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Let’s try grownups this time

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RALEIGH

With only a few days left to cast ballots in the 2022 primaries, most North Carolinians are worried and frustrated. Many are furious. Some 62% of voters responding to a recent High Point University poll said the country had “gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track.” Even higher shares of state voters said something similar in surveys by the John Locke Foundation (65%) and Meredith College (66%).

Historically, such levels of public disaffection are a reliable predictor of large electoral losses for the incumbent president’s party — but not necessarily for incumbents in general.

Democrats may well lose their congressional majorities in Washington, as well as some legislative, judicial, and local offices here in North Carolina. Most Democratic incumbents will be reelected, however. Their constituencies are blue enough that they’ll likely survive anything less than a red tsunami. And most Republicans would win their general elections even if the red wave proves to be only waist-deep.

In other words, most of our electoral contests will be settled in the next few days, not in the fall. They’ll be settled by a small minority of eligible voters — 15% turnout is a reasonable projection based on recent midterm primaries.

If you are among this politically engaged subset of North Carolina voters, I’m not going to try to tell you whom to vote for. I don’t endorse individual candidates. What I would like to do for the remainder of this column is urge you to opt for workhorses over showhorses.

Too many politicos, especially those we send to Washington, have come to believe their job is to provoke and entertain rather than to deliberate and govern. They mistake viral tweets for public engagement and juvenile snark for public rhetoric. They emphasize narrow issues likely to shape their personal brands rather than broad issues likely to shape our country’s future.

That future is imperiled unless we elect serious leaders to office and then hold them accountable for results. It’s not enough for them to utter pretty or funny or reassuring words. To my mind, the following four priorities merit swift action:

Recovery. COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdowns and disruptions produced one of the sharpest recessions on record. Although the economy appeared to surge upward just as dramatically afterwards, the country has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels of employment. Moreover, resurgent inflation has eaten up nominal wage gains and imposed tremendous stress on households. And in the first quarter of 2022, the GDP shrank. Is a double-dip recession upon us?

Responsibility. One cause of our inflationary spiral is a bipartisan failure of colossal significance: rampant deficit spending. It wasn’t that long ago that leaders of both parties expressed at least some concern about annual deficits in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Now lawmakers blithely approve trillion-dollar deficits. To assert that the Federal Reserve can just paper them over without adverse effects is the idle fantasy of a toddler, not the credible argument of a grownup.

Resolve. The United States leads an indispensable alliance of countries that value peace, markets, progress, and decency — and for that very reason face enduring threats from backwardly authoritarian and aggressively expansionist powers such as Russia and China. We must husband our resources carefully and pick our battles, of course, but if Americans do not lead this alliance to victory, we will all suffer the consequences of its defeat.

Respect. Our public discourse is sick, coarse, and unproductive. Our social institutions are driving us apart instead of bringing us together around common ideals and aspirations. The problem isn’t a lack of consensus — in our diverse and sprawling country, that’s inevitable! The real problem is a lack of tolerance for ongoing disagreement, reflecting a mistaken assumption that complex social problems have simple solutions that can and should be standardized nationwide.

When I cast my primary ballot, I’ll be choosing the candidates who seem most likely to prioritize economic recovery, fiscal responsibility, national resolve, and mutual respect. Care to join me?

John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member.

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