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National Republicans

02
Back during the Korean War, when the Marines were surrounded by the Chinese at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, a reporter asked Major General Oliver P. Smith if he was retreating and Smith said, “Retreat, hell! We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction." That was tough leadership.
 
Back in the 1990’s when times were good, with no recession and no wars, John Boehner would probably have done just fine as House Speaker, but these days the good times are a fading memory and with war and recession all over the place it’s time for tough leadership again – but instead Boehner’s getting bounced around from pillar to post like a pinball.
 
Take the Farm Bill: If Boehner’d sided with conservatives to fight for deep spending cuts he’d have to take a big risk: The Farm State Republicans could abandon him, team up with the Democrats, and defeat his bill.
 
That prospect wasn’t palatable, so instead Boehner sided with the Farm State Republicans and supported a bill to spend $940 billion – or 1% less than the Democrats in the Senate. Of course, that meant Boehner was sure to lose conservative votes but, at least, with the help of a few Democrats he might just squeeze by.  
 
What happened next was pure Washington politics: The Democrats sandbagged him. And voted against the Farm Bill. To put the squeeze on Boehner to get a better deal.
 
And, for Boehner, there’s even worse news: He faces that same conundrum every time a major spending bill comes up – because the cuts are almost always going to be controversial and there’re almost always going to be some group of Republican Congressmen who’ll say, No way, Jose – we’re not voting for those cuts.
 
So, at least on the Farm Bill, in an exercise in what’s called ‘realism’ in Washington, Boehner’s opted for little cuts rather than fighting for big cuts.
 
But that lands Boehner in another conundrum: Cutting spending a hair less than Democrats isn’t likely to wash on Election Day. Republican Congressmen can’t very well vote to spend $940 billion on a Farm Bill then turn around and rant to voters about Democrats raising the debt ceiling to pay for it.
 
 
 

 

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20
Earlier this year there was a lot of moaning and gnashing of teeth about the terrible Sequester spending cuts – listening to the politicians up in Washington you’d have thought the government was teetering on its last legs, on the brink of financial Armageddon, staring doom in the face.
 
President Obama even said the White House was in such dire straits – due to lack of money – he had to close down White House tours.
 
But now the Washington Post reports the President’s spending $100 million to visit three nations in Sub-Saharan Africa.
 
It’s a relief – the government’s not broke.
 
But our politics is still broken.
 

 

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11
It seems Republicans up in Congress have split into two hostile tribes – whether you call them ‘Moderates and Conservatives’ (as they did forty years ago) or the ‘Conservatives and Pragmatists’ (as they did twenty years ago) or ‘Insiders and Outsiders’ (as they do now).
 
Now, say, on spending, the Conservatives (or Outsiders) are dead-set certain we’d all be a lot better off with a lot less government. It’s an article of faith. To Conservatives Less Spending = Less Government = Good Things Happening.
 
More to the point, they figure if voters don’t agree, say, with shuttering the Department of Education, it’s their job to go to work and show ‘em that sending billions to Washington for schools then turning around and sending it back to the states isn’t the best idea on earth.
 
And they’re willing to risk their political hides to do it.
 
The Insiders (or Pragmatists) don’t really have any philosophical aversion to cutting spending or government. But they also figure Republicans aren’t going to be doing much good in Washington if they lose their majority in the House – so they don’t see much virtue in risking their political hides for an unpopular spending cut, even if they agree with it.
 
It’s as old a political fight as I know of in Republican politics: One group of fellows says, Let’s do what’s right and damn the torpedoes. It’ll all come out right in the end – and the other group takes one look at the torpedoes and says, Hold on.
 

 

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15
You can easily flick aside a Republican witch hunt on Benghazi. After all, they’ve been at it since Mitt Romney popped off the first day.
 
You can manage a controversy about the IRS targeting Tea Party groups – so long as, unlike Nixon, the White House wasn’t involved.
 
But your Justice Department subpoenaed AP reporters’ phone records? Now you’ve got a real problem.
 
Now you’ve made reporters and editors mad. Now they’ll plunge into an orgy of Nixon comparisons and “second-term jinx” stories. Now they’ll cover all the congressional investigations and hearings into all of the above.
 
This too, you can manage. But you may have to chop off some heads. And you must keep calm and carry on.

 

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07
The trouble with South Carolina, Robert E. Lee supposedly said, is that it’s too small to be an independent nation and too large to be an insane asylum. Which helps explain why Mark Sanford may win his congressional race tonight.
 
The other explanation is our politics today. We are so deeply and bitterly divided into our respective tribes that no amount of bizarre behavior will keep us from voting for our tribe’s candidate.
 
And we Democrats shouldn’t throw stones. We stuck by President Clinton after his less-than-exemplary behavior in the White House. (Good thing we did.)
 
Of course, Clinton didn’t approach Sanford’s level of sheer nuttiness (See: “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” and “Argentine Soul Mate”.) But, hey, we’re talking South Carolina here.

 

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30
Up in Washington, Senate Leader Harry Reid and House Leader John Boehner and a handful of politicians have been sequestered in secret meetings, trying to agree on a solution to one of Washington’s most burning problems: How to exempt Congressmen and their staffs from ObamaCare.
 
Then, to their surprise, word of the meetings leaked – landing on the front page of Politico  – and in the next breath, facing an awkward question and needing a quick explanation, the politicians stumbled, sheepishly telling the press they were worried about putting their staffers under ObamaCare because it would lead to a ‘brain drain’ on Capitol Hill – and, of course, one wit immediately wrote the newspaper, How could that be? There hasn’t been a glimmer of a brain on Capitol Hill for years.
 
Next Politico treed Democratic House Leader, Steny Hoyer, asking where he stood on exempting Congress from ObamaCare – like a man weaving through a minefield Hoyer put out a carefully scripted statement saying he was studying “all the policies in the Affordable Care Act, to ensure they’re being implemented in a way that’s workable for everyone, including members and staff.”
 
After cornering the Democrat next Politico descended on John Boehner and Boehner’s spokesman, with equal care, announced, “If the Speaker has the opportunity to save anyone from ObamaCare, he will.”
 
What those two bits of carefully parsed political-ese meant – when translated into plain English – was simple enough: Both Hoyer and Boehner had said Yes.
 
So in all the great breadth and sweep of America, from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters, one sacred patch of ground may be untouched by ObamaCare – Capitol Hill.

 

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26
A legislator looked at a bill, winched, looked at another legislator and said, ‘Well, if I don’t vote for it I guess I’ll land in a primary.’
 
‘You think,’ the second legislator said, ‘that Republicans in your district are for people carrying guns in bars?’ The bill allowed people carry guns in bars, restaurants and on college campuses (as long as the gun is in a locked box).
 
‘Looking at the emails I’m getting,’ the first legislator said, ‘I’d say they do.’
 
‘How many emails are you talking about?’
 
‘Over a hundred.’
 
‘And how many Republican voters are in your district?’
 
‘About 20,000.’
 
‘So, because you got a hundred emails, you think you’re hearing the voice of 20,000 Republicans saying they support people carrying pistols in bars?’
 
The first legislator bristled. ‘You think that’s wrong?’
 
‘I think if you want to know what voters think you should take a poll.’
 
The first legislator, his mind made up, scratched his head. ‘You ever try that?’
 
‘Yep.’
 
‘What did it show?’
 
‘It said Republican voters have more common sense than legislators give them credit for.’
 

 

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17
Last week Gary thoughtfully wrote a squib (below) urging people to visit young Thomas Mills’ new website PoliticsNC – so I did. And got a surprise. Young Mr. Mills was – genially – taking me to task for writing how the Democrats passing voter laws (over the years) to elect Democrats, had led to Republicans (once they had power) doing the same thing to elect Republicans, which, taken altogether, was a pretty good example of how one sin begets another – the political version of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth with no remorse anywhere.
 
Mr. Mills didn’t mind me criticizing my own party but he didn’t particularly like me criticizing his party – the way he sees it, Republicans have done all the sinning while Democrats have done none at all. He made his case this way: Republicans are trying to pass laws that discourage people from voting while the Democrats, back in the days when they had power, had pursued a loftier goal: They’d passed laws to encourage more people to vote. Which sounds fine. Except that argument collapses in the face of one fact: Right in the middle of their lofty crusade to get more people to the polls, Democrats passed a law to make it more difficult for people to cast absentee ballots – because Republicans were more likely to vote that way than Democrats.
 
There’re other examples of Democrats changing laws to elect Democrats – like in the 1980 election: Locked in a tight race for US Senate, Democrats decided if a voter marked the block next to Republican John East’s name in the race for U.S. Senate, but, then, also marked the Straight Democratic ticket block on the same ballot, they wouldn’t throw the ballot out as spoiled – they’d count it as a vote for Democratic Senate candidate Robert Morgan.
 
Toward the end of his blog, Mr. Mills wrote, “Carter should know politics is about perception and the perception here is...” – well, the perception here is Republicans are “old, bigoted white guys.”
 
I don’t know of an idea that has done more harm in politics than the thought, Perception is what matters...it’s like saying, If I lie, cheat and steal, it doesn’t matter so long as people think I’m a walking breathing paragon of moral rectitude.
 
There's also an easy way to prove it’s a fiction to say ‘perception’ has the power to save a politician from the older truth that bad deeds breed consequences – just look at what’s happening in front of our eyes (over voter laws): Democrats sowed the wind and now they’re reaping the whirlwind and, in time, Republicans may reap an indigestible harvest as well.
 

 

 

 

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16
For years Jesse Helms wrote every speech he made, typing each on an old reporter’s typewriter, then one year when he was unusually harried he decided it was time to hire a speechwriter – so we hired ‘John.’
 
John was an unusually gifted writer but for all his virtues he had a peculiar view of politics (and the world in general). John saw politics as one tiny pinnacle of pure white light populated with saints, surrounded by a pitch-black engulfing darkness filled with goblins and liberals who had to be exterminated and, since the saints were badly outnumbered, the way John saw it there was no room for the luxury mercy.
 
Of course the fearfulness of his vision meant he was angry a great part of the time and naturally, over time, his anger turned him mean.
 
For six months John diligently labored writing passionate and articulate speeches for Jesse then one day in December, as we walked to my car to go to lunch, John handed Jesse a speech and launched into a tirade about Christmas – he said Christmas was a greed-ridden desecration of the story of the Christ child, an abomination reeking of materialism, then tore into Santa Claus, saying Santa Claus was a hobgoblin invented by greedy shopkeepers to con little children – then he stepped in front of Jesse, turned to face him, and said, Somebody needs to stand up and tell those children the truth about Santa Claus – and pointed to that speech.
 
Not with the white-hot passion (born of fear or betrayal or meanness) of a common murderer but with the cold-calculated passion of a Grand Inquisitor ticking off the names of heretics John had proposed the murder of St. Nicholas.
 
Jesse stopped dead in his tracks, rocked back on his heels, looked back at John, and grinned, Well, if you don’t mind, I believe I’d as soon pass on running for the Senate by telling children there’s no Santa Claus.
 
Back in those days you could usually find a fellow like John in almost every town of any size but given the limits of geography and communications in those days it was nearly impossible for John to find (or share fellowship with) his natural political soul mates.  He was sadly isolated and fought his political battles alone.
 
John passed on a decade ago but today his lineal descendents (not in blood but in politics) are happier because they’re no longer alone – modern day Johns build websites then with the click of a button other ‘Johns’ can find them and they form a tribe as bellicose as Huns.  
 
The other day, without meaning to, a soft-spoken lady from Charlotte who’s one of the four Republican leaders in the House – Representative Ruth Samuelson – sent one of those Hun-tribes into a white-hot fury.
 
Back to 2007 a previous state legislature passed a bill to encourage companies to produce ‘renewable energy’ – like solar power – in North Carolina; hardly a word has been said about the bill for six years, until last week when State Representative Mike Hager stood up in a House Committee and announced that utility companies using solar power was adding millions of dollars to electric bills and he was going to put a stop to it by repealing that six-year-old bill.
 
Those two words – renewable energy – reverberated across the Internet with the power of a magnet and hit a tribe of Johns right squarely between the eyes. Because the one person they knew who favored renewable energy was Barack Obama. And that’s all they needed to know. No sooner had Mike Hager sounded the war tocsin than a full-throated battle cry filled the air and charges flew about the evil of government subsidies and the worse evil of government interfering with the free market – which in a way didn’t add up because utility companies are monopolies and there is no free market for selling electricity.
 
Then just when it looked like Representative Hager’s bill was sure to sail through that committee Ruth Samuelson stood up and politely said that it might be a good idea for legislators to stop and do a little research before voting.
 
About an hour after that one Hun-like tribe put a picture of Samuelson and a picture of another Republican legislator on its website alongside a picture of Obama then added a headline over the pictures roaring: They voted with Obama!
 
The way that tribe saw it Ruth Samuelson had gone over to the Dark Side or, worse, become a liberal – which didn’t add up either because how on earth could an Obama-liberal be one of the four Republican Leaders in the State House?
 
So I looked up that 2007 bill and an odd fact popped up right away: George Bush was President when that bill passed. Then a second fact leaped off the page: The most rock-ribbed conservative in the legislature, Phil Berger, had voted for that bill. As had Thom Tillis, Tom Apodaca, Skip Stam, Robert Pittenger and just about every other Republican in the General Assembly.
 
Whether that Hun-like tribe’s attack on Ruth Samuelson was cold-blooded calculation or hot-blooded rage there’s no getting around one more fact: It was an act of pure meanness – like when John told Jesse, You ought to tell little children there is no Santa Claus.
 

 

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25
There’s nothing political folks like better than a good Civil War – whether you happen to be a Republican or a Democrat it’s hard to find a pogrom more satisfying than purging the heretics in your own party, which is not necessarily an unproductive experience: After all, Reagan’s victory in 1980 was the result of a five year Republican Civil War.
 
The first sign that the everyday normal bumps and grinds of Republican politics might break into open warfare came when John McCain branded Rand Paul and Ted Cruz ‘Wacko Birds.’ That set the stage for Round 2 when the ‘Wacko Birds’ met the ‘Old Birds’ eye-to-eye at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
 
At forty-one Senator Marco Rubio is a pretty unusual standard bearer for the Old Birds. A Cuban immigrant’s son who needed an opportunity and got one, Senator Rubio pulled himself up by his bootstraps. At twenty-eight, he ran for the Florida Legislature and quickly became a ‘rising star.’ He walked onto the stage at CPAC and gave an earnest, smooth, passionate speech about American exceptionalism. He was articulate. But cautious. He crossed swords with no one.
 
Next a tousle-haired fifty-year-old wearing a dark blue jacket and blue jeans, looking like a college professor, walked onto the stage and he wasn’t smooth at all. Or cautious. With wry humor Rand Paul poked fun at Obama for saying he had to cancel White House tours for schoolchildren due to a lack of money but, then, three days later, sending $250 million to Egypt in foreign aid. After quoting Lincoln, Montesquieu and Lewis Carroll’s ‘White Queen,’ Paul turned his wit on the Old Birds, saying the Republican Establishment ‘has grown stale and covered with moss.’
 
Paul went on to win the straw poll at CPAC.
 
Now, that’s not a sure sign the Wacko Birds will pluck the Old Birds.
 
But it is a sure sign the Civil War has started.
 

 

 

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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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