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16
For years Jesse Helms wrote every speech he made, typing each on an old reporter’s typewriter, then one year when he was unusually harried he decided it was time to hire a speechwriter – so we hired ‘John.’
 
John was an unusually gifted writer but for all his virtues he had a peculiar view of politics (and the world in general). John saw politics as one tiny pinnacle of pure white light populated with saints, surrounded by a pitch-black engulfing darkness filled with goblins and liberals who had to be exterminated and, since the saints were badly outnumbered, the way John saw it there was no room for the luxury mercy.
 
Of course the fearfulness of his vision meant he was angry a great part of the time and naturally, over time, his anger turned him mean.
 
For six months John diligently labored writing passionate and articulate speeches for Jesse then one day in December, as we walked to my car to go to lunch, John handed Jesse a speech and launched into a tirade about Christmas – he said Christmas was a greed-ridden desecration of the story of the Christ child, an abomination reeking of materialism, then tore into Santa Claus, saying Santa Claus was a hobgoblin invented by greedy shopkeepers to con little children – then he stepped in front of Jesse, turned to face him, and said, Somebody needs to stand up and tell those children the truth about Santa Claus – and pointed to that speech.
 
Not with the white-hot passion (born of fear or betrayal or meanness) of a common murderer but with the cold-calculated passion of a Grand Inquisitor ticking off the names of heretics John had proposed the murder of St. Nicholas.
 
Jesse stopped dead in his tracks, rocked back on his heels, looked back at John, and grinned, Well, if you don’t mind, I believe I’d as soon pass on running for the Senate by telling children there’s no Santa Claus.
 
Back in those days you could usually find a fellow like John in almost every town of any size but given the limits of geography and communications in those days it was nearly impossible for John to find (or share fellowship with) his natural political soul mates.  He was sadly isolated and fought his political battles alone.
 
John passed on a decade ago but today his lineal descendents (not in blood but in politics) are happier because they’re no longer alone – modern day Johns build websites then with the click of a button other ‘Johns’ can find them and they form a tribe as bellicose as Huns.  
 
The other day, without meaning to, a soft-spoken lady from Charlotte who’s one of the four Republican leaders in the House – Representative Ruth Samuelson – sent one of those Hun-tribes into a white-hot fury.
 
Back to 2007 a previous state legislature passed a bill to encourage companies to produce ‘renewable energy’ – like solar power – in North Carolina; hardly a word has been said about the bill for six years, until last week when State Representative Mike Hager stood up in a House Committee and announced that utility companies using solar power was adding millions of dollars to electric bills and he was going to put a stop to it by repealing that six-year-old bill.
 
Those two words – renewable energy – reverberated across the Internet with the power of a magnet and hit a tribe of Johns right squarely between the eyes. Because the one person they knew who favored renewable energy was Barack Obama. And that’s all they needed to know. No sooner had Mike Hager sounded the war tocsin than a full-throated battle cry filled the air and charges flew about the evil of government subsidies and the worse evil of government interfering with the free market – which in a way didn’t add up because utility companies are monopolies and there is no free market for selling electricity.
 
Then just when it looked like Representative Hager’s bill was sure to sail through that committee Ruth Samuelson stood up and politely said that it might be a good idea for legislators to stop and do a little research before voting.
 
About an hour after that one Hun-like tribe put a picture of Samuelson and a picture of another Republican legislator on its website alongside a picture of Obama then added a headline over the pictures roaring: They voted with Obama!
 
The way that tribe saw it Ruth Samuelson had gone over to the Dark Side or, worse, become a liberal – which didn’t add up either because how on earth could an Obama-liberal be one of the four Republican Leaders in the State House?
 
So I looked up that 2007 bill and an odd fact popped up right away: George Bush was President when that bill passed. Then a second fact leaped off the page: The most rock-ribbed conservative in the legislature, Phil Berger, had voted for that bill. As had Thom Tillis, Tom Apodaca, Skip Stam, Robert Pittenger and just about every other Republican in the General Assembly.
 
Whether that Hun-like tribe’s attack on Ruth Samuelson was cold-blooded calculation or hot-blooded rage there’s no getting around one more fact: It was an act of pure meanness – like when John told Jesse, You ought to tell little children there is no Santa Claus.
 

 

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25
There’s nothing political folks like better than a good Civil War – whether you happen to be a Republican or a Democrat it’s hard to find a pogrom more satisfying than purging the heretics in your own party, which is not necessarily an unproductive experience: After all, Reagan’s victory in 1980 was the result of a five year Republican Civil War.
 
The first sign that the everyday normal bumps and grinds of Republican politics might break into open warfare came when John McCain branded Rand Paul and Ted Cruz ‘Wacko Birds.’ That set the stage for Round 2 when the ‘Wacko Birds’ met the ‘Old Birds’ eye-to-eye at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
 
At forty-one Senator Marco Rubio is a pretty unusual standard bearer for the Old Birds. A Cuban immigrant’s son who needed an opportunity and got one, Senator Rubio pulled himself up by his bootstraps. At twenty-eight, he ran for the Florida Legislature and quickly became a ‘rising star.’ He walked onto the stage at CPAC and gave an earnest, smooth, passionate speech about American exceptionalism. He was articulate. But cautious. He crossed swords with no one.
 
Next a tousle-haired fifty-year-old wearing a dark blue jacket and blue jeans, looking like a college professor, walked onto the stage and he wasn’t smooth at all. Or cautious. With wry humor Rand Paul poked fun at Obama for saying he had to cancel White House tours for schoolchildren due to a lack of money but, then, three days later, sending $250 million to Egypt in foreign aid. After quoting Lincoln, Montesquieu and Lewis Carroll’s ‘White Queen,’ Paul turned his wit on the Old Birds, saying the Republican Establishment ‘has grown stale and covered with moss.’
 
Paul went on to win the straw poll at CPAC.
 
Now, that’s not a sure sign the Wacko Birds will pluck the Old Birds.
 
But it is a sure sign the Civil War has started.
 

 

 

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22
A pair of ‘grassroots organizers,’ Jessica Laurenz and Sean Kosofsky, took a poll, found three issues, and wrote a plan. Neither had ever run a major statewide campaign and they lacked money and a voice but they had passion and zeal and sailed into uncharted waters to breathe life back into the moribund Democratic Party – then some malevolent genie leaked their ‘secret plan’ to the Charlotte Observer and all hell broke loose.
 
Sean Kosofsky took the first hit – the newspapers reported his plan, then they said his group (Blueprint NC) could not legally spend money to elect Democrats, then a foundation (headed by a former Democratic legislator) that had given his group $400,000 blasted Kosofsky, then the State Republican Party filed complaints against Kosofsky with the IRS and the State Board of Elections for violating election laws.
 
Kosofsky was in hot water up to his chin when Jennifer Laurenz stepped in and saved him. She, she told the newspapers, had written the plan – she was to blame.
 
Then Laurenz fell prey to unforgiving politics too.
 
A longtime Democratic State Representative whose son works for Laurenz at America Votes NC, walked into a press conference and when a reporter asked him about Laurenz’s plan he could have said Laurenz was a well-meaning but inexperienced young woman. Or that young people sometimes get carried away by their passions and that’s unfortunate but it’s understandable. Instead, before the cock crowed thrice, he threw Laurenz under the bus – he said he knew nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing but what he’d read in the newspapers. It was like he’d never heard of the young woman his son works with.
 
Young Sean Kosofsky and Jessica Laurenz sailed into unchartered waters with more passion than prudence then the newspapers descended on them, then the Republicans descended on them, then their friends – the people they meant to help – abandoned them.
 

 

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22
The vote is a powerful thing. In less than a year, it has taken immigrants from pariah to power in American politics.
 
This week, Tea Party centerfold Rand Paul softened his position on immigration. (Remember when Mitt Romney called for “self-deportation”?) Paul’s 2016 rival Marco Rubio – and other Republicans – had already beat a retreat.
 
Yesterday, the McCrory administration backed off pink-striping immigrants’ drivers’ licenses.
 
And one of the legislature’s red-hots who wants to take a big stick to immigrants talked a bit more softly. Rep. Mark Brody of Monroe said: “I know the Hispanic community was pretty upset. Everybody needs to be treated with respect.”
 
Especially when they vote.

 

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19
Senator Phil Berger says national Republicans have a messenger problem, not a message problem. Democrats might well hope he believes that.
 
After attending CPAC – the right-wing Woodstock – Berger told Travis Fain at the Greensboro News & Record: “It’s not just a communication problem. Sometimes it’s the individual messengers ... (and) some folks who lend themselves to caricature.” 
 
Berger said Republican policies “are supported by a broad spectrum of people.”  And he liked this assessment by Texas Gov. Rick Perry:
 
“The popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideals, as evidenced by the last two presidential elections. That’s what they think. That’s what they say. That might be true, if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012.”
 
Now for a completely different view – from a Democrat who helped rescue his party from its ideological death spiral in the 1980s and 1990s. Will Marshall, who started the Democratic Leadership Council that led to Bill Clinton that led to a Democratic revival, writes in the Daily Beast that Republicans today are where Democrats were then: caught in “the politics of evasion. They know their electoral base is shrinking, but only a few have connected the dots between their demographic quandary and their ideological stridency….
 
“Angry extremists have hijacked the party, and someone is going to have to wrest it away from them. If the New Democrats’ experience is any guide, there will be blood.”
 
Marshall says “the key difference between Democrats in 1989 and Republicans in 2013 (is that) the DLC spoke to, and for, a Democratic rank and file that was considerably more moderate than the party establishment. For Republicans, however, the ‘base’ is the problem, not the solution. Radicalism rises from the grass roots. The Tea Party–Club for Growth axis is still eager to punish ideological deviation, threatening to ‘primary’ GOP officeholders who show the slightest inclination toward compromise. And it’s not just intimidation: thanks to a combination of geographic sorting and gerrymandering, many House Republicans can truthfully claim to be faithfully representing their constituents who sent them to Washington to pull down the Temple, not to do deals with Democrats. That’s why the House stands for now at least as the Proud Tower of unbending right-wing orthodoxy.
 
“Eventually it will fall—just as the Democrats’ House bastion fell in 1994. But it will probably take more GOP losses to convince conservatives that they need to build majorities within an actually existing America, not the America of their dreams.”

 

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13
Washington may be about to give us an answer on one of the longest running philosophical debates since Eve bit the apple: Are humans rational creatures?
 
For months, just about every politician in Washington – Republican Congressmen, Democratic Senators, President Obama, Speaker John Boehner – has been talking about how much they want to cut spending. They’re all for cuts.
 
Last month the Post Office weighed in, saying it was going to save taxpayers $2 billion by ending Saturday mail delivery – which, if you think about it, isn’t a terribly painful cut: No one will go hungry. The sick will still receive care. And, if worse comes to worst, you can always send an email on Saturday.
 
It all sounded sensible until Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid weighed in and said the Post Office was way out of line – that it couldn’t end Saturday mail delivery without Congress’s approval and, speaking for the Senate, he didn’t approve. 
 
That riled up some House Republicans who, just naturally, pushed back – saying Reid was all wet and the Post Office could end weekend mail anytime it wanted.
 
Then an odd thing happened.
 
It’s a little-known fact, but it turns out, in budgets going back for thirty years, Congress has included a law that requires the Post Office to deliver mail on Saturday – and last week when the House passed the continuing budget resolution it included the same law.
 
As soon as the bill passed, a Democrat Congressman merrily hopped up and announced (in the New York Times) that Saturday mail delivery was safe for another year. Then an unhappy Republican Congressman hopped up and announced the Democratic Congressman was dead wrong: The wording of the law Congress had just passed, the Republican conceded, was a bit vague – but then he added adamantly he didn’t have one scintilla of doubt the Post Office can stop delivering the mail on Saturday. Period.
 
So, here’s the status of clarity in Washington: The Post Office says it can end Saturday mail. The Democratic Senate Leader says it can’t. The House passed a bill with a thirty-year-old law in it – which both a Democratic Congressman and a Republican Congressman voted for. The Democrat says the law means one thing. And the Republican says it means the opposite.
 
 

 

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12
Congressman Walter Jones is an old-fashioned soft-spoken Southerner – so when I saw he’d put a statement on Twitter, I thought, What the heck? I clicked and landed on a statement (Walter had made) that explained just about everything anyone needs to know about the Sequester in one-page.
 
Last month up in Washington President Obama made his case against the Sequester by telling everyone who’d listen that the $85 billion in cuts meant teachers would be laid off, children would go without vaccinations and abused women would go without care.
 
Then, five days after the Sequester, President Obama asked Congress to send $65 billion to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) – which has been busy bailing out troubled European countries like Greece.
 
The question is obvious: Whatever happened to the needs of those teachers and children and abused women? Are they less important than the IMF? Or was the President, maybe, exaggerating the pain of the Sequester cuts?
 

 

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08
President Obama just announced the Sequester spending cuts are so terrible he has no choice but to cancel White House tours;---that upset House Speaker John Boehner who immediately cried foul, saying Obama was grandstanding and he (Boehner) had kept the Capitol tours running and Obama could have done the same thing – which is no doubt true but misses the point.
 
Obama made a cut. And a pretty painless cut. No one will go hungry. No one will go without medical care. No great harm will be done to anyone. So why didn’t Speaker Boehner simply shrug and say, Well, that’s unfortunate but the world won’t end without White House tours.
 
Floating beneath all this Washington chatter is a simple question: Is it possible politicians will be voted out of office for cancelling a tour – or is this a sign politicians are so weak-kneed they can’t take even a little ‘heat’ over a painless cut?
 

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07
While Governor McCrory prepares a “very, very tight budget” and blocks Medicaid expansion, the Republican governor of another purple Southern state is going in the opposite direction.
 
Governor Rick Scott of Florida was a Tea Party poster boy when he got elected in 2010. Now a Miami Tea Party leader has sent the governor a “breakup note.”
 
Scott signed off on Medicaid expansion in his state. He proposed a $2,500 across-the-board pay increase for teachers. The New York Times says he “has crisscrossed the state advertising his enthusiasm for education, state workers, highways, commuter rails, early voting, the disabled, environmental protection and jobs.”
 
Democrats ask: “Medicaid expansion, Obamacare, teacher bonuses — who is this guy?”
 
A Republican consultant explains: “If he is going to get re-elected, he needs to rebrand, reboot and repackage.”
 
In North Carolina, Governor McCrory has entrusted his immediate political fate to Art Pope, his budget director. For more than 20 years, Pope has spent, strived and struggled to get control of the budget. Now that he has it, he is going to put his ideological stamp on it.
 
The question is what the political impact will be of, say, deep cuts in education, the universities, community colleges and various economic development programs. All of them have constituents and supporters, including Republicans.
 
While Scott tacks to the center in Florida, McCrory is heading right in Raleigh. Soon he may hit high winds and rough waves. Then we’ll see if he follows Scott’s course.

 

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06

Taking a deep breath, inhaling a lungful of the highly oxygenated Washington air, celebrity, intellectual, and poo-bah Newt Gingrich announced he, himself, personally, was about to deliver a ‘very-direct, no baloney’ manifesto on Republican politics – then lit into Karl Rove, saying Republican political consultants were arrogant idiots and that the country was better off in the old days when a candidate did his own thinking (rather than hiring a two-bit consultant to tell him what to think).

Then, just as he had landed on a serious idea, Newt changed directions and announced that anyone who wanted to see a real leader doing his own thinking ought to buy Gingrich Productions’ film, Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny – and I thought, I’ll be darned – the whole thing was the lead-in to a pitch to sell a movie. 
 
Taking another breath, Newt lit into Rove again, saying he was absolutely ‘unalterably’ opposed to a bunch of billionaires giving Rove’s Super PAC millions so that a political boss (Rove) could handpick candidates he liked in Republican primaries and destroy candidates he didn’t like.
 
Rove, Newt added, had been dead wrong about the Presidential Race last year and dead wrong about the Senate races Republicans lost then he changed directions again and said anyone who really wanted to know why Republicans lost the 2012 election ought to sign up for Gingrich Productions’ ‘Lessons to be Learned Reports’ – and I thought, He did it twice.
 

 

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