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24
To Ronald Reagan, it was always “morning in America.” To John Hood, it has always been “midnight in North Carolina.”
 
There’s nothing special about North Carolina, Hood argues. Our “exceptionalism” is a myth.
 
Therein lies the difference between Reagan’s sunny conservatism of the 1980s and Hood’s dark depictions now. And the N&O’s Rob Christensen, whose Twitter handle is “@oldpolhack,” eviscerates Hood’s rewrite of history in his column today.
 
Christensen writes: “Hood seeks to frame the debate as between ‘constructive conservatives’ and ‘the left,’ as if we were living in California and not North Carolina. North Carolina ranked 45th in the country in state government per capita spending growth in the years between 2001-2011, according to a study released last year by the conservative Tax Foundation. Some left. North Carolina has been governed by moderates, both Democrats and Republicans, until the current experiment to make the Tar Heel State a national laboratory for libertarian conservatism. Hood finishes his column by saying, ‘When it comes to economic history, let’s stick to nonfiction.’ Hear, hear.”
 
Hear, hear indeed.
 
An interesting sidelight here is how Rob, now that he’s a twice-weekly columnist instead of a daily reporter/analyst, is becoming more comfortable moving beyond straight reporting and into deeper analysis. For decades, Rob carefully muted whatever political views he has. I have no idea what they are, and I pride myself on being able to sniff out people’s politics at a thousand paces.
 
How many times have Democratic operatives grumbled: “That damn Christensen. You can tell he’s a Republican.” Well, no, I couldn’t tell. But I could tell he was a damn good reporter.
 
And he’s becoming a damn keen commentator.

 

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24
The other day our top General went over to the Senate and said turning the Iraqi army into a real fighting force may not be possible ;--then he said no one knows who the ‘moderate’ Syrian Rebels will attack once they’re armed – they might attack ISIS or might attack Bashar Assad and, regardless of who they attack, arming just 5000 ‘moderate’ Syrians (as the President proposes) isn’t going to be nearly enough to whip anyone.
 
Meanwhile the same day, over in Iraq, the success of our bombing campaign was limited to blowing up a truck, an artillery piece, and two small boats on the Euphrates River.
 
This is an odd – but familiar – picture.
 
It’s beginning to look a lot like we may be getting into another ‘political’ war: If the President does nothing he gets pilloried but if he does what it takes to destroy ISIS (by putting boots on the ground) he gets run out of town on a rail – so he’s sailing down the middle ground uneasily doing what’s popular and avoiding what’s unpopular which may come back to haunt him – like it has other Presidents.

 

 

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23
My late father was a dyed-in-the-wool Franklin D. Roosevelt Democrat. He liked to tell this story about why.
 
Jim had a lot of reasons to admire Roosevelt: His family was hit hard by the Depression, and FDR gave them and families like them help and hope. He passed Social Security to keep older people out of poverty. He started the Manhattan Project, which led to Harry Truman dropping the bomb, which Jim always said saved his life, because otherwise he would have been in the invasion of Japan.
 
But it was more than that.
 
Jim was born in 1927. When he started first grade at Ahoskie, N.C., elementary school, there was a picture on the wall of the President. It was Franklin Roosevelt. The year Jim graduated from high school, there was still a picture on the wall of the President. It was still FDR.
 
When that picture stays on the wall through 12 years of school, through a Depression and a World War, I guess it stays with you.

 

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23

Two things happened the other day: One nasty. The other confounding.
 
First ISIS posted a video on the Internet telling President Obama (in no uncertain terms) to watch out – it is going to target every American soldier he sends to Iraq.
 
Second, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, our top General, added a new wrinkle to the meaning of the words ‘no boots on the ground’ – telling Congress it may just turn out, one of these days, that he might recommend American soldiers join Iraqi troops in “attacks.”  That wouldn’t, he added , mean GI’s would be in combat. Instead, they’d simply be “close combat advisors.”
 
Now think about that.
 
It’s a pretty bad thing to send a soldier into combat alongside a brigade of his buddies – who’ll stick with him through thick and thin.
 
But it’s a lot worse thing to send him into combat with a brigade of Iraqis – when that happens a ‘close combat advisor’ could wind up alone in a foxhole with no buddies in sight.

 

 

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22
Ken Burns’ remarkable series on the Roosevelts makes it clear that Franklin D. Roosevelt never would have passed the Gary Hart adultery test.
 
Would that have been good for America?
 
As Burns’ series was ending, The New York Times published a story by Matt Bai on the scandal that ended Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign – and how it “forever changed American politics.”
 
Surely, Hart was no FDR. But Hart offers this might-have-been: He might have beaten George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush might not have become President “and we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. And a lot of people would be alive who are dead.”
 
Bai reconstructs the story that shifted the goal of political journalists from being well-connected insiders who knew Presidents intimately (Teddy White, James Reston) to being truth-telling investigators who brought down Presidents, or at least presidential candidates (Woodward and Bernstein). Which led to bad boys whose careers were shattered (John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer) and those who survived (Bill Clinton) and those who came back (Mark Sanford).
 
Yes, we want to know the character of the men (and women) who want to be President – or any elected official. But, if you’re going to indulge in the alternative history of a President Gary Hart, consider an alternative history in which the press corps kept FDR out of the White House.

 

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22
The way the President figures it the Iraqi army’s going to supply the ‘boots on the ground’ to whip ISIS but the other day, up in Congress, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said half the Iraqi army isn’t fit to fight and the other half will have to be rebuilt “with U.S. training and equipment” before it can fight.
 
Part One of the President’s plan to whip ISIS is bombing – and that’s going fine.
 
But Part Two – putting Iraqi boots on the ground – just took a nosedive.

 

 

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20
This came as a surprise: Iraq’s new Prime Minister does not want American troops in Iraq. They’re not welcome. And, he says, not needed.
 
It’s tempting, since Prime Minister al-Abadi figures he can whip ISIS on his own, to just say, Yes, sir. We’re out of here. But, on the other hand, we landed in this mess because ISIS whipped the entire Iraqi army hands down (and took Mosul and some dam and half the country).
 
From there, Iraqi politics gets even more confusing. Or, maybe, cleverer.
 
Where the U.S. should attack ISIS, al-Abadi suggested, is Syria.
 
Now that’s not as straightforward as it sounds: Because it turns out our allies the Iraqis are also allied with our enemy the Syrians, and not just allied – our Iraqi friends have been meeting with our enemy Bashar Assad  in Damascus to figure out how to work together to whip ISIS which is attacking both of them.
 
And that’s not all: It turns out our ally Iraq is also allied with our enemy Iran -- which is helping al-Abadi by sending ‘Shiite militias’ to whip Sunni ISIS.
 
In fact the other day in Paris, where we were busily at work building a coalition to whip ISIS, al-Abadi held a press conference and said he found it puzzling we hadn’t invited Iran to join us then added, That puts me as prime minister of Iraq in a very difficult position.
 
It’s a heck of a muddle. Our friends are allied with our enemies, one set of our enemies is attacking another set of our enemies, and we’re not welcomed in Iraq where we don’t want to be anyway.  
 
As they used to say in World War II: It’s pure FUBAR.
 

 

 

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19
President Obama came out swinging, saying, We have to act fast. We cannot dawdle on this one. We have to move with force – but he wasn’t talking about ISIS, he was talking about the Ebola virus and sending 3000 soldiers (putting boots on the ground) to Africa.
 
Each of us looks at villains thru different eyes: The muhjadeen I see as a murderous terrorist, Sally may see as the exploited victim of colonialism. The fear that sets my teeth on edge, may barely cause her a lost moments sleep.
           
Responding to the Ebola virus the President emanated strength but you have to wonder what would have happened if he had shown the same kind of strength when ISIS went on its rampage – instead of saying, Be calm. The world’s always been messy.

 

 

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19
Every budding journalist is taught to look for the “local angle” in any big story. WRAL takes the prize for this one: “Scotland County residents watching overseas vote for independence.
 
The lead sums it up: “As the world waits for the outcome of Thursday's historic vote on Scotland's independence, southeastern North Carolina's Scotland County - some 3,700 miles away - can't help but keep a close eye on the decision.”
 
It turns out that Scotland County “was once the home to one of the largest settlements of Highland Scots in the country” and that “today, there's still a Scottish influence.”
 
But my late, great mentor Bob Brooks at the N&O would have told the reporter there’s a big unanswered question: Will Scotland County seek its independence from North Carolina?

 

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19
Carter and I were on News14’s Capital Tonight this week, talking with Tim Boyum about debates today and the Hunt-Helms debates 30 years ago. You can watch our segment here.
 
Tim was struck by how free-flowing and wide-open the 1984 debates were. As we talked with him, we realized that we had happened onto a format that gave voters more insight and information than debates do today.
 
For some reason, debates now are dictated by the clock: “Here’s the question and you have 60 seconds to answer.” Then: “You have 30 seconds to comment on that answer.”
 
Then the media complains because the candidates gave canned 30-second and 60-second responses consisting mostly of talking points and recitals of their TV ads.
 
Well, duh.
 
The format that the Helms and Hunt campaigns negotiated – not entirely to the liking of the broadcasters, by the way – provided for a lot more depth, back-and-forth and give-and-take.
 
Somebody will always object: “But what if one candidate goes on for five minutes?”
 
Believe me, nobody will go on for five minutes on television. And if they did, they would be committing political suicide.
 
So throw away the stopwatches. Let ‘em debate.

 

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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