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24
Not even the season is free from America’s politics.

Democrats post stories on Facebook about “how to talk to your right-wing uncle at Christmas.” Republicans claim that atheists and Democrats want to “take Christ out of Christmas.” People debate over whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.”
 
The New York Times Magazine on Sunday had a nice essay about bridging the divide. It told of a family dinner that began with an argument about what prayer should be said, or whether there should even be one. With an evangelical, an atheist and a Muslim present, no one could agree and the meal started getting cold.
 
Then one person had an idea: “Let’s skip the formal prayer and just tell each other what we are grateful for. What we are anxious about. What we hope for in the coming year.”
 
Then, “We took turns going around the circle: Muslim, Christian, atheist. And, as I expected, we ended up expressing similar dreams and aspirations for ourselves and our loved ones, similar fears and anxieties, similar gratitude for all that we’ve been given….(We) realized that we were all feeling the same way; we were just expressing that feeling in different spiritual languages.”
 
Indeed. Merry Christmas, or whatever, to you all.

 

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23
Where was this guy in October when we needed him?
 
In the weeks before the election, President Obama seemed passive and powerless as ISIS ran wild in the Middle East and Ebola panicked America.
 
In the weeks since, he’s come back strong: heralding a recovering economy, challenging Congress on immigration, championing Internet openness, leading on climate change, speaking sanely on race relations, calling out North Korea and even chastising Hollywood for cowardice.
 
A few months ago, Republicans like Rudy Giuliani were swooning over the manliness of Vladimir Putin (“now there’s a leader”) and dissing the President as a wuss. Now Obama is presiding over an economy that’s coming back and Putin is pretending his economy isn’t going down.
 
Democrats can’t help but ask: If this guy had been around in October, would the election results have changed?
 
Behind that is a bigger question: Did the 2014 elections reflect a short-term dip for Democrats or a long-term decline?
 
Some Democrats say the polls looked good in early October, but collapsed as voters grew anxious over ISIS and Ebola and saw no leadership from the White House.
 
Others worry that Americans have developed a deep-seated aversion to Obama that colors (literally) their view of all Democrats – as a party that represents only minorities, the poor, gays and women who want abortions and doesn’t relate to the great numbers of middle-class and working-class Americans who think they’re getting screwed.
 
Here’s a best guess (and that’s all it is): Those Americans don’t feel any better represented by Republicans than by Democrats. Their votes in November were driven by what was happening right then. Just as Obama’s election six years ago was driven by the economic collapse right then. Just as the polls in October 2013 were driven by the Obamacare website disaster right then, just as the polls in November 2013 were driven by the Republican’s shutdown of the government right then.
 
When people vote, they think most about what’s happening right then and what they hope will happen next.
 
We over-read and overreact to every election. Democrats need to stop blaming Obama and start getting ready for 2016. The world will be very different then.

 

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23

 

When we sat down to our annual Christmas lunch our group of old white conservative men were looking care-worn and weary;---they’d voted against gay marriage and won and a year and a half later gays were marrying right here in North Carolina; the newspaper headline on the table was even more discouraging: President Obama had declared ‘Transgenders’ a minority which led Conor the Jessecrat to grumble, Do you reckon back in 1964 even one Congressman who voted for the Civil Rights Act had even heard of a transgender?
 
Something ephemeral that had made our country our country had ceased to exist and the decline seemed inevitable and irreversible: There was not enough faith left among thegadget obsessed Americans, around us, punching IPhones and Droids to engender redemption – then Eric laid a newspaper story on the table and pointed and said:
 
‘Merry Christmas.’
 
According to the Washington Post the very liberal folks at the PEW Research Center had taken a Christmas Poll. They found:
 
Three out of four (or 73%) of our sodden, wealth-obsessed, vice-loving countrymen believe – literally – that the baby Jesus was born to a virgin.
 
There was more.
 
74% of our fellow Americans believe an angel – literally – appeared to the shepherds in the fields of Judea to announce the child’s birth.
 
And 75% of our countrymen believe – literally – that wise men, guided by a star, brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the child in the manger.
 
Devilment may be afoot but we live in a country that believes in angels, guiding stars, and the Virgin Birth – so there’s plenty of faith left to see us through. Happy Christmas.


 

 

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22

 

GQ  just published a list of the 20 craziest politicians and two North Carolinians are on it: Mark Walker, the new Congressman from Greensboro who made the list for joking he’d be for bombing Mexico and that he worries Obama may not leave office at the end of his term, and Congresswoman Virginia Foxx.
 
This is a grave injustice.
 
Why, we once had a state legislator who said he wanted to set up a state religion and another who once said he wanted the state to print its own currency – and then there’s Democratic Party Chairman Randy Vollmer (who even Democrats shy away from) and William Barber who’s in a league of his own.
 
GQ needs to go back to the drawing board. When it comes to politicians, we’ve got dozens who’re crazier than Virginia Foxx.


 

 

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22
Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin and Governor Pat McCrory appear to have different ideas of what “customer service” means.
 
To McCrory and his administration, the “customers” are “corporations” and, too often, “polluters.” To Goodwin, the customers are “consumers” and, in this instance, “homeowners.”
 
 
It may be the first time since January 2013 that business hasn’t gotten exactly what it wanted from Raleigh – and pronto.
 
Why did the industry want a 25 percent increase? Why indeed, after getting an average increase last year of 7.7 percent, as high as 19.8 percent in beach areas?
 
Had some terrible catastrophe drained their reserves? Are thousands of insurance company employees being thrown out on the street in their suits and white shirts?
 
Not exactly. The industry admitted it was guessing about what MIGHT happen in the future. Its spokesman said, “Part of the problem that we have is that the rate product – which is paying claims – is some future event that we really don’t have a good handle on how much it costs. We’re trying to predict what that would be three or four years down the road.”
 
No doubt, the industry would like to base rates on a projection of an End Times combination of hurricanes, tornados, ice storms, Ebola outbreak, terrorist attacks and plagues of locusts and toads.
 
Nice try, boys.
 
Goodwin said his decision will save North Carolina homeowners $600 million.
 
Merry Christmas, indeed.

 

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19
It was a simple question but back in February after the big coal ash spill it needed a quick answer:  Were the coal ash ponds a ticking time bomb or nothing to worry about?
 
A few days ago the State Official in charge of the coal ash cleanup told the Environmental Review Commission, “We don’t have the faintest idea what’s going on under these coal ash ponds.”
 
How can that be?
 
Government is slow and cumbersome and moves like a herd of turtles but you’d have thought this once the herd would be charging but, alas, turtles are turtles – ten months later we still don’t know if coal ash ponds are leaking microscopic vermin into groundwater and who is – or isn’t – drinking it.   


 

 

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19
Two things are for sure here: First, it’s never good to be linked to Mark Sanford in a Page One story. Second, if Bev Perdue had done it, McCrory and the Republican Party would be howling for her investigation, indictment and impeachment.
 
But there are two big questions: First, how bad, and how politically damaging, is Governor McCrory’s $185,509 stock payout from Tree.com/Lending Tree? Second, is his Defcon 5/massive nuclear retaliation smart or stupid?
 
Clearly, the deal smells. And, clearly, the Governor told us as little as possible about it before now. He knew that people might question their Governor getting a post-election sweetheart deal that paid him more than his state salary.
 
Especially since Lending Tree has been accused of violating state and federal laws. And paid $3 million to South Carolina in 2012 after regulators said it hadn’t disclosed that it was being paid by the lenders it recommended as having the best mortgage rates.
 
McCrory and Sanford weren’t exactly serving on the board of a corporate citizen like Red Hat or First Citizens.
 
But what McCrory did pales beside how he has reacted. The blitz he launched against AP and its reporters was breathtaking.
 
In one statement, he said of the story, “It was written with malice and the intent to do harm without any factual consideration given.” In an interview, he said, “I almost call it the new Rolling Stone type of Journalism."
 
The N&O called the response “an assault on the AP.” Several reporters expressed amazement on social media – and defended the AP reporters. One non-media post said something you always hear in these situations: “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” One PR veteran said, “If this is what works, I need to retire.”
 
McCrory critics said it’s just another sign of the Governor’s prickliness and over-sensitivity, an overreaction cooked up in the heat of anger and frustration.
 
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s cold political calculation. And maybe it will work.
 
No, it’s not PR 101. The conventional approach is to argue the facts, but not attack reporters’ integrity. This is a whole new barrel of ink.
 
Team McCrory, as they call themselves, may figure he can’t survive two years of ethics stories like this and the 60 Minutes story on Duke and coal ash. Maybe it’s easier to destroy the messenger than defend the Governor.
 
This all comes just as AP announced that it is “doubling down on state government coverage.” On AP’s website, one editor says, “...(W)e are really pushing our state bureaus to focus their time and effort on content that is exclusive to AP and that our members and subscribers can’t get anywhere else. That needs to be our guiding principle. We do that exactly as we always have: by developing sources and breaking stories, being fastest on big breaking news, and by providing explanation, analysis and depth on the stories that have the biggest impact on peoples’ lives.”
 
They sure started with a bang. And McCrory fired back with an even bigger bang. Now it’s war.

 

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18
About a week ago the Governor went on a tear about 60 Minutes, saying Leslie Stahl had done him wrong; that he’d sat sweating under the hot lights for an hour answering questions but she hadn’t even blamed Democrats once for the coal ash spill – all his work had been for nothing. Worse than nothing.
 
Then, next, he went on a tear against the Associated Press saying they’d treated him worse than Leslie Stahl – that they’d smeared him with innuendo and that no matter what AP said the payments he’d received from Lending Tree (where he’d served as a Director) were 100% legal and he’d earned every penny of the money and he didn’t appreciate getting whacked by “drive-by journalism.”
 
Now the AP story said the Governor’s stock bonus was unusual and raised red flags but about the worse fact in the story was the Governor had been paid $185,000 by Lending Tree, an online loan company that’s a cut above a pay day lender and got fined $3 million by South Carolina for misleading consumers. The AP didn’t say the Governor had done anything illegal. Or that he’d done anything unethical (as Governor ) to help Lending Tree.  
 
So here’s an odd fact: While the AP story wasn’t exactly flattering it didn’t amount to much until the Governor stood up and did something I haven’t seen in 40 years: He announced, I’m not a crook.


 

 

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17
He’d been through, he said, the ordeal of sitting for a whole hour and fifteen minutes under hot lights, sweating, answering questions but then, he added, when he saw the interview on TV he had been shocked.
He sounded – not in the TV interview but, later, when he described the interview to a reporter – like a well-meaning boy saying, I was good, I behaved, and I got punched.
 
Wondering, What did he expect? next I watched the 60 Minutes program about Duke Energy’s coal ash spill – and he was hardly in it:
 
Leslie Stahl asked: Tell us how much the fine was?
 
Pat McCrory said: I don’t have the list but…
 
Stahl interrupted: It was $99,111.
 
And McCrory said: That’s correct. It wasn’t a big fine.
 
That was the only tough question Leslie Stahl asked Pat McCrory.
 
Still boyish at fifty-eight, Pat McCrory’s run head on into a mountain of coal ash, a posse of reporters and a battalion of cold-hearted lobbyists with no respect for boyish charm.     

 


 

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17
Conventional wisdom says only two people can stop Hillary Clinton from the nomination in 2016: Hillary herself and Bill Clinton.
 
But two other people embody a potential problem: Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Senator Jim Webb. Warren and Webb are vastly different individuals, but are making much the same critique of Washington. The message appeals to many Democrats and, at least indirectly, criticizes the Clintons. It’s anti-Wall Street, when the Clintons have close Wall Street ties and deep Wall Street wallets. From Webb, it’s also anti-war, when Hillary has a reputation as a hawk.
 
As Carter noted this week (“Cross of Gold”), Senator Warren rang even conservatives’ bells with her floor speech against a budget-bill provision that “put taxpayers back on the hook for the bailout of big banks.”
 
Webb, who served one term in the Senate from Virginia, wrote this in 2010 about the 2008 bailout (“We Helped the Bankers. Now It’s Their Turn.”): “The financial sector recovered rather quickly, but not without a vast amount of help. The time has come to include taxpayers in the rewards of a recovery that would never have happened without their money.”
 
Warren is a Massachusetts liberal, sort of a Howard Dean (without the scream) appealing to “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” Webb is an odd duck, a white Southern populist of the type that has nearly disappeared.
 
He’s a Naval Academy grad, a Marine and Vietnam combat veteran, twice-wounded and much-decorated. He’s a great writer, of novels, history and memoirs. He was President Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, but he stayed a Democrat, unseated George Allen in 2006, then left the Senate after one term.
 
He has the military cred to oppose the Iraq and Afghan wars and to question an interventionist foreign policy. On the economy, he says things like:
 
“Walk into some of our inner cities if you dare, and see the stagnation, poverty, crime, and lack of opportunity that still affects so many African Americans. Or travel to the Appalachian Mountains, where my own ancestors settled and whose cultural values I still share, and view the poorest counties in America – who happen to be more than 90 percent White, and who live in the reality that ‘if you’re poor and White you’re out of sight.’ The Democratic Party used to be the place where people like these could come not for a handout but for an honest handshake, good full-time jobs, quality education, health care they can afford, and the vital, overriding belief that we’re all in this together and the system is not rigged.”
 
On today’s market, it’s unlikely either Webb or Warren will stop Hillary. Warren says she’s not running. After Obama, the party isn’t likely to nominate another first-term Senator. Webb has formed an exploratory committee, but, culturally and viscerally, he probably gives a lot of Democrats the hives.
 
Looking over the two of them now may be akin to kicking the tires on sports cars when you know you’ll probably go with that reliable Clinton Family Truckster. But strange things can happen on the road to the White House.
 
In 1996, Bill Clinton talked about “building a bridge to the 21st Century.” Twenty years later, Hillary will have to build a bridge between her record and Democrats who yearn for a newer, more exciting ride.

 

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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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