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01
 
Not every politician can straddle a fence standing on one leg, but Newt Gingrich can do it and make it look easy.
 
For over a decade Newt’s enthusiasts and supporters have been saying his ‘Contract with America’ was why the Republicans swept the 1994 election – but, in fact, right here in North Carolina just before the election a candidate took a poll and asked voters how they felt about Newt’s ‘Contract with America’ and voters said, Huh? Come again what’s that? They’d never heard of it.
 
But, nonetheless, after the election Newt and his admirers – no doubt believing it – went right on telling how the ‘Contract’ won the election and, in an example of how history is written, fiction became legend and legend became myth.
 
Last week, Newt stepped onto center stage in American politics again – this time to talk about religion and politics.
 
He started his Thanksgiving message by describing a painting in the Capital of the Pilgrims praying on the deck of the Mayflower, then added how on Thanksgiving Day Americans should offer prayers of thanks to the God of Washington and Lincoln but, then, right in the middle of his homily he said “That doesn’t mean we’re all Christians. It means we’re Americans; lucky citizens of a nation uniquely rooted in faith in our Creator.”
 
It sounded odd – right in the middle of all that piety politics reared its ugly head and Newt slipped into covering his flanks with Buddhists and Muslims and so on.
 
Now I reckon most folks would say that was open-minded and big-hearted but it sure sounded like Newt – not meaning to – had demoted the God of Washington and Lincoln with a politically correct bromide.
 
And that’s politics in American today.
 
We’ve become a nation of religious fence-straddlers whose primary goal is not to offend anyone from atheists to Hindus when talking about our Christian heritage.
 
Compare that to General Washington – when he was praying during the winter of 1777 here’s what the Father of Our Country said to his soldiers at Valley Forge: “To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the distinguished character of Christian.”
 

 

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24
  Back after Obama rolled into the White House and North Carolina turned into a ‘Blue State’ overnight Gary told me wryly, Don’t worry, we’ll fi...

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20
Ideologues – left and right – see elections as referendums on philosophy. But voters – often as not – are looking for simple competence. Somebody to run government well: protect us from enemies foreign and domestic, encourage job growth, educate our kids, spend tax money wisely and sparingly, etc.
 
Republicans lost in 2006 and 2008 because President Bush failed the competency test – on the economy, the war, Katrina, the deficit, everything.
 
The American people picked somebody else to steer the ship – not necessarily a new ideology.
 
So why is Obama down in the polls?
 
Well, are things getting better? Are there more jobs? Are we safer? Is the budget under control? Is health care getting fixed?
 
That’s what 2010 will be about.
 

 

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20
 
When I was a boy I had a wire-haired terrier, a stray who showed up on the farm and made himself at home; one day walking past a woodpile the terrier spotted a barn rat and in the blink of an eye charged, ears tucked back, hair bristling; now, far as I know, that terrier had never laid eyes on a rat before but in that one glance knew he’d come face to face with his blood enemy.
 
With the same instinct Sarah Palin seems to have taken one glance at Washington Republican Political Establishment (WRPE) and spotted her blood enemy.
 
The WRPE is a strange beast. Its lineage is hereditary and, over the last thirty years, entwined with the fortunes of the Bush dynasty. You can’t separate the WRPE and the Bushes. President Bush the Senior’s father was a Wall Street banker and Republican Senator from Connecticut – so it was natural when George H.W. Bush landed in Washington he was appointed to one of sinecures of the WRPE – Chairman of the National Republican Party.
 
George H. W. Bush survived Watergate and went on to lead the Washington Republican’s losing fight against Reagan in 1980. Then the Gipper either slipped or got hood-winked in a weak moment and picked George H.W. Bush for Vice President. For awhile after that the WRPE more or less laid low – until Bush was elected President then it re-ascended to supremacy.
 
Next the torch passed to Bush the Younger and with Karl Rove pulling the strings the WRPE took control of just about everything in the Republican Party in Washington and a good bit of it outside Washington – for instance, handpicking candidates (like Liddy Dole).
 
Now the Establishment Republicans are good at flying conservative flags but when it comes right down to it they have no real interest in ideology. They can take it or leave it, depending on whether or not it works politically; to them conservativism isn’t a creed it’s a political tool to be used or discarded as needed.
 
They’re also a company of politicians who’ve learned they can make a lot more money lobbying Republicans than electing them (for instance, five of the six Republican Party Chairmen picked by George Bush have been lobbyists) and, by and large, while they’re world champion lobbyists their record of winning political campaigns is checkered.
 
After Clinton’s impeachment, even with Democratic fortunes at a low ebb, they lost the popular vote in the 2000 election (but had the good fortune to be saved by the Electoral College). They did defeat liberal John Kerry in 2004 but then got walloped by Pelosi and Obama in 2006 and 2008. And then there’s what just happened in the Special Congressional Election in New York’s 23rd District this year.
 
Just as Rove and company have been doing for years, the WRPE handpicked a Republican candidate, arranged for her to get the nomination (without a primary), then ran her campaign. Their political theory this election (which explains their choice of Albany Assemblywoman Deidre Scozzafava) seems to be ‘inclusion’ – that the key to winning elections for Republicans post-Obama is running ‘inclusive’ candidates who lead ‘inclusive’ campaigns and if that sounds a bit like Republicans imitating Democrats – well, it is.
 
If you want a firsthand example of ‘inclusiveness’ take a moment to go to the Republican National Committee’s website and click on the link to their Facebook. You’ll land on a page called ‘Heroes.’ Then click again to look at the gallery of Republican heroes. The first four pictures that pop up are Lincoln, two African-Americans and a Hispanic. The second four pictures are Reagan, a woman and two African Americans. It’s a perfectly politically correct gallery of “Republican Heroes’ carefully selected to meet quotas for women, African-Americans and Hispanics. For instance, Jose Barbosa (a Hispanic leader from Puerto Rico) is on the official Washington Republican hero list while Teddy Roosevelt failed to make the cut.
 
Deidre Scozzafava, the Assemblywoman the WRPC picked as their candidate in New York, was the soul of ‘inclusion.’ She was so inclusive she supported President Obama’s ‘Stimulus Bill,’ gay marriage and voted for a hundred and ninety tax increases. The National Republican Party spent over a million dollars to elect her and the result was a meltdown. Scozzafava started out leading in the polls, collapsed, and didn’t make it to the finish line – instead she withdrew at the 11th hour then in a final act of ‘inclusion’ endorsed the Pelosi Democrat to help him defeat the Conservative Party nominee by 3000 votes.
 
It’s hard to imagine a more bungled political campaign – or one more devoid of principle.
 
Which brings me back to Sarah Palin.
 
There are times – like when she’s ‘tweeting’ – when Governor Palin sounds like the Yukon Gold Rush version of a Valley Girl. But it also looks like the first time she sat down in a room with the lobbyist politicians running the John McCain’s campaign – right off she spotted her blood enemy.
 
At first the fight between Palin and the Washington politicians was a simmering feud, then it was a guerilla war and now it’s an outright war with neither side asking for or offering quarter. And if you think Palin is overmatched consider this: The official RNC Facebook page has 100,000 members. Sarah Palin’s Facebook page has over 900,000.
 
As long as the Washington Republicans are hanging around its neck the conservative movement is at best treading water and at worst sinking and Sarah Palin is the one national Republican leader standing up to them. That may not be the savviest political move and it doesn’t mean she’s qualified to be President but, right now, it does make her the one essential woman in conservative politics.
 

 

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19
Laura Leslie of WUNC-FM – who does a great political blog - told a panel during last year’s campaign that she was sick and tired of men who liked Sarah Palin because she is “hot.”
 
Sorry, Laura, but how else can someone so clearly unprepared for national office be taken seriously as a candidate for national office?
 
Maybe we’ll learn one day that this is all some elaborate reality-TV concept. Some manic producer in New York said:
 
“Okay, here’s the idea. We’ll take this good-looking babe. We’ll have her come from someplace crazy – like Alaska! And she’ll have a family full of nut cases. Then we’ll throw her into the middle of national politics and see what happens.”
 
Charisma – call it “hot” – has always been part of politics. Witness John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
 
What’s new with Palin is her true believers’ fervent faith that her lack of intellectual depth is a qualification – not a disqualification – for high office.
 
In the end, Palin’s appeal is more like that of Richard Nixon and George Wallace: the politics of resentment.
 

 

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06
 
Since Election Night the pundits on Fox and CNN and MSNBC have been furiously pontificating, the Democrats declaring, Well, it’s not really all that bad, and Republicans arguing back the Democrats got drubbed and voters repudiated Obama.  
 
But what really happened was a typical odd-year election.
 
President Obama hasn’t ended the recession so Democrats (who thought Obama would heal all our ills by now) are in a bit of a funk. Independents are disappointed too but don’t have the impediment of party loyalty – so they went a step further and gave the President a kick in the pants. And Republicans just naturally are outraged and marched to the polls in droves.
 
So just like Reagan and Clinton before him Obama lost an odd-year election – but, remember, both Reagan and Clinton came back to win reelection handedly in 1984 and 1996.
 
The victories in Virginia and New Jersey are welcome news for Republicans after a long dry season – but hardly signs the time has come to write President Obama’s political obituary.
 
The most interesting race of the night was New York’s 23rd Congressional District – where a Democrat won a seat that’s been Republican since Ulysses Grant was President.
 
Two battles see-sawed back and forth during the race: One between Republicans and the other, at the end of the election, between Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman and Democrat Bill Owens.
 
The Republican inner-party fight was battle royal with an odd mixture of ideology and hardball New York politics.
 
Usually in New York the Republican and Conservative Parties work hand-in-glove and endorse the same candidate – but this time the Republican establishment in Washington ran rough-shod over the Conservative Party and hand-picked a liberal Republican, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, no conservative could support.
 
The Washington Republicans essentially presented New York Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long with a fait de accompli and dared him to cross them – and Long sent them a message right back by recruiting a Conservative Party candidate.
 
No doubt Long knew – and hoped – his party’s nominee could win. But no doubt he also knew even if Doug Hoffman lost it could mean defeat for the liberal Republican. Long was practicing New York hardball politics and his message was direct and simple. He was saying, Alright, let’s see if you can win a three way race and, I reckon, if you can’t next time you’ll think twice before sandbagging conservatives in New York.
 
The Conservative Party won its battle with the Washington Republican Establishment hands down, crushing the NRCC’s candidate so decisively she collapsed and withdrew before the end of the race.
 
So, even before Election Day, Long had accomplished his goal. He’d more than accomplished it: For the first time since pre-Reagan days there was an open breach between conservatives and Republicans in Washington.
 
Then two days before the election Dede Scozzafava played a little bare-knuckled New York politics of her own: She endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, the Democrat, sending conservatives the same message they’d sent her 8 weeks earlier: I may not win but I can keep you from winning.
 
And it looks like her endorsement had teeth: Owens won Scozzafava’s home county 2 to 1 and won the election.
 
Measured in ads run and dollars raised Democrats also out fought both Republicans and Conservatives hands down. As soon as Owens announced the Democrats put an effective campaign on tracks and proceeded to out-spend the other candidates from the opening bell to the closing gun.
 
By comparison, the Washington Republicans miscalculated, picked a weak candidate, stumbled charging out of the chute, never got back on their feet and, in the end, their campaign collapsed.
 
The Conservative Party faced a harder task. Unlike the Republicans or Democrats they didn’t start the race with political war chests bulging with cash – they were flat broke and had to build a national fundraising campaign overnight. The fact that they succeeded in eight weeks is a minor miracle. They also had a credibility hurdle to clear: They had to convince voters a third party candidate had a real chance to win and that a vote for Doug Hoffman wouldn’t be wasted.
 
They accomplished both goals – but then Scozzafava threw them her curveball.
 
Winners and losers?
 
Well, clearly the Democrats picked up a Republican seat. But count Mike Long a winner too – it’ll probably be a long time before Washington Republicans pick another fight with the New York Conservative Party
 
And the big losers: Washington Republicans. They picked a weak candidate, ran an even weaker campaign and, then, their candidate endorsed Bill Owens and handed Democrats a Republican seat – and another vote for Nancy Pelosi in Congress.
 

 

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04
Democrats got a thumping in Virginia and New Jersey. But they don’t need to take a long walk off a short pier yet.
 
Republicans will be whooping that the party’s over for Obama.
 
With any luck, they’ll proceed on that assumption – and wreck their chances of a real comeback in 2010 and 2012.
 
Maybe the right-wingers will decapitate Charlie Crist next. I hope so, because he’s one Republican who could beat Obama. (See the New York-23 congressional district for what I mean.)
 
Actually, Tuesday’s results demonstrate Obama’s strength, not weakness.
 
He’s the only Democrat who can generate enthusiasm among minority voters and young voters.
 
The Democrats were saddled with sad-sack candidates – almost as bad as that Karzai guy in Afghanistan.
 
Bob McDonnell was an attractive candidate with a positive message. Creigh Deeds tried to beat him by spotlighting a master’s thesis McDonnell wrote 20 years ago.
 
And Jon Corzine? Any man who rides along New Jersey freeways at 90 miles an hour without a seat belt obviously doesn’t have enough sense to be governor.
 
On top of all that, liberals were whining – and sitting on the sidelines – because almost 10 months have gone by and Obama hasn’t led them to the Promised Land.
 
This election, unlike last year, Republicans owned the intensity factor.
 
Let that be a lesson, Democrats.

 

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22

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21
Recently I was subjected to a speech by columnist-commentator George Will.
 
He courageously took on Washington’s big spending. His implication was that President Obama is the culprit.
 
To his credit, Will did acknowledge that George Bush’s prescription drug benefit – which doesn’t let the government negotiate lower prices – is part of the problem.
 
But he ignored three other big causes of the deficit:
  • Bush’s war in Iraq
  • Bush’s tax cuts
  • Bush’s bailout.
If I was an umpire, I'd call Will out on strikes.
 

 

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20
The answer in a nutshell is Republicans in Washington.
 
The other morning ole Newt Gingrich, who talks the talk and has gotten himself anointed as ‘conservative thinker’ numero uno turned his attention from Washington to Lake Placid, New York and endorsed a liberal who’d make Nancy Pelosi proud.
 
Why would a deep-thinking Republican do that? Because Deidre Scozzafava has an ‘R’ next to her name on the ballot and she’s the darling (and handpicked candidate) of the Washington Republicans – John Boehner, Michael Steele and so on.
 
And who is Deidre Scozzafava? She’s the Albany Assemblywoman Republican House Leader John Boehner and the gnomes at the NRCC picked and have spent half a million dollars to elect in the Special Election in New York’s 23rd District – a district that hasn’t elected a Democrat since the Civil War. She has two opponents: A Democrat, and the nominee of the New York Conservative Party, which 29 years ago elected Jim Buckley to the Senate.
 
Ms. Scozzafava’s for gay marriage, abortion, President Obama’s Stimulus Bill and voted for 190 tax increases in Albany and Newt’s waving the flag to elect her against a conservative candidate whose stands on issues are, well, what politicians like John Boehner and Newt Gingrich say they believe in.
 
We haven’t had a good house cleaning at Republican Central in Washington since the 1970’s when the current Washington Republicans ancestors were fighting to elect anybody but Ronald Reagan.
 
It’s time to pull out the broom.
 

 

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