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Entries for September 2010

15
The Republican Party is seeing exactly the same thing in its primaries this year that the Democratic Party saw in its presidential primaries in 2008.
 
An inexperienced, untested and nearly unknown upstart challenges a pillar of the party’s political establishment. Propelled by the enthusiasm of inspired new voters, the upstart upends the odds-on favorite in state after state.
 
The political and media establishment warns that the upstart is too raw, too new and too untested for the general election. But the pitchfork-wielding revolutionaries aren’t deterred.
 
Sound familiar?
 
What has happened to the Republican establishment (Lazio, Castle, Murkowski, Bennett, etc.) this year is a mirror image of what Barack Obama did to Hillary Clinton two years ago.
 
The ideologies are exactly opposite. But the energies are the same: disgust with politicians, distrust of experience and a burning desire for – wait for it – Change.
 
Behind it all is fear and anger about the economy and the direction of the country.
 
Desperate times yield desperate measures.
 
Before dismissing the chances of these Tea Party candidates in the fall, Democrats should reflect on what happened two years ago.

 

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14
The breakfast conversation the other day was about what happens with the state budget next year if Republicans win the state House or Senate this year.
 
They won’t raise taxes. So they’ll have to cut $3 billion or so out of a $19 billion budget.
 
My Republican friend said that can be done without laying off teachers and damaging vital services. Businesses do it all the time, he said.
 
But he doesn’t think any current member of the legislature, Democrat or Republican, knows the budget well enough to do it.
 
My Democratic friend said that, too often, legislators leave the decisions on where to cut to bureaucrats in Raleigh. And the bureaucrats, of course, never cut their own jobs – or their friends’. They cut services – in part, so people across the state will scream.
 
Perhaps Governor Perdue, who was an Appropriations chair, can figure out where to find 15 percent without harming services.
 
Or she could let the Republicans in the legislature do the dirty work. Then whack them all the way through the 2012 election for being heartless and anti-education.

 

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13
The 9/11 rallies and replays this weekend were a reminder of how X Factors can scramble our lives – and politics.
 
Nine years and three days ago, George Bush was working hard to be the No Child Left Behind president.
 
After 9/11, he became obsessed with his oedipal need to both avenge and top his pop by ousting Saddam Hussein, which had nothing to do with the people who attacked us on 9/11. Years later – and a trillion dollars and thousands of destroyed lives later – we’re still recovering from that decision.
 
Two years ago this month, you might remember, John McCain had vaulted ahead of Barack Obama in the presidential race with his pick of Sarah Palin. Then Palin and the economy imploded.
 
For a couple of weeks, we all had the sickening feeling that the fundamental floor of our economy was falling out from under us.
 
After that, Obama sailed into the White House.
 
This year, the “narrative” of this campaign has been fixed: huge Republican gains. But there could be X Factors.
 
And the Great Collective Media Mind will not be content to write this same story for seven weeks. At some point, the story line will change. It could be a brief detour – or a permanent U-turn.
 
But stability is not something I would count on in today’s world.

 

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10
Arthur Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, said this week that the Times eventually will stop printing the paper and go totally on-line. Some say that could come as early as 2015.
 
Just shoot me now.
 
Not just because I’ll be one of the final holdouts who will still have a morning paper in my cold dead hands.
 
It’s also a sign of where the news media is headed in America: more overheated cable news frenzy about things like building mosques and burning Korans.
 
Don’t get me wrong. I love the online world – email, texting, Google, Wikipedia, information at my fingertips and, of course, my blog.
 
But there must be a direct correlation between the decline in newspaper-reading and the rise in the shouting-past-each-other slugfest that cable news has become.
 
That’s how a seemingly peaceful imam in New York and a clearly nutty preacher in Florida can dominate the news.
 
For myself, I have a strategy. I’m partial to WRAL’s news. Sometimes, then, to NBC Nightly News. Then Jon Stewart. Then, click! No Fox, MSNBC or CNN. I don’t even like the screaming heads I agree with.
 
If ESPN is showing anything that involves throwing, kicking or hitting a ball, I’m on it. There is some real human drama!
 
If not, there’s always a book. Until I have to get a Kindle, I guess.
 

 

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09
In PR it’s called “getting ahead of the story.”
 
Roy Cooper has tried it twice on the SBI story. Not happening. The N&O owns this story. Another Pulitzer is in sight. And today the N&O showed Cooper again that it, not he, is driving this train.

Yesterday Cooper tried to get ahead by announcing Gerald Arnold to oversee the crime lab. But that news was relegated to the second line of a photo caption – and inside coverage. The big headlines were about more problems and Cooper’s political future. 

(By the way, Cooper has now officially been a rising political star in four consecutive decades, going back to the 1980s.)
 
Cooper first tried to get in front of the story before it even ran. He moved Robin Pendergraft from the SBI days before the N&O series started. That may have given him some breathing room. Or it may have just made him look panicky.
 
Here’s some advice earned during Governor Jim Hunt’s 16 years in office: Stop. Stop trying to get ahead of tomorrow’s story, or next week’s, or next month’s.
 
This story will go on at least another two years. The right PR thing to do is the right thing to do – period. And you’re not going to figure out what that is if you approach this as a daily PR battle.
 
Cooper & Co. need to take a breath. Realize they’re in a marathon, not a sprint. Take the time – and invest whatever brainpower it takes – to figure out exactly what is wrong and what is the best long-term fix. Then do it.
 
It would be even worse if he was trying to solve this problem in the middle of a campaign. Fortunately for Cooper – and the state – he has two years before he has to face the voters again.
 
Fortunately also, the legislature isn’t in session. Cooper and the law enforcement community have a few months to prevent the honorables from doing permanent damage to the justice system.
 
The SBI story may have hurt Cooper’s chances to be UNC President, although a lot of influential university people already had been arguing that a “politician” shouldn’t run the system.
 
Cooper has time to do this right. He needs to take it.
 

 

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08
For a long time, I thought the main driver in this election was the rotten economy.
 
But the 2010 election instead may be all about the colossus who stands astride American politics today – for better and for worse: Barack Obama.
 
That thought occurred to me when I read this from Tom Jensen at Public Policy Polling:
 
“How people are planning to vote this fall in the state is highly correlated with how they feel about Obama. Folks who like the President are planning to vote Democratic by an 86-5 margin but those who do not like Obama are going toward the Republicans 85-5. With a majority in the state unhappy with Obama that's a big problem for Democrats and it's a change from past election cycles where the party held on at the state level because folks separated out their feelings about national Democrats from North Carolina Democrats.”
 
Obama’s election in 2008 was an earthquake. He is, shall we say, fundamentally different from any prior President. He is black. He has real charisma. He is “different” – a description that means a lot of things to people, good and bad.
 
He won because he inspired a surge of new voters – especially minorities and young people.
 
But his election clearly upset a lot of people – and seemed to unhinge some. That’s the root of the stubborn belief that he’s a socialist, or a Muslim, or not born in America, or a one-man sleeper cell or maybe Satan himself.
 
Those are the excited voters in this election. And there is nothing like fear, anger and the smell of victory to motivate voters.
 
After all, Obama’s election in 2008 was rooted in fear and anger toward George Bush and the Republicans. Obama caught that wave with a message of hope and change that drove millions of people to the polls.
 
But now the voters who elected him seem dispirited – or disappointed that he hasn’t yet fixed the economy, brought about world peace, saved the planet from pollution and changed the culture of Washington.
 
If this theory of the election is correct, there may not be a lot that Democratic candidates can do. It will be hard to separate themselves from the President, and if they try they will make the Obama legions mad.
 
Without a dramatic change over the next eight weeks, Obama and the Democrats could suffer as big a defeat this year as Republicans suffered in 2006 and 2008 combined.
 
Of course, Obama will still be President after November. Then we’ll have a heck of a battle the next two years.
 
Stay tuned.
 

 

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07
Here’re two peculiar examples of modern economic theory as practiced by the Obama Administration. Both have to do with the President spending ‘Stimulus Funds.’
 
Alcoa Corporation has a net worth of $12 billion. The Obama Administration gave it $13 million in stimulus funds to pay for renovations at its Cheoah dam on the Little Tennessee River.
 
Beside BP, Alcoa is a piker. BP has a net worth of $101 billion, and, last year before the Gulf oil disaster, the Obama administration gave it $300 million in stimulus funds.
 
It may seem odd coming from a President who wants to raise taxes on the wealthy but the way the President sees it giving two billion dollar corporations money is the kind of government spending that will lift us out of the recession.

 

 

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06
The other night at dinner a Democrat (who’s also a lawyer) started talking about growing up in a small town then stopped in mid-sentence and said, You know, that world no longer exists; then, a few mornings later in the News and Observer columnist Froma Harrop wrote about the TV program Mad Men’s aura of nostalgia:  
“Children in ‘Mad Men’ are neatly dressed and taught etiquette.  Girls don’t wear nail polish, bare their navels or display cleavage in high school.  The division between child and adult is still a valued concept.  Eighth-graders don’t have sex lives, and parents think that being mature is a good thing.  The family dinner hour survives every marital breakup…this is a show for grownups fascinated by a mannerly America not yet turned to chaos by the social upheavals to come.”

 

My Democratic lawyer friend is past 50 with no empathy at all for ‘Tea Partiers’ attending Glenn Beck rallies, but Froma Harrop may have put her finger on the one thing he and Tea Partiers have in common: They’re both looking at the past, then looking at the world around them and asking, What happened?
 
And these days if you’re past fifty it does seem like what is happening is social chaos – your assets have vanished, greed has ravaged Wall Street, the politicians have run amuck, your marriage has turned out to be a bigoted institution since gays can’t marry and if you oppose building the mosque in Manhattan you’re bigoted again.
 
Years ago when I was in high school at the beginning of one school year the history teacher walked into the class room the first day and announced our wisemen and scholars had discovered a better way to study world history:  We were going, he explained, to divide into six ethno-centric cultural groups and instead of judging, say, the Hindus as we always had (through the biased eyes of WASPs) we were going to recognize other cultures and religions as just as noble and true as our own.
 
At the time it seemed like a grand, enlightened idea to be freed of our prejudices so no one stopped to ask what demons we might set loose when we declared the words spoken by the prophets were simply reflections of their own peculiar set of ‘relative values’ or that the apostles creed was simply a ‘situation ethic’ which was morally no better and no worse than others.
 
Exactly where the roots of the modern ideology of ‘diversity’ begin has been lost to history but they surely run back through that high school class. And at first blush ‘diversity’ sounded like a wonderful idea. It was all but impossible to argue against. And, today, arguing against it will provoke a firestorm of scorn. But, that said, over the last nearly 40 years ‘diversity’ has surely turned out to be one of the great levelers of history. It’s flattened long accepted ideas, ancient creeds, whole cultures and a good part of Western Civilization. It glorifies no value so much as a ‘tolerance’ – which means almost anything anyone wants to do is morally justified as long as they don’t stoop to blowing us up or flying airplanes into buildings.
 
And over time diversity opened the door to a second great leveler: Globalism.  And what it leveled was the American middle class. A second generation of wise men – Harvard professors and Wall Street ‘Masters of the Universe’ sold us the gospel of free trade by promising working Americans it was a sure-fired way for them to obtain unheard of prosperity, and the temptation was just too much to resist. But, today, it looks like the fruits of globalism may leave most Americans paupers. 
 
We thought free trade meant the needy masses of Africa and Asia were going to do the grunge work of sweating in factories making textiles and furniture while we were all going to be working in nice air conditioned offices in happier high-tech jobs. Instead, globalism put the American middle class in direct competition with a billion Chinese workers who are delighted to do just about anything an American would do and do it for a dollar an hour.
 
The multi-national corporations moved jobs to Mexico or China and made a killing but middle class income stagnated and now a good part of it is out of work – so people have taken to the streets demanding the politicians come up with a cure for their pain which brings us to a third great leveler:  Demographics. 
 
In those small towns middle class Americans like my Democratic-lawyer friend grew up in years ago most people shared the same religion (even if, perhaps, they didn’t practice it but so faithfully) and elected officials were boringly white and male with the odd exception of a woman now and then.
 
But look at our legislatures fifty years later. They’re a true measure of the demographic changes in the American electorate. Now it is easier for a woman to get elected than a man.  There are districts designed to elect African-Americans.  In Congress we have a Black Caucus, Asian Caucus, Blue Dog Caucus, Gay (and Transgender) Caucus, two Hispanic Caucuses and a Tea Party Caucus. There was a program on C-Span the other night sponsored by the Caucus of Muslim Congressional staffers. Today politics is diverse. And balkanized into clusters of white men, soccer moms, unmarried young women, senior citizens, African-Americans, Hispanics, Protestant fundamentalists, Christian non-fundamentalists and people with no real religion at all. Today the mayor of New York has half a million Muslim constituents.
 
And each group has its own political agenda which usually has to do with money – as a result politics has become the art of groups allying with other groups to get 51% of the vote so they can elect leaders who will take money from other people to give to them.
 
Politics has become the ‘great grab’ and the system works with near perfection: Today roughly half the population is paying taxes and the other isn’t.  And more people are receiving checks from the government (for everything from Social Security to medical care to food) than anyone ever imagined 50 years ago.
 
So where does this leave us? 
 
What do we do culturally when our faith is so watered down we no longer believe there’s enough truth in the Ten Commandments to post them on courtroom walls? What do we do economically if globalism is a bust?  And our politics has degenerated into the art of the great grab?
 
The levelers have grown powerful but the question my Democratic friend asked wasn’t asked in despair – it was asked in dissent. And in politics, What happened? is a profound question. People will argue and pray and debate over it until they find an answer. Then they will ask a simpler question, What do we do?  Next there’s one moment of pure ambiguity, like before a sea change, then the political tides begin to flow and no one can tell where they lead but they’re too powerful to ignore.
 

 

 

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06
Democrats remind me of my friends on the Outer Banks last week: battening down, nervously watching the approaching storm and hoping it turns out to be a Category 1 that spares the house – and the Senate.
 
There are dire warnings of losing the state Senate and possibly even the House – or a result so close a couple of Democrats may bolt and elect a coalition Speaker.
 
Senate Democrats bravely counter that things are looking much better than that forecast.
 
The generic polls look foreboding. For all his political and rhetorical gifts – and granting that his unusual disciple and unique long-term strategic perspective may get him reelected in 2012 – President Obama isn’t giving Democrats any lift.
 
He could well face a Republican House next year. And if it’s a Category 4 storm, a Republican Senate.
 
There is just one course for Democrats to pursue: raise money, rally the dispirited troops and – most of all – savage your opponents. A positive message won’t win this year; you’ve got to make voters hate your opponent more than they hate you.
 
It’s an old and outdated cliché that Labor Day marks the beginning of the campaign. No, it began long ago.
 
This Labor Day means that Democrats have eight weeks to put their disaster-survival kits to use.

 

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05
In a recent blog, Carter posed some lofty questions to me about religion, like: Are all religions equal? Is Islam a violent religion? And so forth.
 
I’ve pondered posting some lofty thoughts that might help our readers in their own struggles with these vital issues of theology and faith.
 
In the end, I’ve decided that the best response is one that Terry Sanford long ago offered to a question that he recognized was intended to drag him into a lengthy and, to Sanford, unproductive debate: “These matters deserve prayerful consideration.”

 

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