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10
Foreign policy is not my forte, so don’t ask me what America should do about Syria. But I get politics, and I don’t get President Obama’s political strategy.
 
If you want to do something, why ask permission from a Congress that has proven itself incapable of doing anything?
 
Most Republicans won’t vote for anything Obama wants. They’d rather vote for Putin. After all, they’ve voted to repeal Obamacare only 57 times. They need something new to vote against.
 
And most Democrats will use any excuse to vote against any military action ever.
 
Members of Congress are making a great show of “listening” to their constituents on Syria, which most of their constituents couldn’t find on a map, let alone understand the complexities of what is going on there and what we should do.
 
Obama can make a strong moral case for acting unilaterally. Gas and chemical weapons cross a line. Even Hitler was afraid to use gas as a weapon of war; he used it as a weapon of mass murder.
 
But it doesn’t help that Americans are war-weary after a decade in the Middle East. It doesn’t help that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld & Co. misled the nation into war in Iraq. It doesn’t help that Obama made his chops in 2008 by being the only Democratic presidential candidate who opposed that war from the start. It doesn’t help that John Kerry was famously for the war before he was against it.
 
With Iraq, Americans mistakenly believed – and maybe still believe – that Saddam was behind 9/11. Maybe tonight Obama will have evidence that Assad was behind the Boston bombing, or shingles.
 
Maybe Obama is looking for an excuse not to do anything. That, Congress can do.
 
Or maybe – wow! – he believes this is the right thing to do. Maybe he believes Congress should be consulted before America engages in acts of war. Maybe he thinks it is best to try to persuade, even if he fails, than act on his own.
 
Maybe he is doing something we see so rarely we don’t recognize it: putting a principle over poll numbers. Maybe he is counting on Americans to hear the case, look at the facts and make a thoughtful judgment.
 
What a concept.

 

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06
In the Senate of the world’s oldest democracy the Honorables sat down around a giant horseshoe-shaped table to hold a hearing to ask the Secretary of State how he figured bombing Syria was a good idea – but a strange thing happened: As soon as each Senator asked his first question the Secretary of State would talk and talk and keep on talking hardly pausing for breath.
 
Then another peculiar thing happened – not one Senator said, Mr. Secretary, I understand you figure talking and talking and talking is a pretty good way to keep me from asking more questions and there’s no doubt you’ve proved it works but I’m trying to figure out whether we ought to go to war – so could you stop your filibuster?
 
Over and over with honeyed-words Kerry urged Senators to support a limited, narrow, brief, short bombing attack on Syria, sententiously weaving a time-honored illusion.
 
I can’t remember the last time I agreed with Charlie Rangel but when he was asked how he’d vote on bombing Syria he cut right through Kerry’s chaff and said: “There’s absolutely no question I would vote no because there’re so many questions. One of them is, is this a war? And if it’s not a war, if it’s a limited war, I never heard of anything [like that] in my entire life. If you’re going to fire shells and bomb a community, that’s war, and you have to have a declaration of war, and the Congress should legally, constitutionally approve it and I haven’t seen that evidence.”
 
That’s plain English: If someone landed a cruise missile on, say, the Pentagon that would be war and, by the same token, bombing a city in Syria is war and John Kerry’s weaving illusions (to hide that fact) is how politicians land democracies in wars: By saying they’re not wars. That there’s no pain. Or risk. And no surprises. And no price for believing a fiction.

 

 

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04
Broken politics and posturing politicians present one degree of mendacity when it comes to passing a budget – but the moment a war appears on the horizon that same devilment turns lethal.
                         
A few days ago the President declared that, as leader of the oldest constitutional democracy on earth, he needs the support of Congress to go to war with Syria. Then, two days later, his Secretary of State, with inerrant political versatility charged pell-mell in the opposite direction – declaring the President may attack Syria even if Congress tells him, No.
 
The Secretary of State also said, yes, there is a civil war in Syria but then added (with a somber, straight face) that bombing one side doesn’t involve us in the civil war.
 
In the last twelve years the world’s greatest democracy has attacked Iraq, Afghanistan, bombed Libya, and supported a revolution that deposed the government of Egypt – but now, up in Washington, politicians are stamping their feet, insisting we have to bomb Syria because if we don’t our enemies the Iranians will get the idea we’re weak-kneed.
 
But there’s another fact the clamoring politicians don’t mention: If we bomb Syria then we’ve started a war with Syria and they have every right to attack back.
 
Not one overheated Washington politician has offered a word about where that may lead.
 

 

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03
In the desert land where the Lord struck St. Paul blind then showed him a vision, a pair of skunks are fighting a Civil War and five-thousand miles away in the world’s oldest democracy a great hue and cry has arisen to bomb one of the skunks. 
 
Now in the oldest democracy politics is a bit underhanded so hardly a politician calls bombing another country a war – they call it a ‘limited military action’ with ‘no boots on the ground.’
 
The Viking-helmeted war-hawks – like John McCain and Lindsey Graham – are telling anyone who’ll listen that one of the two skunks (the Assad-skunk) is the worst, lowest, meanest varmint to walk the earth since Hitler. It’s the vile puppet of our bitter enemies the Iranians. And thinks nothing of gassing innocent women and children.
 
And the powerful voices of cable TV, with the prospect of bombs falling and evening news ratings soaring, have raised their voices from the usual howl to a thundering chorus of outrage spiced with devilment. But hardly a soul’s asked: What about the other skunk? Has it slaughtered innocent women and children too?
 
And no one – from the President to the Secretary of State to the leaders in Congress – seems to have given a thought to how not long ago, in the land of the pyramids, when a pair of skunks were fighting we abandoned the 'Mubarak-skunk' to side with the ‘Muslim-Brotherhood-skunk’ – which didn’t work out too well. Or how before that, in the land of the Barbary pirates, we helped the ‘Libyan-rebel-skunk’ by bombing the ‘Gaddafi-skunk’ – which ended with our embassy being blown up.
 
War’s a deadly business. Limited military actions spin out of control. Skunks strike back. People get killed. And no matter what our over-heated politicians in Washington declare – this time someone ought to stop and remember: Replacing one skunk with another is not a grand plan.

 

 

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31
An Old Wise Lobbyist (OWL) gives me a Labor Day break by sharing this:
 
“Contributors to Rep Edgar Starnes' campaign should be disgusted and dismayed that he used their contributions to beautify his Raleigh legislative office.
 
“The Republican House leader used $7,000 of campaign money for furniture and other niceties at the legislative building. He defended his expensive upgrade by saying his constituents deserve to find him in comfortable surroundings when they visit.
 
“He forgot that his contributors supported him financially to help him and his colleagues win elections, not lounge in luxury. It's tantamount to misappropriation of funds when he uses dollars entrusted to his campaign to do a Martha Stewart on his office so he has a comfy place to park his rump.
 
“He's not the first arrogant legislator to suffer this financial brain spasm. Plenty of others used campaign funds to buy cars, clothes and other fun stuff for themselves with the best kind of money – other people's money. They forget that their contributors are largely working stiffs who have to pay for things with their own money.
 
“During the many, many years he was in the minority party, Starnes had a crap office in a dark hallway. No one visited nor cared what he thought.
 
“But he’s a leader now, and his poor judgment further erodes what's left of public trust in
legislators. If Starnes is such a poor steward of his campaign funds, can he be trusted with the people's money? Or the future of the state?”

 

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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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