Stephen Colbert’s sister lost her Congressional run to Mark Sanford. In a show of solidarity, Colbert renounced his ties to the Palmetto states and said he’d become a Tarheel, a North Carolinian.
It’s good humor, no doubt, but he’s beating up on North Carolina, which is sure to get my notice. Even though I’ve lived in New York for the last five years and Cleveland for the previous two – both of which I love – North Carolina still feels like home to me. This is the news I tend to follow, the place I think fondly of and care about. So I thought it might be fun to talk about five ways that North Carolina doesn’t stink.
1. Political shenanigans. We didn’t just re-elect Mark Sanford. South Carolina is a fairly reliably conservative state, and I would have been surprised if a Democrat had won. But we weren’t the state whose politician became a laughing stock on the national media, and then turned around and renominated him. You’d have to be trying pretty hard to run as a Republican in South Carolina and not win, but SC really couldn’t come up with anyone better than Sanford?
To be fair, SC doesn’t have a great history with recent primaries. Remember Alvin Greene?
Nor do they always do so well once they get into office:
2. Barbeque. New York has a barbeque festival called the Big Apple Barbeque Block Party, where pitmasters from all over come to Madison Sq Park and sell their cooking. I go every year and usually go in with a friend to buy a fast pass (a combination prepurchase of food along with access to the quicker lines). This year it looks like they’ll have two people from SC (Hendersonville and Charleston) and two more from NC (Ayden and Raleigh) represented, as well as from other areas of the country. I won’t claim to be an experton barbecue, but I have tasted quite a variety, and I’m yet to find a plate that can hold its own against NC barbecue. Western barbecue, of course. The sauce is sweet, almost hickory-tasting. But good.
Plus we have music. Barbecue is best when enjoyed with sweet tea and some good bluegrass, both of which are available in large portions at the local BBQ in Boone, Woodlands. And if you need something a little less anecdotal, the Smithsonian cafes sell barbeque – western NC barbeque. (I asked.)
On a slightly less silly note…
3. Political Balance. Presidentially we are right on the line (Obama beat McCain 50%/49% in 2008, and lost to Romney 48%/50% in 2012), but compare that to South Carolina where conservatives typically win by a healthy margin. Some areas of the state are very reliably conservative; others are cultural oasises. Asheville, for instance, has a reputation of being very welcoming to LGBT people. I know the recent gay marriage amendment works against our reputation here, but it’s worth noting that it took the Tea Party to get this amendment through in NC; much of the rest of the South passed similar bills back during the Bush presidency.
In South Carolina it’s common to hear of politics being starkly divided along racial lines, whereas in North Carolina I see more of that along economic lines (and in NC those really are separate things). Culturally and historically, NC seems to define itself more in terms of the Revolutionary War and the struggle to settle the Frontier than the Civil War, whereas for South Carolinians it’s almost a point of pride that they started the Civil War. And IIRC there was a political to-do where SC still flew the Confederate flag over the state house and didn’t want to take it down. I can’t remember if it still flies there or not.
I don’t want to say NC is some liberal paradise. It’s not. But neither is it reliably red. I think this is actually one of the things I love most from a historical and cultural aspect: there is enough of a split that neither side can completely ignore the other. In my experience in NC, progressives and conservatives tended to work together more than they did than in other places I lived. Because they had to, because no side had such an overwhelming majority they could be too partisan. And I like that. I also like that the conservatives I met seem less driven by culture war issues like abortion, and more driven by fiscal responsibility. Yes, sometimes our state politicians propose stupid, insulting laws, but that’s pretty against the norm. Really, NC is a very sane state where people seem to be able to disagree and still respect each other, at least for the most part.
4. Education. North Carolina has a truly awesome public higher education system. UNC-Chapel Hill has a doctoral graduate program on level with Fordham’s, and if I ended up specializing in a different area of philosophy I probably could have gone there. NC State is at the heart of the research triangle, which provided a boom in tech jobs. Charlotte is a major financial center, and Asheville has a lot of investment in the arts. We have a lot of schools below the top two public schools (Chapel Hill and State), you have a robust school in pretty much every city of any size, and in my experience those universities do a good job of reaching out and working with their communities so at any talk or debate or movie screening or performance events, there were also a lot of non-students in attendance. These schools teach the full range of subjects you really do graduate with a liberal arts education, and at tuition levels that won’t put you in the poor house if you’re a resident.
There are NC private schools, too, obviously, but if you’re middle class or even lower class a quality college education isn’t nearly as out of reach as it is in other places I’ve lived. Including my own: I’m a proud graduate of UNC-Greensboro (go Spartans!), and graduated with very little student debt. I don’t feel like I suffered for not going to a private school, either. My own school wasn’t the flagship school, but I felt like I came away with a strong undergrad education. You see much more opportunities for special events, interesting courses, and other similar things in the UNC system than you see, for instance, in CUNY. So if my own experience is any indication, the UNC college system is nothing to sneeze at. Neither, incidentally, is our K-12 schools. I an only speak for my own experience, and that of people I’ve met, but they seemed good quality, of reasonable size, and with good special programs to help people not going to colleges as well as those who were university-bound.
5. The View. There’s a reason people from South Carolina come up to the mountains of NC to see the leaves turn. We have some breathtakingly beautiful places:
Or just think about the movies. The clinic in Patch Adams was shot outside Asheville, and pretty much all of The Hunger Games was shot somewhere in NC (not sure where exactly). Although perhaps that last one isn’t really recommending us as a place of a vibrant, nice place to live. Filming here is cheaper than a lot of places, yes, but it’s also very green and has some breathtaking views.
And with Colbert’s catering to the uber-wealthy? The man was made for Biltmore. Just sayin’.
I’m honestly not trying to slam SC, or whitewash NC’s very real problems. I was born in SC and have fond memories of it, too. But if Colbertio is looking for something to recommend us beyond our vinegary meat product (and really, Mr. Colbert, are you going to dismiss the whole state on the basis of eastern barbeque?), maybe these points will help.
Also: we know what the tar heel name is talking about. Maybe that’s point #4 at work?