John Hood responds to Rob Christensen’s column in today’s N&O

From John Hood’s Facebook page:

Lots of folks have asked me my reaction to Rob Christensen’s uncharacteristically intemperate attack on me in the Raleigh News & Observer today. I’ll have to pen a lengthier response when I get out from under my current deadlines, but here’s a quick reaction now.

First, you may want to read my initial N&O piece and then Rob’s response:

http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/09/05/4124862/constructive-conservatism-at-work.html
http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/09/23/4176288_christensen-conservatives-rewriting.html?sp=%2F99%2F102%2F105%2F&rh=1

You’ll notice for starters that Rob makes no attempt to rebut the central thesis of my piece: that contrary to popular belief, NC has not consistently outperformed the rest of the Southeast in economic growth. This is a major problem with the entire progressive mythology he’s attempting to defend. Rob does argue that I didn’t factor into the equation the effects of declining traditional industries but that’s not responsive. Other states such as SC, GA, and TN had similar experiences during the same time. Moreover, I pointed out that NC underperformed the regional average during the 1960s and 1970s, when our traditional manufacturers were in better shape, and then did comparatively better in the 1980s and 1990s, when the traditional industries were declining in employment and often in sales. Of course sectoral changes are important. But they can’t possibly be the whole story.

Rob seems to believe I think government spending is inherently wasteful. That’s not what I believe or wrote in the piece. It is true, however, that states with good colleges and universities — but ones that cost a bit less — have experienced comparable or better economic growth than NC has. That’s an argument for economy at the University of North Carolina system, not for shutting it down. (Economy is precisely what UNC has accomplished lately, by the way. Its operating cost per student, once significantly higher than the national average, has come down substantially over the past few years with no appreciable effect on its national reputation or core programs.)

Rob also argues that I set up a straw man by describing an account of NC history that “no serious historian” believes. I think he simply missed the N&O column from a few days earlier from Dr. Jim Leutze, a longtime UNC-CH historian and former chancellor of UNC-Wilmington, who has written a new political and economic history making exactly the argument to which I was responding. On the other hand, if Rob is suggesting that Dr. Leutze is not acting as a serious historian here, I won’t quibble.

Finally, Rob asserts that if I and my organization had been around in the 1920s, we would have opposed Gov. Cameron Morrison’s extensive (and expensive) road-building program. Since I have written extensively about that matter in a previous book and elsewhere, and expressed my support for that program, there was no need for him to, dare I say it, construct a straw man to bat down.

It is never easy to convey political differences from the past in the language of the present. But when I described Morrison, Luther Hodges, and Jim Martin as “right-of-center” governors, I had a good reason. Their belief in the importance of keeping business taxes and regulations as light as possible, even as the state makes prudent investments in capital assets such as roads, is clearly recognizable as a right-of-center stance. They weren’t libertarians, of course, but they also weren’t left-of-center politicians like Kerr Scott, Terry Sanford, or Jim Hunt.

I’ll conclude by saying that debating public policy is not only possible but also more constructive when we avoid making it personal. I like Rob and respect his long journalism career in NC. He’s the dean of the political press corps. I’ll keep taking his calls and reading his columns. This one fell below his usual standards, however.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...