Clowns to the right of me

Published June 1, 2023

By Thomas Mills

In the you-can’t-take-them-seriously department, the John Locke Foundation has a newfound concern about energy production off the coast of North Carolina. After decades of advocating for building oil platforms off the coast of North Carolina, the organization says that wind farms pose a threat to views and tourism. Just a few years ago, they argued, “There are highly traveled tourist destinations in many places around the world that have coexisted with offshore drilling for decades.”

In other Republican news, the GOP state house caucus stripped Rep. Jeff McNeely and Rep. Keith Kidwell of their leadership positions. Officially, they resigned, but they were really pushed out. McNeely and Kidwell committed the crime of saying out loud what too many Republicans are already thinking. 

On the floor of the house, McNeely, who often attends legislative sessions dressed as a clown, asked Rep. Abe Jones, a Black Democrat from Wake County, if he could have gotten into Harvard if he hadn’t been a minority or an athlete. Democrats, including Minority Leader Robert Reives, pushed back hard. “I’m hoping I wasn’t the only one that got shocked by that comment,” Reives said at the time. 

Speaker Tim Moore knew immediately that McNeely was out of line. He gaveled McNeely down when the legislator tried to explain away his comment and he didn’t shut down applause when Jones responded. McNeely later apologized, but what he said revealed a prejudice that can’t be put back in the box. 

In Kidwell’s case, he made a comment to staffers that he thought was private but was said in earshot of a reporter. When Democrat Diamond Staton-Williams told of her decision to have an abortion and noted that she was raised in a church, Kidwell told aides that it must be the “Church of Satan.” Republicans didn’t jump on Kidwell like they did McNeely, but they must have understood that his remark was inappropriate. 

Stripping McNeely and Kidwell of their leadership posts might be a start, but it’s a few decades late. Too many members of the GOP caucus probably agree with the sentiments expressed, even if they know it shouldn’t be said out loud. Among themselves, they call it “PC” or “woke” to oppose bigoted comments and neither man would have faced consequences if they had made them in the privacy of a GOP caucus meeting. The sins of McNeely and Kidwell were contradicting the GOP public denials of bigotry in their ranks.

While GOP leaders like Tim Moore and Phil Berger might rein in their own members, they won’t speak out when other Republicans make similar statements. They don’t criticize Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson when he calls gay people “filth.” They don’t criticize Trump when he goads his audience into yelling the n-word at a North Carolina rally. In short, they won’t do anything that might alienate the Republican base that agrees with the sentiments expressed by McNeely, Kidwell, Trump, or Robinson. 

The actions taken against McNeely and Kidwell by the GOP leadership is the exception, not the rule. The party generally tolerates bigotry. Leaders either ignore it, make excuses for it, or deny it. Very few racists believe that they are racists. Holding Kidwell and McNeely accountable shows that they know better even if they won’t act on it. That’s both cowardice and a moral failing.