Friday, March 15, 2013

McCrory's Cortez Moment: Is it the fiction or the fact?

When Governor Pat McCrory signed bills H4 and S4, respectively limiting Unemployment Insurance and Medicaid Expansion, one could see the combination as his "Cortez Moment" - as in "there's no turning back now."

The signing of these two bills in many ways forces McCrory to deliver on the promises of job growth and economic prosperity he made on the campaign trail.  If the economy does well, there is much less need for both unemployment insurance and Medicaid.  If he delivers, there's not much political downside from the middle of the road voters who decide our elections.  He will have thrown a meaty bone to the conservatives who support him and will have marginalized the progressives who will never support him no matter what he does.

However, there are two versions of the Cortez story - one fiction, one fact.

The fictional version is more inspiring....

"As legend has it, after his men got ashore, Cortés burned the ships that brought them. He wanted his men to understand fully that their only option was to win or die – there would be no retreat. Knowing their options were limited now, the Spanish army would fight harder and with more determination.

Interestingly, though, the message Cortés sent was not just intended for his army. After word of what happened on the beach spread, the Aztecs knew that the Spanish were literally fighting for their lives at every juncture. This meant that the Aztecs would be unable to force the Spanish to retreat because there was nowhere for the invaders to go. On the other hand, with an entire empire behind them, the Aztec forces would always be aware of their own option to retreat. In the face of the Spanish commitment to total victory, the Aztecs would themselves be more inclined to retreat and less inclined to fight hard to hold ground.

By 1521, Cortés and his small army had conquered the Aztecs. While it is clear that superior weaponry and military training gave the Spanish certain advantages in this situation, it is also clear that Cortés' strategy and the value of his commitment to it, was invaluable to the final outcome." - From the Melbourne Business School

The factual version of the Cortez story is more a lesson in political gamesmanship...

Fact: Cortes didn't burn his boats. Technically, he didn't even scuttle them. He did order the captains of nine ships to run their vessels onto the sand. But that left him with three other vessels -- and a master shipbuilder among the crew. 

Fact: Cortes wasn't "motivating" his men -- he was protecting his backside. According to Hugh Thomas's "The Conquest of Mexico," Cortes grounded the ships to win at palace politics in Spain. Cortes's Mexican mission revolved around his intense rivalry with Diego Velazquez, the governor of Cuba. When Cortes obtained his first boatload of treasure, he dispatched it to the king with three letters pleading his case for more power.

Among Cortes's own men were some of Velazquez's supporters who disapproved of Cortes's actions. They plotted to steal one of his ships to take a message of warning to Velazquez, who would then have time to overtake the treasure ship and seize the letters.

Cortes learned of the plot and captured the four ringleaders. He hanged two of them, cut the foot off another, and let the fourth, a clergyman, go free. Then he ordered the nine ships run aground. According to John H. Coatsworth, director of Harvard's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, "Cortes beached the ships to prevent anyone from heading back to Cuba to report to the Spanish nobilities that he was engaged in an utterly unauthorized and illegal expedition. He was running for cover." From Fast Company June/July 1997

Last week's Met Life jobs announcement, bought with nearly $100 million in State and local incentives, plays into both narratives.  "The largest jobs announcement in State history" headlines supports the first while the use of corporate welfare - not to mention the Governor's former employer helping to cement the deal - requires accessing some of the political "cover" referenced in the second.

Interestingly, that political cover may not be working so well with many on the right - including the award winning Daily Haymaker blog and the blog of the conservative Civitas Institute.

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