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19
This isn’t a story of sin begetting sin but of foolishness begetting foolishness.
 
Years ago, somewhere, some Democratic political guru sat in a room with reams of demographics of people who never had voted and when he finished studying those pages of statistics one fact was clear as a bell: If those folks started voting more Democrats would be elected.
 
Next, over in the state legislature, the Democratic  politicians went to work and passed motor-voter laws to register people when they applied for a driver’s license.
 
Of course, the Democrats didn’t say they passed those laws to elect more Democrats – they dressed them up in fine sounding rhetoric about the importance to Democracy of more people voting.
 
Voter registration soared – but the new voters didn’t vote.
 
So the Democratic legislators went back to work passing laws to increase voter turnout – like allowing early voting, same day registration, and Sunday voting.
 
But that didn’t make much difference either.
 
Then, in 2008, Barack Obama ran for President.
 
Now, some Democrats will argue that election was when all their years of labor finally paid off – and that Barack Obama running for President was a coincidence. Turnout soared. But, for instance, did African-American turnout rise in 2008 because voters suddenly discovered early voting – or because the first African-American in history was on the ballot.
 
Two years later, in the 2010 election, when President Obama was not on the ballot African-American turnout dropped again. Then, in 2012, when he was on the ballot it went back up. All that seems to indicate Barack Obama, himself, was the prime impetus behind turnout rising and falling – not early voting.
 
Then Republicans came to power.
 
Now, let’s concede, for arguments sake, that when Republicans took office they looked at all those Democratic election laws and reached the exact same conclusion Democrats had years ago – that they’d helped elect Democrats. And they figured turnabout – and repealing those laws – was fair play.
 
Of course, like Democrats years before, Republicans couldn’t very well say they were changing the laws so fewer Democrats would be elected – so, dressed their new laws up in a lot of fine-sounding rhetoric about stopping voter fraud.
 
The new Republican laws elicited a howl from Democrats, led by the formidable Reverend William Barber, so fierce that by the time the Republican plan passed it was all but neutered – there would be seven less early voting days but the number of early voting hours per day would increase so in the end the total number of hours would remain exactly the same.
 
There was a new voter ID requirement but, in the age when a campaign (a Democratic friend actually told me this story about the Obama campaign) can text message three female Obama supporters in North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Alabama, and ask them each to call an undecided female voter in Colorado, how long can getting a voter ID slow a campaign down?
 
Governor McCrory signed the new legislation into law and put out a YouTube video saying how, now, elections would to be clean and safe – but before the ink was dry on the page Reverend Barber sued him, held a press conference, and landed on TV with a 53 minute video of his own.
 
The Governor, the Reverend explained, had landed NC right back in days of Jim Crow. He had trampled on the blood of Civil Rights martyrs, and the combination of the new laws and the Supreme Court’s recent decision on the Voting Rights Act made for the worst day in North Carolina history since the union troops left the state after Reconstruction.

There is the kind of irony here that can only happen in politics: The Democrats pass laws to elect Democrats – that don’t work. Then Republicans undo the Democratic foolishness that didn’t work – to elect Republicans. None of which – on either side – will make a tootles worth of difference when it comes to electing anyone but has led to a political howl so earthshaking you’d think the greatest threat to North Carolina today is whether a precinct has 100 hours of early voting over 17 days or 100 hours of early voting over 10 days.

 

 

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01
“You have a Republican majority that is doing exactly what they were elected to do.” -
Claude Pope, state GOP chairman

“They really messed up when they screwed with the mothers, the teachers and the women.” - Shannon Shanks, Wilmington teacher
 
Well, in 2014 and 2016 we’ll find out who’s right.
 
Republicans may find that their biggest problem isn't just what they did, but how they did it. It was mean, angry and vengeful.
 
They fit right in with the face of the Republican Party nationally. In Washington, they are mean, angry obstructionists. In Raleigh, a mean, angry wrecking crew. Angry old white men lashing out at mothers, teachers and women, not to mention minorities, young people, older people, rural people, city people, gay people, sick people, not-rich people, you name it.
 
Republicans drew districts and passed a voter-suppression law to keep those people in their place. But Americans have this way of rising up when they’re told to sit down and shut up.
 
Even Republicans here worry about the overreach. They stay silent because they want to taste the fruits of victory.
 
But the way they’re going, the may be out of power for another 100 years.

 

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18
Because it’s about a big electoral prize that Democrats dream about – and because it has some salience to North Carolina – this long article in Texas Monthly is worth a read for Democrats. (Sorry, Republicans, it’s banned for you.)
 
The article addresses this proposition: “Democrats once ruled Texas. Then came five decades of steady decline. Can Wendy Davis, the Castro brothers, and Team Obama’s vaunted field operation return their party to power? And if they can’t, can anyone?”
 
North Carolina Democrats start in a far stronger position than Texas Democrats. They’ve won here. President Obama won here. But, still, what will it take to take back the Governor’s Office and the legislature?
 
One interesting fact: Texas is the only state bigger than North Carolina that Mitt Romney won. In other words, populous states go Democratic, and less-populous states go Republican. Which explains why Democrats have an edge in the White House and Republicans, in the U.S. Senate.
 
Not to spoil it, but the last line of the article is worth sharing: “Perhaps what Democrats in Texas need most desperately is not a winner but simply a fighter. Winning comes later.”

 

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15
The other day Thomas Edsall of the New York Times reported that a terrible thing has happened. Since the Voting Rights Act passed, the number of Black state legislators has grown from fewer than 5 to 313 – but at the same time, Black political power has diminished. The problem: Most Black legislators are Democrats which makes them members of the minority party now that Republicans control every state legislature in the “former Confederacy.”’
 
It’s what’s called, Edsall reported, the ‘Re-segregation in Southern Politics.’
 
The way Edsall sees it, two varmints are responsible for this sorry state: Southern whites leaving the Democratic Party and Republicans drawing redistricting plans.
 
Now there is a whole dollop of subtle forces at work here which make this lament a little like the fellow who got exactly what he asked for – but then cried foul because it wasn’t what he expected.
 
North Carolina’s an example.
 
The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to remove roadblocks on Black voter registration. And it did. Then it evolved into a kind of affirmative action program to help elect African-Americans to office. And it did that too.
 
But, in 2011, after Republicans got control of redistricting, one of those subtle forces (with an acute sense of irony) moved, and when it finished moving Republicans were taking electing African-American politicians a lot more seriously than Democrats ever had.
 
Once, years ago, a friend who wanted to run for State Senate came to see me and said, What do you think? And I looked at the demographics in his district and said, I’d pass. Thirty percent of the registered voters in the district are African-Americans – I don’t see much chance you or any other Republican will win it.
 
That was just harsh reality. When 30% or 40% of a district’s voters were African-Americans, demographically, it meant the district was almost always going elect a Democrat. And Democrats understood that. So when they redistricted they always created lots of districts where 30% to 40% of the voters were African-Americans.
 
That elected the most Democrats.
 
But it didn’t necessarily elect the most African-Americans – because a lot of the Democrats representing those districts were white.
 
 
Then, in 2011, when Republicans controlled redistricting – maybe due to temptation or just plain calculation or, maybe, listening to that subtle voice – they reached two straightforward conclusions.
 
The first was that the way to comply with the Voting Rights Act (and elect more African-Americans) was to create more districts where African-Americans were a majority of voters.
 
And that’s what they did.
 
Republicans legislators drew more ‘majority-minority’ districts than Democrats ever had, and the next election more African-American legislators were elected than ever before.
 
The second conclusion was that creating more districts where 50% or 51% of the voters were African-Americans meant the other districts would be more likely to elect Republicans.
 
And that happened too. It worked just as planned – so far.
 
Of course, the Democrats were unhappy so they sued to overturn the Republican redistricting plan – which led to the ironic circumstance of Democrats standing up in court arguing only 40% of the voters in a district should be African-Americans while Republicans were arguing, Well, if 40% is a good idea why isn’t 50% better – it means more African-Americans will be elected.
 
And, of course, the only answer Democrats had was odd too – faced with a plan to elect more African-Americans but fewer Democrats they said, No way.
 
So, in the end, the Voting Rights Act worked just as it was intended. African-American registration grew. Turnout grew. More African-Americans were elected. The Democrats got exactly what they wanted. But then – in what must have seemed like an act of malicious magic to Democrats – the whole thing backfired.
 

 

 

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07
 
(Hey, 69 isn’t so old!)
 
“She’s been around since the ’70s,” one Republican operative said. Another: It would be “a rerun of ‘The Golden Girls’.”
 
Democrats could reply that Ronald Reagan was 69 and popular with young voters when he was elected President. Or maybe not, given rumors that his faculties diminished during his second term.
 
Playing the age card in politics is unpredictable. When questions were raised about Reagan’s age in 1984, he used them to demolish Walter Mondale in a debate – settling the issue and the election.
 
But a smart, subtle independent campaign worked against Senator Elizabeth Dole in 2008. The ads never said: “She’s too old.” They noted instead that she had been in Washington a loooooooong time. Of course, anybody married to Bob Dole had to be old.
 
Do young voters want a young candidate? Could Paul Ryan or Rand Paul appeal to voters who don’t like Republican positions on women’s rights, immigration, college loans, gay marriage, voter ID, education cuts, etc., etc.?
 
Age itself probably won’t be the issue. The question is whether Clinton looks like a blast from the past or a fresh voice for the future.
 
She has enormous potential as a candidate. She could expand the Obama coalition – and the electoral map. She could do even better than he did with a key swing vote: suburban women.
 
But she ran a terrible campaign in 2008. It was arrogant, unfocused and riven with internal conflict. She’ll have to do better this time.
 
That will determine whether her age – and experience – work for her, or against her.

 

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02
Back during the Korean War, when the Marines were surrounded by the Chinese at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, a reporter asked Major General Oliver P. Smith if he was retreating and Smith said, “Retreat, hell! We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction." That was tough leadership.
 
Back in the 1990’s when times were good, with no recession and no wars, John Boehner would probably have done just fine as House Speaker, but these days the good times are a fading memory and with war and recession all over the place it’s time for tough leadership again – but instead Boehner’s getting bounced around from pillar to post like a pinball.
 
Take the Farm Bill: If Boehner’d sided with conservatives to fight for deep spending cuts he’d have to take a big risk: The Farm State Republicans could abandon him, team up with the Democrats, and defeat his bill.
 
That prospect wasn’t palatable, so instead Boehner sided with the Farm State Republicans and supported a bill to spend $940 billion – or 1% less than the Democrats in the Senate. Of course, that meant Boehner was sure to lose conservative votes but, at least, with the help of a few Democrats he might just squeeze by.  
 
What happened next was pure Washington politics: The Democrats sandbagged him. And voted against the Farm Bill. To put the squeeze on Boehner to get a better deal.
 
And, for Boehner, there’s even worse news: He faces that same conundrum every time a major spending bill comes up – because the cuts are almost always going to be controversial and there’re almost always going to be some group of Republican Congressmen who’ll say, No way, Jose – we’re not voting for those cuts.
 
So, at least on the Farm Bill, in an exercise in what’s called ‘realism’ in Washington, Boehner’s opted for little cuts rather than fighting for big cuts.
 
But that lands Boehner in another conundrum: Cutting spending a hair less than Democrats isn’t likely to wash on Election Day. Republican Congressmen can’t very well vote to spend $940 billion on a Farm Bill then turn around and rant to voters about Democrats raising the debt ceiling to pay for it.
 
 
 

 

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20
Earlier this year there was a lot of moaning and gnashing of teeth about the terrible Sequester spending cuts – listening to the politicians up in Washington you’d have thought the government was teetering on its last legs, on the brink of financial Armageddon, staring doom in the face.
 
President Obama even said the White House was in such dire straits – due to lack of money – he had to close down White House tours.
 
But now the Washington Post reports the President’s spending $100 million to visit three nations in Sub-Saharan Africa.
 
It’s a relief – the government’s not broke.
 
But our politics is still broken.
 

 

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11
It seems Republicans up in Congress have split into two hostile tribes – whether you call them ‘Moderates and Conservatives’ (as they did forty years ago) or the ‘Conservatives and Pragmatists’ (as they did twenty years ago) or ‘Insiders and Outsiders’ (as they do now).
 
Now, say, on spending, the Conservatives (or Outsiders) are dead-set certain we’d all be a lot better off with a lot less government. It’s an article of faith. To Conservatives Less Spending = Less Government = Good Things Happening.
 
More to the point, they figure if voters don’t agree, say, with shuttering the Department of Education, it’s their job to go to work and show ‘em that sending billions to Washington for schools then turning around and sending it back to the states isn’t the best idea on earth.
 
And they’re willing to risk their political hides to do it.
 
The Insiders (or Pragmatists) don’t really have any philosophical aversion to cutting spending or government. But they also figure Republicans aren’t going to be doing much good in Washington if they lose their majority in the House – so they don’t see much virtue in risking their political hides for an unpopular spending cut, even if they agree with it.
 
It’s as old a political fight as I know of in Republican politics: One group of fellows says, Let’s do what’s right and damn the torpedoes. It’ll all come out right in the end – and the other group takes one look at the torpedoes and says, Hold on.
 

 

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15
You can easily flick aside a Republican witch hunt on Benghazi. After all, they’ve been at it since Mitt Romney popped off the first day.
 
You can manage a controversy about the IRS targeting Tea Party groups – so long as, unlike Nixon, the White House wasn’t involved.
 
But your Justice Department subpoenaed AP reporters’ phone records? Now you’ve got a real problem.
 
Now you’ve made reporters and editors mad. Now they’ll plunge into an orgy of Nixon comparisons and “second-term jinx” stories. Now they’ll cover all the congressional investigations and hearings into all of the above.
 
This too, you can manage. But you may have to chop off some heads. And you must keep calm and carry on.

 

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07
The trouble with South Carolina, Robert E. Lee supposedly said, is that it’s too small to be an independent nation and too large to be an insane asylum. Which helps explain why Mark Sanford may win his congressional race tonight.
 
The other explanation is our politics today. We are so deeply and bitterly divided into our respective tribes that no amount of bizarre behavior will keep us from voting for our tribe’s candidate.
 
And we Democrats shouldn’t throw stones. We stuck by President Clinton after his less-than-exemplary behavior in the White House. (Good thing we did.)
 
Of course, Clinton didn’t approach Sanford’s level of sheer nuttiness (See: “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” and “Argentine Soul Mate”.) But, hey, we’re talking South Carolina here.

 

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