What will young people think of us?

Aug. 14, 2013 @ 07:01 PM

Tired of hearing the New York Times' opinion of North Carolina politics?

Me, too.

Besides, it might matter more what the satirists say on Comedy Central.

John Oliver, filling in for Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show," nailed us last week:

"After a North Carolina legislative session like this, I think the big take-away here might be: Your move, South Carolina. You thought you had craziest Carolina all sewn up with your runaway governors ... but you may be about to lose the war of northern regression."

Stephen Colbert took his shots earlier, riffing on more permissive firearms laws:

"That's right, now you can bring guns to playgrounds. And folks, we need them because the monkey bars are well-known al-Qaida training grounds. Instead of Duck, Duck, Goose, you can just play Duck, Duck, DUCK!"

Yeah, just dumb gags by liberal comics. Big deal.

Except that young people watch these shows, and some get their news from them.

And what makes the jabs sting is that, whatever their exaggerations, they contain elements of truth. Worse, they form an impression.

I worry about young people and what they might think about North Carolina.

Every community wants young people -- especially young people who are smart, engaged and equipped with job skills that employers need.

So what's our state doing lately to keep or attract these kinds of people?

We're passing more socially conservative laws -- new abortion restrictions, a constitutional amendment barring gay marriage, allowing guns, yes, at playgrounds and on college campuses, among other places.

Look, I'm socially conservative on some issues, but I'm old. Young people are not. They're turned off by these attitudes.

When the public radio program "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!" broadcast from Asheville recently, host Peter Sagal joked that the city has been called "a cesspool of sin" by a state legislator. Want to guess the political party of that legislator? Do you really have to guess?

Asheville received more press this year when a different Republican legislator filed the "nipple bill" to cover up the annual Go Topless event (which is coming up again Aug. 25; the bill failed).

Yes, the Bohemian lifestyles celebrated in Asheville can be viewed by some as sinful, but many young people see Asheville as the state's coolest city (and, at 7.1 percent, its unemployment rate is the state's lowest). And it's surely not a cesspool of anything. As for sinful, young people might put easing regulations on landfills and other environmental rollbacks in that category.

Then there's the voting bill. An end to preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds. College identification cards not accepted for voting. No more same-day registration. Are those changes sending the message that North Carolina encourages or discourages political participation by its young people?

Throw in hefty -- up to 12 percent -- tuition hikes for out-of-state students in the UNC system and maybe more of those bright young people will look to other states that don't suddenly seem so uninviting.

I understand the political calculation here. Not so many young people vote for Republicans, so better that fewer of them vote. Better to have fewer of them, period. Let them go vote for Democrats somewhere else.

The trouble is, there's a time limit on that strategy. In the meantime, do we really want to live in a state that's unappealing to our kids or their friends from out of state? Do employers want to do business in a state like that?

Republicans shouldn't give up all their values and pander to liberal young people. But a little moderation, especially on social issues, wouldn't hurt. There are 20- and 30-somethings who are conservative on financial matters but still turned off if they think we're moving backward culturally. They're uncomfortable living in a state where the political establishment is almost at war with the NAACP, or teachers, or cities they like, such as Asheville and Charlotte. They may not think of a state that's 48th in the nation in K-12 school spending per student as the place they want to raise a family.

And no one likes his or her home state skewered on Comedy Central.

North Carolina should be a state young people can love, not laugh at.

Doug Clark’s email address is dgclark@news-record.com.