Nobody wants to build a bridge

Published February 7, 2014

By Tom Campbell

by Tom Campbell, Executive Producer and Moderator, NC SPIN, February 6, 2014.

Is North Carolina staging a “Carolina Comeback” or plunging into a dark abyss? What is the state of our state? Politico Magazine recently published an article, “The States of our Union….Are Not All Strong,” that attempts to answer that question.

This article ranked all states “from fabulous to failed,” using 14 different benchmarks from reputable sources like the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI, on important categories such as high school graduation rates, per capita income, life expectancy and the crime rate. Then they averaged each state’s 14 rankings to come up with a numerical ranking of the states. North Carolina’s overall ranking was 39th among the 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

Sadly, we are in the bottom quartile of states. But this study was not inconsistent with other rankings we have seen. Has North Carolina always ranked so low?

Politico researched and found a similar effort compiled in 1931, during the height of The Great Depression, by H.L. Mencken and Charles Angoff for American Mercury Magazine. Using 1930 Census data the researchers ranked the best and worst of the then 48 states and D.C. In those rankings North Carolina was 43rd.

Despite changes in leadership, new initiatives, some notable achievements and the passage of time our state’s position hasn’t changed significantly over the past 83 years. We are blessed with a wonderful climate and geographic location, incredible natural resources, some of the best universities in the nation and many other obvious advantages, so why we haven’t made more dramatic progress.

One possible answer might be found in Doug Clark’s recent column in the Greensboro News-Record. Clark likened our current political climate to a river with walking paths along the opposite banks. In this metaphor people on one side are walking upstream, thinking the river is flowing against them, while on the opposite side those walking downstream marvel at the river flowing with them. How you view and define current issues depends on which side of the river you are walking.

At this moment Democrats believe they are fighting against the flow while Republicans are going with the currents. Those on both sides are highly opinionated, extremely divisive and spend far too much time fighting with each other instead of attacking our problems.

As Clark concluded, “…our two political factions are content to occupy opposing banks. They can’t even agree about which way the water is rushing. And no one wants to build a bridge.”

Now we can argue over whether we rank 39th, or 20th, or even 50th among the states. We can further debate whether these rankings were scientifically designed or even relevant. But there is one inescapable conclusion upon which we must all agree: If our state is going to make significant strides instead of just plodding along the path, if we are going to advance into the median or top quartile of states, if our people are going to prosper and enjoy life more fully we must immediately stop this childish infighting.

Now is a time for people to be less interested in being on one side of the river or the other. We need to be on the same side, pulling together.  Now is the time North Carolina needs bridge builders.