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03
Governor McCrory certainly isn’t the only politician “obsessed with his image.” But he shows it more than any politician I’ve ever seen.
 
Read Taylor Batten’s remarkable and revealing account of his hour-and-40-minute interview with the Governor. Batten, editor of the Charlotte Observer’s editorial page (which endorsed McCrory for governor) wrote: “This is a man obsessed with his image and how he’s portrayed. It’s clear he doesn’t go a day without being deeply frustrated by what he sees as unfair attacks on his good name.”
 
Three things come clear. First, it’s easy to get under McCrory’s skin. Second, he reads and remembers everything that is the least bit critical. Third, he can’t remember where he read it or who said it. He criticizes the media for getting things wrong, but he gets wrong what they got wrong.
 
You’re left with the impression of a man who is over his head and about to go under.
 
At one point, the Governor asked Batten: “What are the other eight things I said wrong by the way?...You had an editorial where ‘McCrory’s misstatements. Eight misstatements.’ I forget how many.”
 
Batten: “I tell him I don’t know what he’s talking about, and an adviser points out that he’s thinking of a news story written by a (Raleigh) News & Observer reporter.
 
McCrory says: “No. That was their editorial. Or was that a repeat? Maybe, I don’t know which ones I’m reading.”
 
Indeed he doesn’t.
 
It’s going to be a long three years, Governor.

 

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02
So long as politicians exercise – and abuse – power, we need the press and professors around to question power. But it looks like Republicans in Raleigh want to shut down questions and shut up critics.
 
This after Governor McCrory promised to run an open, transparent administration.
 
First, McCrory’s highly paid PR flacks say they aren’t being paid enough to fulfill their legal obligation to provide public records – that is, records about how our government is working and how our tax money is being spent. No, they want to charge extra for that.
 
Then, McCrory’s political allies at the Civitas Institute demanded emails from Gene Nichols, a UNC law professor who is prone to castigating the Republicans. Maybe Nichols, like the Governor’s flacks, should charge Civitas a few thousand dollars for his time and trouble.
 
Suspicious minds wonder whether the next story will be about pressure on UNC to get rid of Nichols. (“Will no one rid me of this troublesome professor?”)
 
Which would be a modern reprise of the Speaker Ban Law. Which will damage the reputation of North Carolina’s universities. Which will discourage bright, entrepreneurial people from coming to North Carolina.
 
History is replete with the shattered careers of puffed-up politicians who tried to silence their critics. Whatever short-term gains McCrory & Co. think they’re getting here, they will pay a high price down the road. That’s a truth they can’t suppress.
 
The question is whether any Republican leader in Raleigh realizes how wrong-headed – and ultimately self-defeating – this course is.

 

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29
Thanks to Senator Bob Rucho for serving up a heaping holiday helping of hilarity: “JFK could have been the founder and leader of the Tea Party.”
 
Let’s let JFK answer himself. In the 1960 campaign, he said: “I have yet to hear of one single original piece of new, progressive legislation of benefit to the people, suggested and put into a fact by the Republican Party.”
 
Also in 1960, he defined himself this way: “If by a ‘Liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people-their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights and their civil liberties-someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal’, then I'm proud to say I'm a ‘Liberal’.”
 
As to Rucho, let us quote Lloyd Bentsen: “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

 

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27
It wasn’t exactly subtle the other morning when the newspaper ran two stories side by side: One about a single mother who works all day and then works three additional jobs nights and weekends to make ends meet – and a second story about the Director of the Raleigh Housing Authority.
 
It turns out every year the Housing Authority’s board meets to set the director’s pay for the coming year – only there’s an odd fact: Going back years, there’s no record in the board’s minutes of how much the board voted to pay the director – so there’s no public record of the salary some pesky reporter might lay his hands on and publish in the newspaper.
 
Once, according to the News and Observer, the board ran into a problem because Congress put a limit on how much it could pay the Housing Director – a limit the board had long ago exceeded. But, somehow, the board sidestepped Congress and everything worked out fine until the other morning when a reporter showed up and asked why the head of the Raleigh Housing Authority was being paid more than the head of the Chicago Housing Authority.
 
That question must hit the director like a dose of cold water but it turned out the cat was out of the bag – the legislature had changed the law and the News and Observer had come across his salary in records in the state Treasurer’s office.
 
Of course the Chairman of the Board defended the director, saying the director was a wonderful, brilliant, exemplar of civic virtue who earned every penny he made – even if he was making more than the Governor. 
 
This is another chapter in a very old story:  A reasonable man will be a model of frugality for years when spending his own hard-earned money, but the moment he gets appointed to a board where he’s spending other people’s money frugality flies right out the window. The Director of the Raleigh Housing Authority is making $272,000 a year.
 
 
 
 

 

 

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27
It’s the best holiday of all. It’s food, family, friends and football. It’s an all-too-brief pause before the mindless consumerism, stressed-out shopping and forced cheer of Christmas.
 
Only Americans could come up with Thanksgiving. Like July 4th, it’s all ours and All-American. July 4th is food, family, friends and the beach. But it’s for hot weather. Thanksgiving lingers between the waning days of fall and the coming cold of winter.
 
July 4th celebrates us declaring our independence. Thanksgiving celebrates some of us crossing the ocean to get here and surviving by the skin of our teeth, with the help of people who were already here and whom we then ran off, killed off and took the country away from.
 
You gotta love us. Most of all, you gotta love Thanksgiving. Eat up, enjoy and brace yourself. Christmas is coming.

 

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26
As if I didn’t get enough JFK last week, I’m reading a new book about how Kennedy, in his last months, was growing into and getting better at the roles of President, politician and persuader-in-chief.
 
If only President Obama could summon some of that mojo now on Obamacare.
 
The book (“JFK’s Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President,” by Thurston Clark) shows how Kennedy used the presidential pulpit in late 1963 to rally public support on three big issues: civil rights, a tax cut and a nuclear test ban treaty.
 
Kennedy was pushing on all three fronts, all while grieving the death of his infant son, coping with his wife’s grief, dealing with riots and violence in the South, sorting through conflicting advice on Vietnam and plotting a reelection campaign.
 
But he was able, sometimes off the cuff, to come up with lines like this one from his address to the nation on civil rights: "We are confronted primarily with a moral issue....It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.”
 
In the history of American politics, that stands as one of the most powerful statements a President ever made.
 
Clark describes a political trip out West in September, much like the trip Kennedy was to make to Texas two months later. His staff had laid out a schedule and a set of speeches that focused on conservation, national parks and natural resources.
 
The urbane Kennedy was about as much an outdoorsman as President Obama. And it showed. His speeches were flat, the crowds were flat, and the trip looked like a flop. Then, at one stop, Kennedy ad-libbed a few remarks about the test ban treaty – and the importance of avoiding nuclear war. The crowd came alive. Kennedy took note. He started tossing aside his prepared texts and talking about the treaty at every stop. The crowds grew, and so did their applause. The trip turned into a triumph. Kennedy concluded that peace could be a winning issue against Barry Goldwater in 1964.
 
Kennedy had developed the gift of reading his audiences, feeding off their reactions and turning what he learned into a tool for leadership.
 
Contrast all this with President Obama today. For all his speechmaking skills, the President seems unable or unwilling to make a public case for his one signature issue, the Affordable Care Act.
 
It’s telling when the best argument comes from a Republican Governor, John Kasich of Ohio: “It saves lives.”
 
Where is Obama’s speech? Where is the argument that Obamacare saves lives and saves money? Where are the mystical chords, part reason and part emotion, that Kennedy learned to touch?
 
So far, President Obama’s main contribution to the dialogue has been, “It’s on me.” He talks about websites and tech glitches, not human beings and transcending issues. So Democrats like Senator Kay Hagan are running scared and some fear that 2014 could be another 2010.
 
Presidents can’t make websites work. But they can make moral and political arguments. This President needs to get on it.

 

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25
Now, that’s positively Orwellian. And it’s the latest in a long string of eye-catching – and embarrassing – statements by Governor McCrory.
 
Two weeks ago, John Frank wrote in the N&O: “At least a dozen times in his first 10 months as governor, McCrory’s remarks have sparked controversies. McCrory is prone to misspeaking. He generalizes in a way that can insult key constituencies. And he mispronounces the names of even his closest aides.”
 
So now it’s a game to keep score on when the Governor, instead of “stepping on toes,” as he likes to say, is tripping over his own feet.
 
But wait, there’s more. McCrory also said, “If you survey most Democrats, they also agree with our laws and voter ID.”
 
That may have been true at one time. But no more. Democratic support is dropping as more and more Republicans tell the dirty little truth that McCrory won’t admit: There is no problem with voter fraud. This law is intended to keep Democrats from voting.
 
But we’re not done yet. McCrory also said controversy over the voter-suppression law is “much ado about nothing.”
 
“Nothing”?  Suppressing a citizen’s right to vote is “nothing”?
 
Three things here. One, the Governor’s staff needs to recognize that he’s prone to these stumbles when he’s doing national-media interviews. He gets careless, and he overreaches.
 
Two, these things can add up and do real damage to a politician’s image. You can develop a credibility gap like LBJ and Nixon. Or become a punch line like Sarah Palin.
 
Three, history’s judgment awaits. A thoughtful Governor might ask himself: Do I really want to be known as the Governor who tried to block African-Americans, young people, women and older people from voting?
 
Because he will be.
 

 

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22
Farmers are saying they’ve tried and tried but there’s no way on earth they can hire enough workers to pick the apples and cucumbers and sweet potatoes germinating in the fields so Congress had better get in gear and pass immigration reform jack-rabbit-quick to legalize undocumented immigrants (which is the farmers’ polite way of saying illegal immigrants).
 
Now it’s not clear whether there are just flat out no farm workers, period, or if there are just no farm workers as cheap as undocumented immigrants. But, either way, here’s an interesting fact: The big stick – the big argument – farmers laid on Congress to get it moving had nothing to do with wages.
 
The farmers said, pretty bluntly, to the Congressmen, Hispanics now outnumber African-Americans and you Republicans can either pass this bill or lose their votes. Which comes pretty close to saying, You can pass this bill and buy a lot of votes.
 
Which isn’t exactly Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
 
Ronald Reagan once joked, Watching politics behind the curtain is like watching civilization with its pants down.
 
They ought to carve the words in stone over the doorway Congress.
 
 

 

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21
The train wreck hit so unexpectedly and with such force that, after standing his ground through the opening chaos, the President retreated which turned out to be like pouring gas on the fire – the partisan bickering soared. And Obama’s poll numbers tanked. And now listening to the wise men in Washington that was all that mattered: The President’s poll numbers dropping and Republican poll numbers rising.
 
But beyond the ruins of Washington politics the demise of Obamacare may be a sign of a subtler miscalculation: Not too long ago, from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, Utopian (or, yes, Communist) governments filled rooms with geniuses who dutifully gave birth to Five-Year Plans and Ten-Year Plans and Great Leaps Forward which grey-faced apparatchiks, without pity or remorse, promulgated to build a workers' paradise – then they learned a terrible lesson: Government-run economies didn’t work. Geniuses, even with the best of intentions, were frail vessels when faced with the unexpected, the unseen, and the ghost in the machine.
 
President Obama, with all good intentions, started out with a vision of a kind of health care paradise and had his own rooms filled with geniuses who dutifully plan the first step down the yellow brick road – and now he finds himself scrambling to turn back the hands of the clock.
 
So perhaps the lesson to be learned from Obamacare’s rollout isn’t a three-point swing in a generic ballot question in a poll – it’s humility. And a reminder that geniuses are still no match for the ghost in the machine.
 

 

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21
Those of us who remember November 22, 1963, must be a mystery to those of you who don’t. Why do we watch the same clips over and over? Why does it still affect us 50 years later?
 
To start with, it was our first shared televised grief. TV was still new in 1963. It was black and white, and there were only three channels. (You had to walk across the room to change channels, kids!)
 
The assassination happened on a Friday. Everything was cancelled that weekend – every football game, every event, everything. (No college basketball in November then.) So we sat and watched TV for four days. All you could do was sit and watch, over and over, hour after hour, all weekend. Then watch the funeral Monday.
 
The scenes seared into our brains.
 
Then, too, Kennedy was the first television President. He was different from other politicians. They were all old, bald men. Kennedy was young, good-looking and seemingly athletic. He had hair and didn’t wear a hat. He was a war hero. He talked about patriotism, the Peace Corps and serving your country. He did press conferences on live TV, he could be funny and he poked fun at himself.
 
Then there are the lasting questions about the assassination. Could one misfit acting alone really do so much psychic damage to an entire nation?
 
And there are the mysteries of Kennedy’s unfinished presidency: What if he had lived? What would he have done in Vietnam? How would America be different?
 
That Friday afternoon, I was 14, a ninth-grader at Martin Junior High School in Raleigh. I was a Kennedy fan. I got to shake his hand when he made a campaign stop in Raleigh in 1960. For me, he was what politics and public service should be.
 
No matter what we learned later, all his faults and failings, his sins and shortcomings, Kennedy’s death left him frozen in time and memory. He never got old, never got gray, never become a cranky old ex-President.
 
We remember the image and the ideal. We remember the shock and sense of loss. And it has a way of staying with us.

 

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