It’s a common phenomenon for well-known politicians to become associated with, or remembered for, an inspiring or infamous utterance.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

“Ask not what your country can do for yourself. Ask what you can do for your country.”

“Mr. Gorbachev: tear down this wall.”

“I am not a crook.”

And this doesn’t apply just to presidents. In North Carolina, many people remember former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms for a number of provocative, mostly hateful statements.

Among current politicians, the list of memorable and influential turns of phrase is short and, one supposes, not aided by the constraints of modern social media. Interestingly, however, one prominent North Carolina politician whose 15-years-and-counting political career continues to be marked by a memorable and, as it has turned out, highly influential and prescient statement.

It’s been just shy of a decade now since the then-North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis addressed an audience in western North Carolina and said:

“What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance.

“We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice in her condition, that needs help, and we should help. And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government, and say, at some point, you’re on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies, but we’re not going to take care of you.”

Tillis later tried to walk back the statement and publicly distance himself from its dark implications, but there is a growing body of evidence that its central “divide and conquer” premise has been enormously influential in guiding the modern political right.

Nowhere is this better evidenced now than in the debates over K-12 and higher education.

For at least the last 150 years, no other public institution in North Carolina has done more to advance the cause of broadly shared opportunity and prosperity for all than free, universal public education. Indeed, for all their many shortcomings – racial segregation and its legacy, frequently inadequate resources, the broken promise of truly free higher education – public schools and universities have remained our greatest hope. They are the places in which our children prepare for adulthood, learn to live with people who are different, and begin to grasp what it means to be a citizen.

What’s more, the overwhelming majority of North Carolinians still “get” this reality. Indeed, a recent statewide poll found that a significant bipartisan majority of North Carolinians – 69 percent – believe the state does not invest enough in public schools. This includes 62 percent of Republicans and a whopping 77 percent of all parents.

Unfortunately, for a narrow but well-funded and influential swath of the American right, this consensus is an anathema.

These are the forces that derogatorily refer to public education as “government schools,” who attack school integration as “social engineering,” who rail about the cost of free and reduced-priced school lunches, who dream of a day in which all students attend “voucher schools,” and who argue that public universities should be more exclusive, more expensive and designed, first and foremost, to produce workers.

And, owing to the generally unfavorable view that much of the public still holds toward these extreme beliefs, these are the forces who have once again turned to Tillis’s prescription of “divide and conquer” politics in hopes of recapturing the national political initiative in 2021.

This is the reason Americans are currently enduring a massive, multi-million-dollar national propaganda campaign to raise up and then tear down a supposed bogeyman called “critical race theory.”

This is why the right wing is trying so hard to make an example of the Nikole Hannah-Jones hire at the UNC journalism school.

This is why groups with names like the “Education First Alliance” are working hand-in-glove with Republican groups to win ever-more-outrageous statements and stances from public officials, recruit school board candidates, and hold parent “boot camps” in which attendees are told that white Americans are the target of a grand, racially discriminatory conspiracy.

When your ultimate goal is to dismantle a great and vitally important public institution of longstanding and unparalleled value and sustained popularity and, in effect, sell it off for parts, you have to find your openings where you can. And if that means using thinly veiled appeals to white supremacy to “divide and conquer” people who should be natural allies — like Americans of all races of low- and moderate-income for whom public education can and should be their shared path to personal and collective opportunity and prosperity – in order to get them to “look down” on each other – well, so be it.

Perhaps Sen. Tillis, who’s already lent a hand to the effort, can reprise his 2011 performance as part of the campaign.

Rob Schofield is director of NC Policy Watch with three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator.

(18) comments

mpjeep

I like an infamous utterance myself, so I went ahead and cherry-picked some as well.

“Outside of the killings, DC has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.” Former mayor of Washington, D.C. Marion Barry

“But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.” Nancy Pelosi

“It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.” Dan Quayle

''I was under medication when I decided to burn the tapes.'' Richard Nixon

''You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent... I'm not joking.'' Joe Biden

''It could have been spinach dip or something.'' Monica Lewinsky

'I think that gay marriage should be between a man and a woman.'' Arnold Schwarzenegger

To quote you, Mr. Schofield, “Simply put: Now is the time for caring and thinking people to fight like he(double L) to save our country from those who would lie, cheat and steal their way to power.”

As Charles Barkley said, both Republicans and Democrats of trying to “divide and conquer.” I guess my point is, Mr. lawyer/lobbyist/liberal, we all say things we regret saying from time to time. To err is human; to forgive, divine.

noitall

3 More great jeopardy questions.

And you can keep your Doctor

No new taxes.

No war Only a police action

And who was the House speaker who took a midnight bath with some babe in the reflecting pool?? Or Scoop Jackson who would deliver fire and brimstone peaches to an empty house chamber Nothing changes when you peel the onion. Humans are just humans.

drewski

Let's not forget the media outlets who stoke the right-wing outrage.

Ingraham accused Milley of spreading a "far-left Marxist racist ideology" in the military, adding, "I am totally outraged by him and his ridiculous response today."

That's Laura ingrahm attacking general Milley chairman of jcos.

Sad isn't it?

David Collins

 Opposing beliefs can be a good thing . Sadly , there is little good in this indoctrination process . When you target the youngest and most impressionable before they learn to walk and chew gum at the same time , that is going a bit too far .

C R T is a theory , not a fact . Just like a boatload of theories sort of like the earth is flat and the sun goes out at night . Get it ?

This latest dust up at UNC concerning that red headed black woman that demands tenure , lifetime employment with benefits and a license to indoctrinate the brain dead amongst us , will work itself out and her vocal like kind supporters will evaporate like the morning dew . Hopefully . Perhaps she will actually write something true . Doubtful but who knows .

Just like the Hippie and Yippie movement of 40 years ago went bust , so should this . Sadly , the misguided seeds seem to linger in the dust , searching for a bit of moisture . Moisture abounds in Latin America , South America , parts of Europe , China and North Korea . The flight leaves CLT tomorrow . Be there .

(Edited by staff.)

drewski

I learned right from wrong in Sunday school. I also learned two wrongs don't make a right. Perhaps that is why I just don't find what-about-ism to be even a remotely convincing argument. Most rational people don't.

mpjeep

The principle of CRT is that all white people are considered oppressors who benefit from undue advantages by just being White. And if you disagree with any point of CRT, you are told that’s an expression of your white supremacy.

Doesn’t the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protect everyone, including white people, from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, and disability? If so, why are CRT advocates trying to bully and shame people because of the color of their skin?

You know, folks, the real story should be about blacks and whites working together to overcome the sad part of our history. We have made so much progress over the years.

But Mr. Schofield’s political writing career benefits from racism and keeping us divided.

mpjeep

"As the economy turns, one of the most significant impediments to economic growth is going to be labor availability." Thom Tillis 2015 Called that one right.

mpjeep

Whataboutism has a long-standing tradition in politics, and most folks, even kids, understand its usefulness. The same goes for gaslighting.

Jackie Gleason

"Rob Schofield is director of NC Policy Watch with three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator"......NC Policy Watch is one of the most left leaning organizations in the Southeast. Mr. Schofield shows his true lawyer colors penning this article. He also shows why he is a good lobbyist. Writing this type of trash that hand picks comments solely for the tear down of one person why inflaming the passions of those hating that person is commendable. He's down a fine "butcher" job. Sir, please look at yourself in the mirror and let's write the same article. Then tell your God what things you have said in life that probably were not in the best interest of others. Sit and ponder and remember what your Mother told you...."if you haven't got anything good to say about people...then don't say it at all." I would think we could find a better columnist from a graduate of the George Washington University Law School. But then again, his undergrad degree is from the University of California, Los Angeles. I guess that says it all.

drewski

...

Is there any part of crt that is credible?

Is it all just a Marxist blm plot unworthy of consideration?

Is maltreatment of persons of color so far in the past, that we should just forget it and all work together, as is repeatedly suggested here?

What if injustice is still here today?

In our own fair state, the sentencing for cocaine possession is a good example.

Supposedly blacks prefer crack and whites prefer powder. The fact is you can change it back and forth in about 5 mins.

Here is what atty generals have to say as recently as this past Jan.

Attorney General Stein, along with a coalition of 18 attorneys general filed the amicus brief in Terry v. United States, a case concerning whether the resentencing reforms of the First Step Act extend to people convicted of the lowest-level crack cocaine offenses as they do to those convicted of higher-level offenses.

The coalition points to a consensus that sentencing that disproportionately punished users and dealers of crack cocaine over users and dealers of powder cocaine was unjust and had a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

..

(Edited by staff.)

mpjeep

Privilege is:

Having multiple national organizations promoting and protecting your race that's subsidized by federal tax dollars.

Having access to a national college fund that supports only your race.

Having a television network that supports only your race.

Having your own National Anthem.

The ability to go march against, riot, and protest against anything that triggers you, sometimes for weeks or months at a time.

Having as many children as you want, regardless of your employment status and ability to pay for them.

Being strongly favored for a job opening even when personal qualifications are less than other applicants.

Having free health insurance for you and your family.

Living in public subsidized housing where you don’t have a utility bill.

Having a Smartphone with an unlimited data plan or wearing $200 sneakers when the only job you've ever had is selling drugs.

Why make the past our future? Someone is shinning us on!

JusticeForAll

Yep. You are referring to the caucasian population, right, because they meet everyone of these criteria?

noitall

Impressive list but true. the year was 1937. Sinclair Lewis wrote the playbook for our present circumstances. "It can' happen here". The accuracy of this novel is disturbing to say the least. names have changed, events are re branded but our society is following a path it cannot sustain. Hope I am wrong.

dc

"We should be expanding options and opportunities for all families not throwing money at certain issues because Democrats think they know best." Sen, Tim Scott.

noitall

Tillis may be a hard-line Republican but he is not a leader. He cannot reunite our institutions that have been divined and are being conquered. Jesse Helms where are you? Tillis is the weak link in the chain. If he loses his seat we all lose. - a terrible situation. Maybe it is time to rethink our politics.

drewski

If we are wishing for the return of Jesse helms and Strom Thurmond, then yes it is definitely time to rethink.

David Collins

Good lord , that would be like the return of hemorrhoids .

noitall

Jesse was trained by the media. Sold alot of newspapers with his direct talk. Not perfect but we knew where we stood, with him Predictable. Anti UN. The perfect anti liberal. Make a Jesse or Burr choice? Jesse or Tillis? What IS your problem. I won't mention Reagan and Jesse's role as king maker. No one is perfect. Fixed a passport for me with one phone call with no "new menu". run around. Try that today. Call your rep,turn on the speaker phone, and listen to Kenny G music for an hour or so.

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