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I’ve heard men say for years that the West’s Christian heritage is the root of our freedoms but I’d never seen anyone point to one Bible verse and say, See. Read that. That’s how it began – until William Bennett did it in Tried by Fire.

From prison St. Paul the Apostle wrote to the new Christian churches “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” and, as Bennett explains, as Christianity spread St. Paul’s idea that every man (because he’s made in the image of God) possesses worthiness permeated Western thought giving birth to “values.”

From there, it’s a straight line to Thomas Jefferson writing, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”  

Bennett then told a second story: The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was ordered to do a study to answer one question: What made Western Civilization so powerful? Chinese scholars spent years pouring over our history, politics, economics and culture and when they were done one scholar said, “At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”

Christianity’s decline now leaves us facing a devilish question: Does the soil beneath our feet turn dry so the root withers – and all that’s left are rants by politicians on Facebook?  

Posted in: General, Issues
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Only Trump can turn what should have been a sympathetic call to a fallen soldier’s widow into a week-long (so far), racially charged brouhaha over who said what to who and who can say what to a four-star general.

Americans may not be tired of winning yet. But many, even Trump voters, are getting tired of Trump’s act – and his character. Or lack thereof.

Ultimately, the most important quality in an elected leader is likeability. Likeability is about more than looks, charm and a smile. It’s about qualities like grace and empathy, which Trump totally lacks. His inability to even feign empathy probably is what upset the widow and the congresswoman in the first place.

Trump’s instinct, of course, was to pick a fight with the congresswoman, Frederica Wilson. You can hear him thinking: “She’s black. She’s brash. She wears funny hats. She’s a perfect target! Twitter, here I come!”

Then, of course, he had to attack President Obama. Trump apparently never got over Obama making fun of him at the White House Correspondents Dinner. We pay an ugly price for those jokes.

Then Trump dragged General John Kelly into the mess. Kelly demeaned himself by claiming the Congresswoman said something in a speech that, in fact, the tape showed she never said.

Then Trump’s press secretary suggested that no one has the right to debate a four-star general. Well, yes we do. There’s this thing called the First Amendment, you know. And we could have avoided a lot of deaths and tragedy if somebody had debated generals like William Westmoreland during the Vietnam War.

It was refreshing when George W. Bush and John McCain spoke out against Trumpism, even if they didn’t call him out by name. Some Democrats got whiplash praising (1) the ex-President who plunged us into never-ending Mideast wars, busted the budget and wrecked the economy and (2) the man who gave America Sarah Palin. But we’ll take hope and decency wherever we find them these days.

The question is how long we’ll take this from Trump. Many Trump supporters will never give him up. They love him for picking fights with people they hate – the media, the Washington establishment, and black NFL players and black Congresswomen who get uppity. Not to mention the first black President.

But most Americans are good, kind and decent people. An optimist believes that their goodness, kindness and decency will win in the end.

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Some Republicans have the annoying habit of calling us “the Democrat Party.” It’s an old slur, dating back to the 1940s and 1950s.

Maybe “slur” is too strong a word. “Democrat Party” is more an insulting, annoying, derisive epithet. It conjures up “autocrat” or “bureaucrat” or just plain “rat.”

When he was Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich used it a lot. Which tells you all you need to know.

But it’s clear now there is more significance to Republicans’ use of the term. It says far more about them than about Democrats. In fact, it betrays the true nature of many Republican politicians – and especially the moneyed people pulling their strings: They don’t want America to be Democratic, because they damn sure don’t want it to be democratic.

Webster defines democracy as “government by the people, directly or through representatives.”

In North Carolina, that’s the last thing the Republican politicians who run the legislature want. They want government run by them and them alone, with no interference from the pesky people.

That explains voter suppression, gerrymandering, vote-rigging, encroachment on the Governor’s Constitutional powers and – now – their determination to rig, pack, politicize, intimidate and ultimately control the courts.

It’s happening across the country, in state after state after state. It’s not happenstance. It’s part of a decades-long strategy hatched by academics (especially economist James McGill Buchanan, who got his start resisting school desegregation in Virginia in the 1950s), financed by a handful of billionaires (like the Kochs) and carried out with cold, relentless precision by politicians willing to sell their souls for money and power (you know who they are).

A new book, “Democracy in Chains” by Nancy MacLean (the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University) traces what she calls “the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America.” Her bottom line is that, while it masks its goal as “liberty:”

“…what this cause really seeks is a return to oligarchy, to a world in which both economic and effective political power are to be concentrated in the hands of a few. It would like to reinstate the kind of political economy that prevailed in America at the opening of the twentieth century, when the mass disenfranchisement of voters and the legal treatment of labor unions as illegitimate enabled large corporations and wealthy individuals to dominate Congress and state legislatures alike, and to feel secure that the nation’s courts would not interfere with their reign.”

In light of this, here’s the question for Democrats today – the Democratic Party: Is the better strategy to battle Republicans on policy – or on politics? Policy is complicated. Witness health care. Politics is much simpler. Just show that your opponents are corrupt, crooked, power-hungry, ruthless political hacks who care far more about their stupendously wealthy financiers than the people they were supposedly (but unconstitutionally, through illegal gerrymandering) elected to serve.

Fight for democracy, Democrats.

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Back in the 1950s, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev boasted that “We will bury you.” Vladimir Putin figured out that if he just gave us the right tools, we’d bury ourselves.

A spate of news stories explores how Russian misinformation (fake news) combined with Americans’ own rage and with our addiction to social media to affect the 2016 election. One article demolishes the myth that Democrats are way ahead on social media and that the Trump campaign was clueless online.

The New York Times reported (“How Russia Harvested American Rage to Reshape U.S. Politics”):

“…one of the most powerful weapons that Russian agents used to reshape American politics was the anger, passion and misinformation that real Americans were broadcasting across social media platforms.”

The Guardian (“How Russia used social media to divide Americans”) said:

“What has now been made clear is that Russian trolls and automated bots not only promoted explicitly pro-Donald Trump messaging, but also used social media to sow social divisions in America by stoking disagreement and division around a plethora of controversial topics such as immigration and Islamophobia.”

Black members of Congress have their own beef (“Black Lawmakers Hold a Particular Grievance With Facebook: Racial Exploitation”):

“As black activists tried last year to focus attention on police brutality, unfair treatment before the law, inequality and white supremacy, social media giants like Facebook were being commandeered by Russian intelligence agents to turn white voters against them.”

The most sweeping article ran in The Atlantic (“What Facebook Did to American Democracy – And why it was so hard to see it coming”). Alexis C. Madrigal pulls together all the threads about Facebook’s electoral impact, including the Russian role, and adds a new one:

“Before Trump’s election, the impact of internet technology generally and Facebook specifically was seen as favoring Democrats….Democrats were light-years ahead of Republicans when it came to digital strategy and tactics, and Republicans had serious work to do on the technology front if they ever hoped to win back the White House….

“University of North Carolina journalism professor Daniel Kreiss wrote a whole (good) book, ‘Prototype Politics,’ showing that Democrats had an incredible personnel advantage….”

Not so fast. As it turns out, the Trump campaign had a digital front. And it was, in every sense of the word, dark.

“The Trump campaign was working to suppress ‘idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans’…with targeted, ‘dark’ Facebook ads. These ads are only visible to the buyer, the ad recipients, and Facebook. No one who hasn’t been targeted by then can see them. How was anyone supposed to know what was going on, when the key campaign terrain was literally invisible to outside observers?”

Steve Bannon, for one, “was confident in the operation,” saying, “I wouldn’t have come aboard, even for Trump, if I hadn’t known they were building this massive Facebook and data engine. Facebook is what propelled Breitbart to a massive audience. We know its power.”

Madrigal concludes:

“The truth is that while many reporters knew some things that were going on on Facebook, no one knew everything that was going on on Facebook, not even Facebook. And so, during the most significant shift in the technology of politics since the television, the first draft of history is filled with undecipherable whorls and empty pages. Meanwhile, the 2018 midterms loom.”

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The good news: Democrats are fired up and ready to vote. The bad news: They’re fired up at each other and ready to start a civil war.

Nancy McFarlane says Charles Francis’s decision to call a runoff will “divide those who share progressive values.” And her supporters say Francis has been known to consort with Republicans.

Francis says calling a runoff is “democracy, not divisive.” And his supporters say McFarlane is registered Unaffiliated and has been known to consort with Republicans.

At this rate, the runoff will be divisive.

My blog last week noted how the Republican legislature and Trump have energized Democrats. This is their first chance to vote and vent since Trump won a year ago.

Along with energy comes emotion. And emotions are spilling over here.

McFarlane obviously didn’t want a runoff. She fell just short of 50 percent and led by 12 points. But Francis’s supporters didn’t want him to give up after they worked hard and kept the incumbent Mayor from winning outright.

And when African-Americans hear someone say – or read an editorial that says – calling a runoff is “divisive,” they hear: “Stay in your place. Don’t stir things up. Wait your turn.”

Runoffs in North Carolina have a racial history. Black candidates in Democratic primaries (Howard Lee for Lieutenant Governor in 1976 and Harvey Gantt for Senate in 1990) led the first primary but fell short of 50 percent. They didn’t want the (white) second-place finishers to call runoffs. Both did.

What you see here are the fault lines among three groups of Democrats: Obama voters (many of them African-American), Clinton voters (many of them women) and Sanders voters (many of them liberals and millennials). These fault lines could cost Democrats in 2018 and 2020.

For sure, a runoff could be divisive. McFarlane and Francis both have to make a strategic calculation about how to win: Sharpen the differences, or bridge them? Fire up your base, or cast a wider net? Appeal to people’s fears – or to their hopes?

Republicans have the market on fear. Democrats should give hope a chance.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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Trump puts the “bully” into Teddy Roosevelt’s “bully pulpit.”

Trump has 40.3 million Twitter followers. Every morning, he gets up, picks up his cell phone and picks a fight with somebody.

This week it’s “Liddle Bob Corker.” Last week it was his own Secretary of State. All the time now, it’s (black) NFL players.

His fans love it. They love it when he picks on people they don’t like. It’s entertaining. It’s like kids in the schoolyard – happy that the bully is picking on somebody else.

It drives the news cycle. It enables Trump to dictate the agenda, dominate the debate and divert us from things he’s doing – or not doing – that could make a difference in Americans’ lives.

It’s also intimidating. Trump is the quintessential smart-ass New Yorker, quick with an insult that cuts you to the quick. A lot of politicians, cautious to a fault and programmed to the max, are terrified of being a Trump Twitter target.

It’s easy to dismiss this as “Reality TV.” But it’s reality today. It’s how we communicate. And Trump has mastered it.

It’s probably not what TR had in mind.

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The Meeker-McFarlane Era of Good Feelings in Raleigh politics ended Tuesday. It had a good run for 16 years, but it’s over.

Not since the days of Tom Fetzer and Paul Coble, who lost to Charles Meeker in 2001, has Raleigh politics been this hot and heavy.


First, race. The contest between Nancy McFarlane and Charles Francis split the city down racial lines. Clearly, many Raleigh residents feel shut out of and shunted aside by Raleigh’s growth and gentrification. They see Dix Park and luxury condos, but they don’t see affordable housing and bus-stop rain shelters.

Second, party. Specifically, the Democratic Party. Democrats split because Francis is a registered Democrat and McFarlane, though she and her husband Ron have been reliable supporters of and donors to Democratic candidates, is registered Unaffiliated.

Some big-name Democrats endorsed McFarlane, and they got an earful from Democrats supporting Francis.

Why is party suddenly so important here?

Like with everything else, blame Trump. He’s made all politics more partisan, polarized and angry. Then add in the Republican legislature. Since 2011, Raleigh has been ground-zero for to the legislature’s power-grabbing, election-rigging and progress-reversing. The reaction naturally is stronger here. When a tribe is threatened, it pulls together, resists invaders and burns heretics.

Another factor: Elections usually come down to Change Versus Status Quo. Francis was change, and McFarlane was status quo. Change voters are always more motivated.

It was all enough to keep McFarlane from winning outright, though she led Francis 48-36 percent.

The party factor probably also hurt City Councilman Bonner Gaylord, who is registered Unaffiliated. Plus, his race against Stef Mendell reflected another, more familiar political divide in Raleigh, one that dates back to the 1970s, between “development” candidates and “neighborhood” candidates. Every so often, Raleigh’s growth spawns a counter-reaction.

If there are runoffs, anything can happen. One thing is certain: Even in prosperous, progressive Raleigh, politics ain’t so polite anymore.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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Tennessee Senator Bob Corker uncorked on Trump in an interview with The New York Times, “Bob Corker Says Trump’s Recklessness Threatens ‘World War III’:”

“(Corker) charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like ‘a reality show,’ with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation ‘on the path to World War III.’

“In an extraordinary rebuke of a president of his own party, Mr. Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts ‘like he’s doing The Apprentice or something.’

“He concerns me. He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

Corker says nearly every Republican Senator shares his concern:

“Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here….of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

Good for Corker, you say? Well, why did he wait until he’s a lame duck not running for reelection? And why won’t his colleagues speak up? Are they that intimidated? Or that spineless?

World War III?

This is not exactly Profiles in Courage.

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Something has always seemed off psychologically about Trump. The ego, the grandiosity, the thin skin.

The missing link came into focus in Puerto Rico when he tossed the paper towels to hurricane victims: The man has no empathy for other human beings.

His coldness and his contempt show when he is forced to mix with people who don’t work for him or worship him. Like after the hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Each time, Trump made the story about Him. He bragged about the crowds that came to see Him. He bragged about the great job He is doing. And he went ballistic when the mayor of a storm-wrecked city, a woman and a Puerto Rican no less, criticized Him.

Maybe he’s “a fucking moron,” as Rex Tillerson said. But he’s a genius at zeroing in on other people’s weaknesses. He’s an Einstein when it comes to bringing out the worst in people.

Moron or not, he’s a moral midget. He is blithely unconcerned about other people. He views their suffering at the worst time of their lives through his one lens: “What does this mean for ME? What are people saying about ME? What is best here for ME?”

The people who love him love his performance, the show he gives them, the fights he picks with people they hate.

One day they may find out how much he loves them. One day they may need help from their government. Maybe Trump will throw them a roll of paper towels.

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Carter and I disagree on most every issue, but we agree on one big thing: Good polling is essential in a campaign.

Which is why I’m obsessed with why Hillary Clinton’s campaign stopped state-level polling in the final weeks of 2016. I think about that decision every time Trump does something dumb, despicable or dangerous – that is, every day. 

Stanley Greenberg, Bill Clinton’s pollster, charges Hillary’s campaign with “malpractice and arrogance” for stopping polls in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Trump won all three.

Now, Politico’s Steven Shepard dives into the decision – and into the division between old polling heads like Greenberg and a new generation that believes in data analytics. Shepard writes:

“In October, about a month before Election Day, campaign officials pulled the plug on its deeper-dive state surveys — the messaging polls — over the objection of the campaign’s pollsters, who argued at the time that it was too risky to stop listening to voters beyond just the horse race, according to three sources associated with the campaign. The campaign continued, however, with its analytics polling, calling thousands of voters across battleground states every night to ask basic questions about candidate preference.

“The campaign’s pollsters argued against that decision at the time — analytics polling, they argued, might tell the campaign’s leaders whether Clinton was ticking higher or sinking lower but it couldn’t tell them why.

“Those pollsters were overruled by senior Clinton campaign leaders….”

Now, this may sound like the typical post-election finger-pointing by the losers. But the debate is important, because a lot of campaigns – national, state and local – will have the same debate during the 2018 and 2020 election cycles.

Data analytics can be a powerful campaign tool. But 2016 is powerful evidence that traditional polling is still vital.

A national pollster who was doing surveys in North Carolina told me the Friday before Election Day that Clinton was sinking here – and pulling down other Democrats. She started dropping when James Comey announced the FBI was reopening its email investigation.

Her campaign wasn’t polling, so they were flying blind. They didn’t know she was falling behind in states she couldn’t afford to lose in the Midwest. Instead, they held the closing rally in North Carolina, a state Clinton didn’t have to win and, in the end, couldn’t win.

So, whenever a candidate asks for advice, I’m sticking to four things that I know work – and that Carter and I agree on: (1) Raise money. (2) Do a poll. (3) Give voters information. (4) Repeat.

Posted in: National Democrats
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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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