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20
The polls hadn’t even closed in Massachusetts when Democrats formed up the requisite firing squad to fix the blame.
 
In truth, there are three factors here.
 
1. Scott Brown had the greatest gift in politics: an inept and overconfident opponent. Did she really go on vacation in the Caribbean last month?
 
2. Brown was an attractive, likable candidate with a good “narrative,” as they say now.  (“Narrative” used to be called “message.”)
 
3. And the White House lost control of its narrative.
 
The vaunted machine that won the White House in 2008 let the story in 2009 become “higher taxes” and “more spending” – not “get America working again.”
 
Obama never figured out a way to explain to Americans how health-care reform would cure a sickly economy.
 
Back to the drawing board.
 
Footnote: Isn’t it fitting that Massachusetts elected ex-Cosmopolitan model Brown to replace “playboy” Ted Kennedy?

 

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19
Health-care reform may die in Massachusetts today, and Democrats across the country may panic, but a loss in the Senate race won’t be the death blow to the Obama Presidency that Republicans dream of.
 
In fact, Obama wins either way. A Democratic win in Massachusetts guarantees enactment of reform. A Republican win gives him the chance to pivot and blame Republicans for failure.
 
When Obama runs against Washington, he clearly is a better performer than when he runs Washington. Thus it was throughout his campaign.
 
Historically, Democratic Presidents have their toughest times when Congress is overwhelmingly Democratic. See Clinton in 1994, LBJ in 1966 and FDR in 1936.
 
Conversely, Democratic Presidents do best when they can blame the country’s problems on do-nothing Republicans in Congress. See Truman in 1948 and Clinton from 1995 to 2000.
 
In the long run, a Massachusetts defeat may help Obama –help him not only win reelection in 2012, but avoid a Clinton-style debacle in November.

 

 

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16
Nearly 50 years ago, Theodore White wrote a book, The Making of the President, that changed how campaigns are covered.
 
Now Mark Halperin and John Heilemann have revolutionized the genre again with Game Change – in a way that says a lot about today’s politics, communications and culture.
 
White told the inside story of how John Kennedy and his brain trust won the presidential election. No one before had ever gone inside campaigns that way.
 
Halperin and Heilemann dove deeper – into the deepest, darkest corners of politics. They interviewed dozens of people who worked in the campaigns, gave them anonymity and let them talk, dish and gossip – which campaign people love to do.
 
Tell us everything that happened, went the authors’ siren song. Let ‘er rip. Give us the seamiest, sexiest details. Settle all your scores. Get back at all your enemies – inside and outside your campaign.
 
The book has barely hit the shelves, and it already has rocked Sarah Palin, John McCain, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid and John and Elizabeth Edwards.
 
From now on, anyone who works in a presidential campaign will have to expect that their every word, every conference call, every meeting, every outburst, every screw-up, every embarrassing moment will be revealed to the world.
 
Teddy White made campaigns look like smoothly running engines where all goes according to plan.
 
H&H reveal the reality: Campaigns are exercises in human frailty, futility and frustration.
 

 

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08
Democrats need to stop wringing their hands and worrying about November. And start fighting back on health care.
 
Here’s the message:
 
This year – over the opposition of every single Republican in Congress – we did something that Americans have needed for 50 years.

When the health-care bill passes, every American will be able to get insurance. Every American will be able to see a doctor. No American will get turned down.

And if the Republicans win big this fall, you can be sure of one thing: They will take that health care guarantee away from you.
 

 

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07
There is a natural rhythm that usually governs politics. And it suggests that 2010 will be a Republican year.
 
But not so fast.
 
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote The Cycles of American History about those political rhythms.
 
In recent years – as both parties have migrated to their political extremes – the cycle has become more volatile.
 
After Republican dominance in the 1980s – they won three straight presidential elections – the country went Democratic in1992, then sharply Republican in 1994, then Democratic again in 1996 and 1998.
 
Then came Bush and two good Republican cycles in 2002 and 2004. Then two Democratic cycles in 2006 and 2008 – and Obama.
 
The reason is simple. Both parties – either quickly or eventually – overreach their mandates. And the voters pick the other party to bring things back to the middle, where neither party has its center of gravity any more.
 
So what could keep 2010 from being a Republican year? The answer: Republicans.
 
This could be a replay of 1998. That should have been a Republican year, coming after Clinton’s reelection and his Monica Lewinsky impeachment scandal.
 
But Republicans – led by Newt Gingrich – overplayed their hand. Voters decided that the GOP was more interested in its power than their problems.
 
Democrats – including John Edwards in North Carolina – won big.
 
Republicans’ stridency, negativity and hypocrisy today stun me. But they don’t bother me. I hope they keep it up. It’s the Democrats’ best hope.

 

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06
As the health-care battle resumes in Washington, some history may be just what the doctor ordered.
 
Most people believe this battle traces back to Bill and Hillary Clinton’s failed effort to reform health care in 1993-1994.
 
Actually, it goes back to 1991 – and a now-forgotten special election for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.
 
Harris Wofford, who had been a civil rights adviser to John Kennedy, was appointed to the Senate by then-Governor Bob Casey (father of the current Senator Casey) to succeed John Heinz (who was married to Teresa Heinz – now Teresa Kerry) after Heinz died in a plane crash..
 
When Wofford ran in 1991, he was an underdog to former Republican Governor Dick Thornburg, who was seen as a potential presidential candidate.
 
Wofford’s campaign was run by two then-little known Democratic consultants: James Carville and Paul Begala.
 
They found that Pennsylvania voters were worried about paying for health care. And they adopted as their battle cry something a voter said in a focus group:
 
“If every criminal has the right to see a lawyer, every American should have the right to see a doctor.”
 
Thanks to that issue, Wofford won.
 
The next year, Carville and Begala ran Clinton’s presidential campaign. Everybody remembers Carville’s famous war-room sign: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
 
But few know what else was written on the sign: “Change vs. status quo. And don’t forget health care.”
 
Democrats should remember that lesson now. Their reform message must be just as simple and strong.
 
If it is, the Republicans’ rock-solid opposition may come back to haunt them this November.
 

 

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01
The Teens may come to be Barack Obama’s decade the way the Eighties were Ronald Reagan’s decade.
 
Ideology aside, the two Presidents have much in common.
 
Both were outsiders who ran campaigns that upset conventional wisdom.
 
Both had lives before politics – Reagan as an actor and union leader, Obama as a community organizer and law professor. And both were ridiculed for those pursuits.
 
Both made themselves into good writers – and great public speakers.
 
Both came to the White House when Americans desperately wanted change.
 
Reagan’s sunny optimism was a welcome relief from the gloom, malaise and economic stagnation of the Seventies.
 
The question is whether Obama’s laid-back style will wear as well as a contrast to the last decade’s hyper-partisanship, terror of terrorism and near-economic catastrophe.
 
If it does, this will be his decade.

 

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31
Republicans – including Senator Richard Burr – couldn’t wait to blame the Obama administration for the Christmas Day terrorist scare.
 
In other words, to indulge in the kind of politics they called unpatriotic when Bush and Cheney were in charge.
 
Let’s look at some facts.
 
A. Burr agrees with the President that the failed attack in Detroit was a colossal failure in communications between the State Department, the intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security. 
 
B. Burr concludes that the Obama administration isn't being tough enough in the war on terrorism.
 
C. The 9/11 attacks took place almost 100 months ago.
 
D. Obama has been President for 11 months.
 
E. Bush and Cheney were in charge of American security for 89 months.
 
Now let’s play the blame game.

 

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30
A year is a long time in politics. One year ago:
  • Barack Obama was a colossus, a superstar who had transformed politics
  • Bev Perdue was about to enjoy a (short) honeymoon
  • The clouds over Mike Easley were just gathering
  • Tony Rand was ready for another turn as second-in-command of the Senate
  • Wake County Democrats were celebrating winning control of the county commissioners.
You know what happened next – and why Republicans are confident, even cocky.
 
But they should wish the 2010 elections were today. And Democrats should be glad they’re 10 months away.
 
A year is a long time in politics.

 

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22
President Obama and the Democrats are doing a better job ramming health-care reform through the Senate than explaining it.
 
They should try this message: 31 million.
 
That’s the number of uninsured Americans who will get health insurance over the next decade because of the bill. That’s not Democratic rhetoric. That’s from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
 
The cost? Well, the CBO says the bill will CUT the deficit.
 
Only a Republican could fuss, fume and fulminate because 31 million fellow Americans will get better health care.
 
Instead of worrying that society is losing the true meaning of Christmas, Republicans should practice what Jesus preached.
 

 

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