC HEALTH PROFESSIONALS: With Thanksgiving around the corner, and facing the worst pandemic in over a century, it is appropriate to recognize and thank those who’ve worked tirelessly to keep us safe – the N.C. public health workforce. Public health is a field dedicated to protecting and improving the health of communities. Before COVID-19, it had low visibility. Now, public health is a household word. In North Carolina, we have over 10,000 public health professionals in state and local health departments. Since March, they’ve logged countless hours of nights and weekend work to help fight COVID-19. Monday is Public Health Thank You Day. Here’s a resounding “Thank you!” to those who work in our public health departments creating safer and healthier communities, today and every day. Editor's note: As of September 20, 1,700 U.S. health care workers had died from COVID 19, and those infected number in the hundreds of thousands.

TODD MCFALL: NC'S REPUBLICAN SENATORS NEED TO ACT RESPONSIBLY: I urge Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to recognize the will of the electorate and announce their support for the transfer of power to commence immediately. With their silence, they are weakening the country’s ability to respond to the pandemic and national security issues because President-elect Joe Biden is being kept from valuable information. The senators also need to recognize the need for another stimulus package ahead of the vaccination program that begins next year. Unemployment is high. Demand for goods and services is suffering. With smart fiscal policy, these senators can help thousands of North Carolinians in the near term. No good reason exists for them not to seek ways to help constituents. Burr is not seeking reelection in 2022. Tillis has six years to mend fences with his party were he to reach his hand across the aisle and find common ground. The opportunity to do right is so close. Please reach out and grab it.

CAROLINE TAYLOR: PUBLIC SERVICE WILL NEVER BE "PROFITABLE," AND IT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE: The N&O editorial “Restore the ideal of public service career,” (Nov. 15 Opinion) was long overdue. As a former federal civil servant, I know that government is, indeed, us. Our taxes fund services that we deem to be important, including infrastructure, defense, safe food and drugs, etc. Many voices over the years believe that government ought to be run more like a business, but government is not about efficiency or making a profit. It is about delivery of services that ensure our safety and well-being. I wonder how many people who believe in government-as-a-business are happy about the state of our crumbling infrastructure, the abysmal service delivered by a gutted U.S. Postal Service and an inept Veterans Administration, and the failure, in the name of personal liberty, to adopt commonsense public health steps in the midst of a raging pandemic. How’s that working?



Shifting the conversation

I consider myself a Liberal with Progressive tendencies, an ideological stance that likely applies to the vast majority of active Democrats in this state, if they were asked their opinion on a long list of issues. But those labels have morphed into a competition that never should have materialized, creating fractures that took a monumental effort to mend. But not all the pieces were put back together, and that structure is fragile.

Many have tried to define the traits of each, Liberals and Progressives, and I'm not going to delve too deeply into that. Suffice it to say that Progressives reach further in defining what changes need to be made to achieve (or come close to) the ideal economy, government, and social structure of our country, very often ignoring the practical restraints that may hinder that.

But before there is progress, there is always vision of how that can come to pass, and that vision is more important than ever these days. Recovering from the Trump administration's damage is going to take a massive amount of work, just to get back to square one. But that can't be our only goal. Before Trump took office, there were many things that needed to be done to improve our society, and that's where the vision of Progressives becomes critical. Re-walking a path you've already traversed is tedious, but you've already walked it so it's not complex. Blazing a new trail, however, is very complex, and it requires both imagination and critical thinking. In other words, it's going to take both Liberals and Progressives to map that future trail, working together, not individually.

Bright ideas only remain bright after cautious scrutiny. We don't accept scientific discoveries unless and until they are peer reviewed, fired on the crucible of replicated results, and consensus finds them solid and not wanting of further proofs. We should take the same approach to public policy, especially considering those policies draw on taxpayer dollars once implemented. This is one area where Progressive vision may be clouded somewhat. The costs of implementing their ideas is not even a secondary concern for many of them, and those that do address it often suggest highly unlikely solutions, such as gutting the admittedly bloated defense budget.

But clouded as it may be sometimes, that Progressive vision is still critical. It shifts the conversation in the right direction. From Jamelle Bouie's article above:

Paul H. Douglas, a University of Chicago economist and future senator from Illinois, made this clear in his 1936 book on the Social Security Act (as quoted in the essay “A Decade of Dissent: The New Deal and Popular Movements,” by Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg).

The radical and sweeping nature of its proposals enabled the administration forces to say to the indifferent and to the conservative that unless the latter accepted the moderate program put forward by the administration they might later be forced to accept the radical and far-reaching provisions of the Lundeen bill.

I realize such opinions are anathema to many Progressives, who (sometimes rightly) moan about policies being "watered down" by moderates. But that has always been the case, and it has given us Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and countless other threads in the social safety net. Those threads have become frayed under Republican mismanagement, but they are still intact.

Shift the conversation, but be prepared for something less than the ideal. This is how progress actually happens in a democracy. It may not be how we "wish" it would happen, but if wishes were horses we'd all be riding.