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People of a certain age remember Muhammad Ali as the 1960 Olympics gold medalist, the brash young heavyweight champion and one of the most divisive people in the divisive decade of the ‘60s.

Consider what Donald Trump says today about Muslims, and imagine how controversial it was when Ali, immediately after winning the heavyweight championship over Sonny Liston, declared that he was a Muslim and was dropping his “slave name” of Cassius Clay.

Then imagine the firestorm when he refused to be drafted (“No Viet Cong ever called me n—–“).

It was too much for some people. Like Dick Herbert, the crusty sports editor at The News & Observer, where I worked as a teenaged copyboy. Herbert’s politics were as conservative as his plodding prose style (which inspired one sportswriter to dub him “The Master of the Declarative Sentence”).

When Ali changed his name, Herbert wasn’t having any of it. He decreed that all stories and headlines would henceforth refer to him as “Ali (Clay).” Ali might change his name, but Herbert wasn’t.

It would be years before the N&O called Ali what he wanted to be called.

A caveat: I may have this backwards. This is what time and memory can do. I’m not sure whether Herbert decreed that the name run as “Ali (Clay)” or “Clay (Ali).” The latter is even more offensive.


Posted in: General
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As Donald Trump doubled down on the race card, Hillary Clinton didn’t just play the woman card, she dealt the whole damn deck.

The Clinton campaign waited until she could claim victory to proclaim a historic first for women. And it happened just as a Stanford swimmer, his father and a judge reminded us how society is still stacked against women.

Trump’s biggest worry should be that he’s a stand-in for every man who has ever offended, mistreated or insulted any woman in America.

That by itself should give Clinton a bump up her polls. She may rise even more if she gently and patiently brings around Bernie Sanders and his supporters.

Combined with her line of attack last week against Trump – as dangerous and temperamentally unfit, if not unstable, for the Presidency – the race could take a shape this summer that Trump will have a hard time changing this fall.

It’s about more than race and gender. It’s a classic contest between two competing world views that have dominated American politics since Jefferson and Hamilton.

One group is committed to knocking down barriers and opening up doors of all opportunity to all Americans.

The other fights like hell to stop that from happening – and to protect the power, position and privileges of a handful of people at the top.

Despite stops and starts, two steps forward and one back, the march of American history ultimately is in Clinton’s direction. This year could be a giant step.


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Last evening, a crew was putting a new roof on the house across the way. Three men worked steadily, climbing up and down a tall ladder and steeply pitched roof, hauling up shingles, hammering them in place and trimming the edges.

On the ground, two women cleaned up, piling the trash into a wheelbarrow and then into the truck.

They worked through the heat and humidity, pausing to wipe away sweat and drink water. They kept at it until nearly dark, past 8 o’clock.

On TV inside, Republican politicians waffled, wiggled and wavered about Donald Trump’s allegation that a judge can’t do his job because he’s of Mexican heritage.

If Trump gets elected President and gets his way, the men and women on the roofing crew will be hounded by law enforcement and by the kind of stupid, clumsy government bureaucracy that Republicans love to decry.

They may get deported. Millions of them.

Good luck getting your roof fixed then.

If you ask me, the roofers are a hell of a lot better Americans than Donald Trump and the craven politicians who are afraid to stand up to him.


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Hillary Clinton’s campaign will spend today and tomorrow proclaiming that the race is over and prodding Bernie Sanders to give up. She hopes he’ll fold easier than she did eight years ago and than Ted Kennedy did in 1980 (which gave us 12 years of Republican Presidents).

You can bet there’s a bitter battle going on inside the Sanders campaign, between the peacemakers (like my friend Tad Devine, I suspect) and the bitter-enders.

It’s hard to give up after you’ve come so far and defied so much conventional wisdom.

Hillary’s supporters need to be patient. It is the duty of young activists to be idealistic, impetuous and impatient. It is the duty of us geezers (sigh) to be realistic, practical and level-headed.

Hard as it is for Sanders supporters to accept, he might be the only candidate Trump could beat. Sanders is way too left and his past is way too radical. Voters just don’t know that yet.

Clinton desperately needs Sanders’ people. If too many of them vote Libertarian in the fall, she loses.

She and her camp need to fully learn the lesson Sanders taught them: Voters are fed up with politics as usual and, especially, with corrupt ties between politicians and the super-rich. The Clintons have become way too comfortable in that lofty air.

Clinton has the bad luck to be a status quo candidate in a change year. She also has the good luck of running against Trump’s truly scary change.

But Trump-fear won’t be enough. Clinton has to give Democrats, Independents and even Republicans something to be for.


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Fittingly, a polarized nation will have a polarized election between our two most polarizing politicians.

It’s a real reality show, with voters telling one, “You’re fired,” and the other, “You’re President.”

Trump can play his role in The Apprentice, and Hillary can reprise her bartender role from Saturday Night Live.

As always, voters will judge their characters. And one good lens for examining candidates’ characters is through their fathers.

Trump is the wealthy-born heir of a tough, ruthless businessman who made a fortune in New York City real estate. A lot to live up to, clearly.

Trump claims he built a fortune, but mainly he used his inheritance to build a brand based on his own flair for publicity. Everything has his name on it. Everything is the “best,” “biggest” or “most incredible.” He left a string of lawsuits, bankruptcies and bad blood in his wake.

As a candidate, he revels in his ignorance and arrogance. He has no known values, principles or political philosophy. His goal is to glorify his name and, one guesses, top his father.

Clinton is the do-good daughter of a hard-nosed, hard-to-please Republican father who also built a successful business. She was a Goldwater girl who became a classic late-60s activist-idealist, then an Arkansas Governor’s wife, then First Lady (“two for the price of one”), then Senator and Secretary of State.

She’s a grinder, and Trump is a shoot-from-the-hip guy.

She’s all substance, and he’s all flash.

She’s Illinois-Yale-Arkansas-Washington-New York-the world. He’s Manhattan, Atlantic City and Palm Beach.

She’s all due diligence, and his idea of deep policy study is watching “the shows.”

She’s the woman a lot of men can’t stand, and he’s the man a lot of women despise.

He’s the kind of guy who judges women by their boobs, butts and legs. She’s the kind of gal who has spent her life dealing with that kind of guy.

In the end, fittingly, this will come down to a televised reality show: the debates.

The conventional wisdom is that Trump’s act is made for today’s media world and that Clinton won’t be able to match his insults or counter his slipperiness.

But recall, if you will, her day-long, national-TV, high-stakes performance before the House Benghazi witch-hunt committee. Clinton bested a roomful of preening, arrogant and over-confident men.

Don’t underestimate the grinder’s ability to rise to the occasion.

It will be the ultimate reality show. For the highest stakes. Like the strength of America and the safety of the world.

The whole world will be watching.


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For those who remember the late Barbara Buchanan, Governor Jim Hunt’s long-time secretary and right arm, a memorial service will be held for her at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow (Friday) at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh.

Here’s a link to the notice. And here’s a tribute I wrote (“Saint Barbara”) after she died last New Year’s Eve.


Posted in: General
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Right after the legislature rushed through HB2 and Governor McCrory signed it in the dark of night, a group of friends discussed the issue over lunch in North Raleigh.

Male and female, ages 40 to 80, they included a retired judge, a couple of lawyers, several business and political consultants and a couple of family members. All Democrats or leaning that way. All smart, well-informed people.

But not one of them knew what “transgender” meant. A Google search quickly answered that question. But, still, no one really knew what the transgender-bathroom issue was about.

Since then, we’ve all had an education. Very much like the education that people had in past years about gays.

Those who grew up in the decades of the 40s, 50s and 60s recall how gays – they were politely referred to as “homosexuals” and not so politely as “queers” – were regarded then: Perverts. Predators, even.

We got past that. Most people, anyway.

Now we’re on a learning curve about transgender people.

Today, as with gays in the old days, some people translate “transgender” as perverts and predators. Why? Maybe they don’t know any transgender people. Maybe they’ve been told something that scares them. Maybe they are motivated by sincere religious or moral beliefs.

But there’s another group of people involved in this political debate. These are people who know, or should know, that transgender people are not predators. They are, in fact, far more likely to be prey than predator.

These politicians and political operatives are knowingly, deliberately and even gleefully making innocent and vulnerable people political targets.

The cure for ignorance is education and experience. The cure for cynical political opportunism is effective political action.


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Nobody who does politics knows what’s up with politics now.

Republicans can’t explain why Trump is winning. Democrats can’t explain why Clinton isn’t winning.

Ask candidates, consultants, commentators and the media crowd for explanations, and they all mumble, fumble and stumble.

A month ago, everybody thought Republicans were headed for a deadlocked convention and Democrats were headed for a coronation.

But now Republicans are uniting behind Trump, casting aside their doubts about his real principles as he rises in the polls. (Polls obviously trump their principles, as it were.)

It’s the Democrats who are split, dreading a convention battle, worrying about Sanders voters voting Libertarian in the fall and fretting about Clinton’s inability to shed Bernie, the email controversy and all her other baggage.

(By the way, if you want to read a powerful story about how real people see politics, check out The New York Times article “Feeling Let Down and Left Behind, With Little Hope for Better,” which focuses on Wilkes County, N.C. Especially this quote about Trump voters: “You’re talking to people who haven’t won in 30 years, and now somebody is telling them they’re going to win again.”)

Things looks brighter for Democrats in North Carolina, thanks to the HB2 wound that Republicans inflicted on themselves. But Democrats know how the presidential race can shape every race.

Here’s my advice: Pause and take a deep breath as we head into Memorial Day weekend. It’s summer now. We’ve got things besides politics to think about. The conventions are coming. Running mates will be picked. The campaign will come into clearer focus around Labor Day.

And here’s some unsolicited advice for Hillary Clinton: Solve all your problems, and make Elizabeth Warren your VP. You’ll win back the Sandersnistas. You’ll make everybody take a fresh look at you. And you’ll double down on the “woman card.”

You can say, “The men in Washington screwed up this country so bad it’ll take TWO women to fix the mess.”


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I’m appealing to my old friend and comrade-in-arms Dennis Wicker: Don’t solve the HB2 crisis. It’s helping Democrats!

Now, I feel bad saying this. Dennis is one of the finest and most public-spirited people in North Carolina. We lost out big time when we didn’t elect him Governor in 2000.

Now he – and Art Pope! – are leading a group that hopes to resolve the HB2 controversy.

(Side note: Dennis defeated Pope in the race for Lieutenant Governor in 1992, saving us from 20 years of what Pope & Co. are doing now to North Carolina.)

Organizing this group is just a transparent ploy by Republicans to escape the damage that HB2 is doing to Governor McCrory, legislative Republicans and Senator Burr. The thing is being organized by Pope’s John Locke/John Hood Society, for Pete’s sake!

Not coincidentally, Senator Burr says the legislature “botched” HB2. That’s one reason he’s neck-and-neck with Deborah Ross.

The hell with a group of leaders “solving” the problem. Let’s solve it in the elections in November.

“No deal. Just repeal,” as HB2 opponents say.

Plus the old political advice, “When your opponent is drowning, throw the son of a bitch an anvil.”


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A sensible Republican legislator (there is such a thing!) was asked why Senate Republicans want to regulate wind and solar energy to death. After all, don’t these people despise government regulation?

His answer – more accurately, his suspicion – was: “The Koch Brothers.”

The Koch fortune relies heavily on extracting fossil fuels and fouling the planet’s air, land and water.

Renewable energy is good for our lives, our health and that of future generations. And North Carolina has been moving ahead, with government and business working together.

But that’s bad for the Koch Brothers’ bottom line. Their money talks, and Americans for Prosperity, the John Locke Foundation and Republican legislators take their orders. The rest of us are out of luck.


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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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