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10
A long time long ago in the far away Kingdom of Columbialand  two tribes battled over control of Congress for years then one of the tribes (the Republicans) split into two smaller tribes: The Pachyderms and the Tea Partiers.
 
The Tea Partiers turned out to be an unusual tribe. They had a creed and they also had no doubt at all the highest virtue of all was to fight ferociously for spending cuts.
 
When it came to spending cuts, the Pachyderm Chief agreed with the Tea Partiers. Or, at least, he said he did. But, in practice, the Chief had discerned an odd quirk of human nature: He’d figured out that while almost everyone (meaning all the voters in Columbialand) liked spending cuts, as soon as the Tea Partiers cut a specific program everything turned upside down. For instance, if the Tea Partiers cut farm subsidies farmers were outraged and adamantly said, No. He’d seen the same thing happen over and over; whenever the Tea Partiers tried to cut funding for parks, or schools, or widget makers – someone always got mad.
 
Once when the Tea Partiers tried to cut defense spending it made defense contractors so mad they’d told  the Chief they wouldn’t give him another dollar – which caused the Chief a huge conundrum. Because what he loved (with the same passion the Tea Partiers loved that creed of theirs) was winning elections.
 
So the way the Chief saw it what the Tea Partiers were doing was just plain lunacy and, finally, one December morning when he’d had enough he declared war. He opened fire with both barrels, telling everyone who’d listen the Tea Partiers were crooks who were raising money (from the Republican faithful) to line their own pockets then he made a deal with his sworn enemies, the Obamacrats, and passed a budget that increased spending.

For one moment, it looked like the Chief had won a huge victory. But then he got a rude awakening. He found out what he’d really done was start a Civil War. And, worse still, he was the one in hot water. Out in the hinterlands the average Republican didn’t think any more of his deal with the Obamacrats than the Tea Partiers did.

 

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24
50 years ago we declared war on poverty, spent $20.7 trillion, and lost. So now the President is trying again. Only this time he’s calling it a war on income inequality because a war on poverty only appeals to folks who are poor while a war on income inequality appeals to just about everyone except, maybe, Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.
 
Now you’d think the President would start by attacking the root causes of the income inequality. But politics doesn’t work that way. Because what politicians are interested  in is votes – and taking money from one group of folks and giving it to another is a proven plan that works at the ballot box.  But like a lot of modern politics it does little to fix the root of the problem.
 
The other day in the newspaper Robert Rector reported there are now 80 means-tested welfare programs that take $916 billion from one group of folks and give it to 100 million other folks. Despite that poverty rates haven’t dropped but, on the other hand, poverty is not what it used to be. Today, our typical poor soul lives in a house or apartment in good repair with air-conditioning and cable TV that is larger than the house of an average non-poor soul in France, England or Germany. He has a car, TVs and a DVD player. There’s a fifty-fifty chance he has a computer. A one in three chance he has a big flat screen TV. And, thankfully, a big majority of today’s poor are not undernourished and didn’t endure a day of hunger over the previous year.
 
Still, no one doubts there are still people who need a helping hand – which led Mr. Rector to a surprising fact: Fifty-one years ago, the year before we declared war on poverty, 6% of America’s children were born out of wedlock. Today 41% of our children are born out of wedlock. Now, why on earth should a child’s mother and father not marrying make a farthing’s difference when it comes to how much a child earns when he (or she)  grows up?
 
The answer’s a mystery but statistics don’t lie and they say children raised in single parent homes are four times more likely to be poor, and children who grow up without a father at home are 50% more likely to be poor when they grow up.
 
It sounds illogical but the numbers say more traditional families mean less poverty. But for a politician in pursuit of votes that turns a simple political opportunity into a knotty intellectual problem.
 
One more fact: Today when a mother on welfare has the good fortune to fall in love with a man who has a job and marries him she loses her benefits. Now, in a way, that’s logical. But if you’re a single mother who may be losing, say, $10,000 in benefits it’s also 10,000 reasons not to marry the man of your dreams.

 

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17
The newspaper reporter asked if North Carolina’s Senate Primary was going to be the next litmus test of the Tea Party’s political muscle – and as fast as he could Greg Brannon’s campaign spokesman said ‘Yes’ then added the Primary was just like Senator Rand Paul’s election in Kentucky in 2010 and Senator Ted Cruz’s election in Texas in 2012.
 
“In those races, he said, you had a candidate that was handpicked and heavily supported by the DC establishment up against a Tea Party candidate supported by the grassroots. In both instances the grassroots candidate won big.”
 
Now, of course, you can’t fault Greg Brannon’s spokesman for wanting to get a step ahead of Thom Tillis – but what landed in the newspaper was only part of the story.
 
It’s true Rand Paul and Ted Cruz both won.
 
But on the way to winning they also raised a lot of money. Rand Paul with the help of his father’s supporters across the country. And Ted Cruz with the help of Senator Jim DeMint, who all but adopted him.
 
Here in North Carolina, so far, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris, who’re challenging Thom Tillis, have both been noticeably short of cash.
 
And that’s the big fact in the Senate race: No one, or at best only a handful of voters,  knows Greg Brannon. They don’t know he’s the next Ted Cruz. And he hasn’t had the money to change that. So the real fight in the Republican Primary isn’t between the Establishment and the Tea Party – it’s between Greg Bannon and his empty cash box.

 

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15
Back before Christmas when Congress struck its ‘big budget deal’ the newspapers were running stories left and right telling everyone how Round 2 of the Sequester was going to be aw-ful and terr-ible and croo-el.
 
In one story a lady in Fayetteville told how the army was going to be so decimated by the next round of Sequester cuts that landscaping at Fort Bragg would grind to a halt. Another lady lamented how over in Durham Head Start was serving forty-two fewer children now than a year ago and Lord knows where it would all end.
 
In story after story pundits predicted coming tribulations that sounded eerily like the tribulations the same pundits predicted last spring: The homeless would go without shelter. The army would be crippled. The White House would never reopen for tours.
 
In fact, back last spring, during the first Sequester there was so much wailing and gnashing of teeth that just about everyone got into a dither but, then, the cuts came and went and the sky didn’t fall and life went on pretty much as usual. So this time when the same pundits  begin roaring Armageddon was at hand most folks just sort of shook their heads, thought, I’ve heard all that before, and went on about their business.
 
One group of folks who did get the dithers this time – in a big way – were Republican Congressmen. House Speaker John Boehner got such a bad case of the willies he got into a name calling contest with the Tea Party groups who liked the cuts, calling them varmints and villains then (to the Republicans’ surprise and Obama’s delight) whipping a bill through Congress that killed the cuts stone-cold dead.
 
Which sounded like the end of laments.
 
But wasn’t.
 
Because President Obama waited a few days then announced he wanted the Speaker and the Republicans in Congress to spend another $25 billion to extend unemployment benefits for another year.
 
And what did Speaker Boehner say?
 
He said he reckoned that, first, they ought to cut spending.

 

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14
Democrats fondly hope that, when he comes to NCSU tomorrow, President Obama finally gets his economic message right.
 
He has struggled at that all five years in the White House. For all the good he has done, he has never done well at explaining what he’s doing.
 
In retrospect, maybe he should have spent his first year just driving home what a disaster George Bush left behind – and how difficult the road back would be. Instead, the Spock-like President went straight to what he was doing about the problem. And he got saddled from the get-go with the bailout and stimulus born by Bush & Co.
 
Ever since, he has struggled to balance hope with gloom-and-doom. He has tried different lines and tacks. (One reporter reminded me of his “Sputnik moment” theme; that never achieved liftoff.)
 
The President never had a simple phrase like New Deal or even Two Americas. He never had Bill Clinton’s gift for explaining stuff and feeling your pain.
 
The one time he and his team got the message right was in 2012 against Mitt Romney, and that was a negative message: Romney is a cruel bazillionaire who likes to fire people like you.
 
Now Obama gets a reset, in Raleigh and in his State of the Union. He better get it right this time. Otherwise, his message will be real simple in his last two years: this Republican Congress is screwing you.

 

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10
In a speech a couple of weeks ago the President urged Congress to get moving and pass his bill to extend unemployment benefits then, climbing up on his rhetorical high horse, he added that paying unemployment benefits “is one of the most effective ways to boost the economy” – which sounded a little odd, like the President was saying to boost the economy we need more unemployed.
 
Of course, the President didn’t mean it that way at all – but still, in another way, it shows how much faith the President has in the government spending money.
 
No doubt, most folks would agree Congress spending $25 billion to pay unemployment benefits to help needy families keep body and soul together is a necessary but unfortunate burden. But the President goes a step further:  The way he sees it, if unemployment goes down we win – but if it goes up we win too. Because paying more benefits will boost the economy.
 
That kind of thinking could land a fellow in the poor house.
 
Instead, it looks like paying unemployment benefits is like providing life support to a fellow who’s in the hospital. Keeping the respirator going keeps him alive. But it isn’t curing him. And any doctor who tells him he’s in a win-win situation missed the boat.

 

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08
A “record-high 42 percent of Americans identify as Independents: Republican identification lowest in at least 25 years," Gallup breathlessly tells us. But those numbers may obscure the truth about politics today.
 
It’s not that four in 10 Americans swing bath and forth between the two parties – carefully studying the issues, judiciously judging the candidates and preparing to, as they say, “vote the man, not the party.”
 
It’s that politics and politicians are so hated today that people don’t want the stigma of being a “Democrat” or “Republican.”
 
Most “Independents” toe the party line one way or the other. True swing voters are rare. And they’re hard to reach. They are people, women especially, who don’t trust Democrats on money issues and don’t trust Republicans on moral issues.
 
Given the gulf between the parties today, it’s hard to conceive of an informed voter who doesn’t vote consistently with one party or the other.
 
“Informed” is the operative word here. If someone is truly undecided, they’re probably truly uninformed. And probably tuning out politicians.

 

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07
Years ago a doctor asked my mother her definition of happiness and without batting an eye she said: Love and money.
 
When it came to fundamentals mother got right down to brass tacks.
 
A while back up in Washington a piece of the federal government – the National Academy of Sciences – decided Congress needed to figure out what makes people happy so it could pass bills to bring more joy to their lives – so the NSA did a study asking folks questions like how often they smile or laugh every day.
 
When the study was done the scientists carefully analyzed and weighed the data, intending to share the secret to happiness with Congress but the scientists ran head on into a roadblock.
 
The data showed 87% of the American people were already happy.
 
Which left the scientists in a pickle: Because if Congress didn’t need to get into the happiness business the scientists could be out of a job.
 
So the scientists went to work to find a solution to their problem and they did: 87%, they announced, wasn’t good enough.
 
In fact, the scientists reported, sadly, that America only ranked a measly 17th on the world happiness index – while tiny Denmark, the home of Hamlet, ranked first – and, of course, the scientists had hit a nerve: No red-blooded American Congressman could let himself be outdone by a nation no bigger than Rhode Island.
 
Next the scientists announced they’d also discovered another startling fact: My mother was dead-wrong about money.
 
Folks get happier, the scientists reported, up to the exact point where they earn $36,000 a year (or $144,000 for a family of four).
 
After that, they get unhappier or, at best, their happiness flat lines and stays the same.
 
Finally the scientists reported the worst news of all: The USA, income-wise, has already passed the ‘bliss point.’
 
Americans are already making too much money to be happy.
 
Now, there’s a problem Congress can solve.

 

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06
Millions of dollars will be spent and billions of words spilled, but only one thing will decide this election: Will voters be madder at President Obama or at Republicans in the legislature?
 
On today’s market, the outlook for Democrats is as chilling as a New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge. For two months, the news has been all Obamacare – and all bad. While Obama energizes voters when he’s on the ballot, the magic doesn’t transfer when he’s not. In 2010, his voters stayed home and the Obama-haters turned out in droves. That’s what got North Carolina in this mess.
 
If that happens again, Kay Hagan could lose, and Republicans could control both houses of Congress and keep super-majorities in Raleigh.
 
2015 would be no fun.
 
But, then, in 2016, Americans and North Carolinians would recoil at the result, Republicans will nominate Ted Cruz for President and there will be a Democratic landslide statewide and nationally.
 
There’s also a more optimistic scenario for Democrats this year: Anger at the legislature over the damage done to education could trump anger at Obama. The GOP and Tea Party could overreach nationally, like 1998, when Newt Gingrich & Co. overreached, lost big and paved the road for John Edwards’ election.
 
The point is that elections today are driven by negative emotions, namely fear and anger. No politician is popular. No politician has approval ratings above the 40s in North Carolina. By contrast, Jim Hunt stayed north of 60 percent most of the time he was Governor.
 
So keep an eye on one thing: Who are the voters maddest at in November?

 

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03
When I saw the headline I thought it must be a hoax but it turned out to be true: Congress, which hasn’t passed a budget in memory, had held a dead-serious, high-level, official hearing to establish whether there is extra-terrestrial intelligence in the universe.
 
As one wit quipped on the Washington Post’s website, First, they need to determine if there is intelligence in the Republican leadership in Congress.
 
Now this may all just sound like normal political foolishness as usual and you may say, Ho hum – but think about it: This bit of foolishness may have teeth.
 
Now, anytime a Republican Congressman slams a Democrat Congressman (who has a sense of humor) about the Obamacare meltdown the Democrat can simply look back at him, smile sweetly, and say, Well, I’m not the one who believes E.T. may be real.


 

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