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Scott Mooneyham: Easley isn’t looking like ‘Everyma’

RALEIGH ó Clint Eastwood will long be remembered for popularizing the western anti-hero.
The anti-hero ó the flawed, detached and occasionally cruel protagonist ó existed well before Eastwood played lead roles in spaghetti westerns like “High Plains Drifter” or “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” In film, Sam Spade and similar characters played by Humphrey Bogart are obvious predecessors.
Still, Eastwood popularized the western anti-hero as American audiences in the 1970s grew bored with uncomplicated, white knights of earlier westerns. Instead, lead characters that combined Everyman qualities with troubled pasts became the big draw.
Like the western anti-hero, the anti-politician is nothing new. Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt each rode into office as the Everyman, the Outsider, the anti-politician.
But in an age of increasing skepticism about government, perhaps people’s appetite for the anti-politician is growing.
Mike Easley came into the governor’s office as the anti-politician, his Everyman appeal bolstered by jaunts in race cars, bird hunting and hours spent turning chunks of wood into neat pieces of furniture. The image and the reality hardly reflected a soft urbanite with soft hands.
As a former prosecutor, he didn’t walk into the governor’s mansion with that messy background that comes from years of concession and compromise as a legislator.
But the problem for the anti-politician is that, if that veneer is stripped away, sometimes there isn’t a lot of there left.
And lately, Easley has seen his anti-politician, Everyman skin pulled off in big chunks.
Published accounts of lavish trips to Europe by Easley and his wife, Mary, and an $80,000 raise that she received in her position at N.C. State University have been more than just the typical mini-scandals that always erupt during any gubernatorial administration.
They’re the kind of publicity hits that cause people to question whether Easley is any different from any other politician, and maybe even feel betrayed that they ever thought he was.
The Everyman, after all, doesn’t rent a chauffeured Mercedes van. He doesn’t eat $600 meals.
He sure doesn’t have a boss come to him with an $80,000 raise.
If Easley had been elected as something other than the anti-politician, and if he hadn’t cultivated the image once arriving in office, the hullabaloo wouldn’t matter as much.
Look at former Gov. Jim Hunt. He absorbed plenty of adverse publicity during four terms in office. Hunt, though, was elected as the consummate politician, not the outsider, the anti-politician.
For years, he was caricatured with a weather vain popping from his head, an indicator of his adeptness at reading and following the political winds.
He was expected to get things done as an insider, not approach them with the fresh perspective of an outsider.
For Easley, though, the bad publicity further undermines his popularity in his final year in office.
You see, anti-politicians, just like anti-heroes, aren’t expected to end their journey having been changed by it. At the end of “Unforgiven,” Eastwood’s “Will Munny” was what he always was ó a killer and pig farmer.
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Scott Mooneyham is a columnist for Capitol Press Association.

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