SETTING: A secret meeting at an undisclosed location in Raleigh. Republican legislators have been summoned to review "GOP branding" after two of them sponsored a ludicrous bill calling for an official religion in North Carolina.
As we enter, we see Reps. Harry Warren, from Salisbury, and Carl Ford, from China Grove, shame-faced and wearing dunce caps at the front of the room. A dour, hunched figure is holding forth, clutching a state budget to his chest.
"Unbelievable!" the figure snaps. "Here I am doing everything I can to convince The News & Observer that we Republicans are as moderate as Mayberry, and you guys put in a bill that spells out in so many words how we're going to ignore the U.S. Constitution. You just handed the liberals our gosh-darned playbook!"
He exits in disgust.
"Hey, no hard feelings." A fellow wearing glasses and a crooked grin stands and opens his arms wide. "It's a rookie mistake, you'll get the hang of it. Anyway, the Boss thought that because so many of you are new to the General Assembly, I should acquaint you with our Republican communications handbook."
With that, minions pass out copies of 1984, by George Orwell.
"I found this on a remainder shelf when I was a mayor," the grinning fellow says with pride. "I thought it was about the year we re-elected Ronald Reagan and it was Morning in America."
Heads bow, nodding.
"But 1984 wasn't about that at all. It was about how you can say stuff that isn't true, but if you say it often enough, and you have the power, you make it true! For instance, there's a whole section on how 2 + 2 = 5. 'Gee, that's not right,' I said straight away. But doggone it, 2 + 2 will equal 5 if the Republican Party wants it to equal 5!"
At this point, a few legislators turn in their seats to see if others are swallowing his line. They are.
"This Orwell," the grinner goes on, "he came up with something called Newspeak, where torture is love and you say the opposite of what you mean. It's just what we need to explain our policies.
"For example, we don't like the gays, right? So we're not going to let them get married. Do we call that the anti-gay law?"
"No!" the legislators cry. "We call it the Defense of Marriage!"
"Exactly," the grinner says.
"So now, Harry, Carl, you wanted to establish the Christian religion in Rowan County? And tell the ACLU to stick it if they don't like starting every meeting with a Christian prayer? Nothing wrong with that."
The grinning fellow is revving up.
"But here's your mistake. You don't start with a bunch of 'whereas' clauses about how the Constitution is all wet and judges can't decide what's constitutional. Of course, we don't want judges telling us what to do—but you're not supposed to say so in writing. Instead, say the opposite."
Harry and Carl look confused.
"Let's take some of our bills and apply the Newspeak principles," the grinning fellow says.
"Y'all are cutting funds for public schools, letting charter schools cherry-pick their best students, and knocking teacher pay down to 46th in the nation while you take tenure away. So, should you call Senate Bill 361 'The Demise of Public Education Act of 2013'?"
"Of course not," an eager legislator shoots back. "We called it the 'Excellent Public Schools Act of 2013'!"
"Right! And you have a bill to discourage college students from voting," the grinner continues. "Because for some strange reason, they don't seem to vote Republican. Great idea, by the way, to prevent their parents from claiming them as dependents if they vote at their school address. So in Newspeak, what should we call Senate Bill 667?"
"Well," a dull-witted legislator begins, "we're keeping college kids from exercising their right to vote, so ..."
"We named that bill the 'Equalize Voter Rights' act!" another chimes in.
"Yes! The grinning fellow is delighted. "You equalize their rights by making them less equal!"
Finally, the tension is easing.
"OK," the grinning fellow says. "Just a couple more. The bill to cut back early-voting, prohibit it on weeknights and Sundays, and end same-day registration—we know that it helps the Democrats if we make it easier to vote, so making it harder to vote is what we want to do. But folks, please, watch your numbering. The Senate version turned out to be Senate Bill 666."
At this ominous turn, some cringe at the lightning in the room.
"On the other hand, I love House Bill 298, which we know will cripple the development of renewable energy sources in North Carolina, especially solar and wind power. That's why 'Affordable and Reliable Energy Act' is the perfect title—because it's the opposite of what it will do."
"Sir, will we ever be able to tell the public what we're really up to?" a young legislator asks.
"Son, that's a great question. I ask myself the same thing when I'm talking about how North Carolina has worn out its brand and we need a new brand for our state.
"But, you know, people still connect with the old idea that everybody should have a chance to succeed and government should be on their side. Our idea that government should make a few people rich and put them in charge of everyone else is still, uh, brand new."
The grinning fellow was wrapping up. "So, Harry and Carl, until we're ready to roll out our Christian Nation of North Carolina plan, with a Protestant Pope on top, let's keep it to ourselves. OK?"