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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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02
You would think by now out of sheer boredom Congressmen would be looking for new ways to fool voters but, undeterred at using the same old worn-out trick again, just before Christmas eager-beaver Paul Ryan rolled out his new budget, saying how he’d made a deal with the Democrats to cut spending and cut the deficit – which sounded pretty good until it turned out he hadn’t done any such thing.
 
Ryan’s new deal didn’t cut spending this year, or next year, or the year after – it increased it. So where are the cuts? Well, they’re promises Ryan is sure will happen a decade from now – if Congress doesn’t change its mind.
 
It’s hard to tell which is worse – Ryan increasing spending or Ryan saying he cut spending when he didn’t.
 
But give Paul Ryan credit for one thing – he’s proven Congressmen, like pickpockets, are not just sneaky – they’re predictable.

 

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18
Maybe I should apologize. But would Bob Rucho apologize? No sir! So I’ll double down, as they say.
 
My blog yesterday – warning that the next Congress might be run by people who think like Rucho – apparently ruined the Christmas spirit for some Democrats.
 
My friend Jerry Wayne Williamson of Boone (follow him at @JerryWilliamso1) wrote, “Well, Merry Christmas to you too! That's the most depressing thing I've read all morning!” Long-time colleague June Milby said, “Gary, It's the Christmas season, even Scrooge was redeemed right there at the end. Don't hit us too hard with the ghosts of Christmas past. There's plenty of time in January for that!
 
I can’t help it. And here I go again. Spoiler alert: This could really ruin your Christmas.
 
Here it is: Think about the chances that the 2014 elections could be even worse for Democrats than 2010 was.
 
Historically, second mid-term elections are disastrous for Presidents. See LBJ in 1968, Nixon/Ford in 1974 and Reagan in 1986. There are exceptions, like Clinton in 1998.
 
But here’s a disturbing poll finding from this week, a nugget that the Washington Post called “one very bad number for Obama”: The Post-ABC poll asked whether people trust Obama or the Republicans in Congress to do a better job "coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years." Forty-one percent said they trusted Obama. Forty-one percent said they trusted Republicans in Congress.
 
Let that sink in. Think about how the Republicans in Congress have done their jobs in recent years: the shutdowns, the shakedowns and the sheer nuttiness. Then tell yourself: Americans trust that crowd just as much as they trust the President.
 
This reflects, of course, the disastrous debut of Obamacare. Maybe, as some pundits predict, that will be gone and forgotten next November. Maybe not.
 
Thus far, experience tells us that when Obama is on the ballot, all goes well. Maybe it’s that people just feel good voting for him. But when he’s not on the ballot, look out.
 
And make no mistake: For better or for worse, the 2014 election will be a referendum on Obama. There is no escaping it. Even worse, there is not a lot that down-ballot candidates, from Senator Kay Hagan down, can do about it.
 
So, as Democrats enjoy Christmas and prepare for a new year, they need to plan for the worst, hope for the best and work like hell.

 

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13
Every child knows just before Christmas is the time to be ‘as good as you can be’ – so you might think after the mischief it’s been up to this year Congress would be rolling up its sleeves and planning to work straight through the holidays to pass the farm bill, a jobless benefits bill, the defense budget and confirm a new Federal Reserve Chairman – but you’d be dead wrong.
 
The House stops work tomorrow to head home and the Senate (which already took a week off earlier this month) will follow a few days later. In all, the two chambers will have worked 10 days each this month.
 
What are the chances they’ll be receiving ashes and switches for Christmas?

 

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13
Both President Obama and Governor McCrory are learning that reforming health care can be harmful to your political health. Their politics are different, but their experiences are strikingly similar.
 
Both are trying to make big changes in the health care system, Obama with the Affordable Care Act and McCrory with Medicaid privatization.
 
Both have had a hard time explaining exactly what they’re doing. Few people can explain in a few words what Obamacare does. Few grasp what McCrory is trying to do with Medicaid.
 
Both have had trouble with websites and computer glitches.
 
Both operate in a poisonous, polarized political and media environment with political opponents who are poised to pounce.
 
Both face skeptics in their own party.
 
Both have Cabinet secretaries who have become piñatas for blame and calumny.
 
From both, the lesson is the same. Health care is big, and it’s complicated. You better be clear about what you’re doing. You better not underestimate the obstacles. And you better bring your A game.

 

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