The more things change …

By: Tom Campbell - Contributing columnist

When you reach a milestone, it is wise to pause and reflect on the journey that brought you there. Having produced and moderated 1,000 weekly TV talk shows, I focused on the changes that occurred over almost 20 years and what I had learned.

Citizens of The Old North State like to think of ourselves as independent, hard-working, decent folks, a people willing to help neighbors, welcome strangers and seek fairness. But over the past 20 years, the veneer seems to have worn a bit thin on some of these qualities.

When we started NC SPIN in 1998, cell phones were just phones. There was an internet but it was cumbersome and slow. A tweet was what a bird did, Google was founded the same week we started our TV show and the founder of Facebook was only 14 years old. When we had social interaction with someone, we paid attention to them — not some device.

At the same time the internet was blossoming, so was cable TV. FOX News and MSNBC started two years earlier and were taking baby steps, but we no longer were tied to just three television networks or newspapers for news. The 24-7 news cycle, coupled with internet capability, changed not only the way we got the news but also we could self-select what spin we preferred.

We accelerated along the path, begun during Viet Nam and Watergate, where we no longer trusted that those in positions of leadership spoke truth and made decisions based on what was best for the most. The rise in cynicism was accompanied by increased partisanship. Those willing to compromise to reach acceptable solutions were weak and undesirable stooges who stood for nothing. We became so tribal we believed we could only win when others lost.

Momma always said if we couldn’t say something nice about somebody we shouldn’t say anything at all, but nowadays folks believe they have license to say any uncivil, hurtful and disrespectful thing anytime they like. Never mind facts or truth; we just unload whatever stream of consciousness possesses us at the moment.

In 1998, we worried about running out of topics to talk about on TV each week. Twenty years later we are still talking about most of the same issues, albeit with a few new wrinkles. We obviously haven’t resolved them. More than 700,000 new residents have come to live here. Democrats had run the state since the turn of the century; now it’s Republicans, but if you put them both in a bag and shook them up you might not know much difference. Power is a strong aphrodisiac and those with it will do almost anything to retain or even expand it. Curiously, the party out of power today is singing much the same song as did the party out of power in 1998.

State leadership no longer comes from east of I-95. The traditional “yellow dog” Democratic East is now Republican red; urban areas are deepening shades of blue. The rural exodus to urban areas has accelerated, as have problems in rural counties. The same chronic healthcare issues prevail and Carolina fans still hate Duke.

Has North Carolina truly progressed and are we a better people today? I leave that for you to decide but it looks like a mixed bag to me.

Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of state issues. Contact him at

Tom Campbell

Contributing columnist