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02
I have a real problem with the way President Obama blamed George Bush for the budget deficit in his State of the Union speech.
 
But my objection is directly opposite Republicans’. I don’t think Obama blamed Bush enough.
 
As I recall, Ronald Reagan was still blaming Jimmy Carter and the Democrats for everything that was wrong as late as 1984. Obama has another three years to match that.
 
Politically, Obama would be a lot better off if he kept hammering that he inherited an economy that was about to go under – and a budget that already had. Bush, by contrast, inherited a booming economy and a budget surplus.
 
Blame away, Democrats.

 

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28
President Obama showed anew Wednesday night why he got elected – and why he remains the dominant political talent in America today.
 
His speech was masterful. His tone was perfect. And he smilingly skewered a range of targets – Republicans, Democrats, Supreme Court, big banks, you name it.
 
But his positioning was even more important than his performance.
 
The key to his speech was a warning to Republicans in the Senate. In effect, he said that, if Washington doesn’t produce this year, you’re to blame.
 
Republicans have been in high spirits since the Massachusetts election. If they have any sense, they’ll realize they’re on the court with the political version of LeBron James.

 

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25
President Obama made exactly the opposite mistake from Bill and Hillary Clinton on health-care reform.
 
The Clintons drew up a sweeping reform plan in secret, then sent it to Congress, where it died.
 
Obama let congressional Democrats come up with a reform plan. The first time it went to the voters, they voted to kill it. In Massachusetts, no less.
 
History repeats itself. The worst thing that can happen to a President – Democrat or Republican – is to have his own party control Congress. His fate is in the hands of the most extreme element of the party.
 
Now Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have done for Obama what Tom DeLay did for George Bush.

 

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20

 

Up in Washington, DC the Democrats on the City Council have put the Democrats in Congress on the hot seat by passing a law to make gay marriage legal in our nation’s Capital.
 
Now how on earth does that affect, say, Congressman Bob Etheridge who’s running for reelection here in North Carolina?
 
Because Congress either has to approve or disapprove the new law. Except, of course, this being Congress it’s not quite that simple. There’s a third choice: Congress can sit on its hands and do nothing in which case the law automatically takes effect after 30 days.
 
Which is exactly what the Democrats in Congress have in mind. Doing nothing. The question is:  Will the Republican powers-that-be call for a vote?
 
Now you’d think since same sex marriage has lost in every single state where it’s been put to a vote – including Massachusetts – the Republicans would be chomping at the bit for a roll call. But there’s a new theory rolling around Republican circles in Washington that says dodging ‘social issues’ is why Republicans won the Governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey.
 
So Republican leaders at first blush appear no more anxious to hold a vote than, say, Nancy Pelosi.
 
It’s an odd set of circumstances: About the last thing David Price, Brad Miller, Bob Etheridge and Larry Kissell (the Democratic Congressmen running here in North Carolina) want is to take a stand on gay marriage at the start of the election – and they may not have to because the Republican leaders up in Washington may tell them, Look, you don’t want a vote? Fine. Neither do we. Let’s forget about the whole thing.


 

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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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