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National Republicans

06
With Carter’s help, George Holding had a simple message last fall that boiled down the Republican mantra: “Cut spending now.”
 
It’s the one message that unites Republicans as they splinter over immigration, gay marriage and guns in the wake of Mitt Romney’s loss.
 
Here’s the challenge for Democrats: What’s your alternative?
 
House Republicans’ fervent faith in cutting spending led to the much-ballyhooed “sequestration” budget cuts. First Republicans said those cuts are no big deal. But now Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and Governor McCrory say the cuts could cause an “emergency” by shutting down North Carolina’s multibillion-dollar hog and poultry industry.
 
Thanks to the determination (or obstinacy) of the House GOP, cutting spending dominates the debate today. Speaker Boehner went so far as to call taxes “stealing” from the American people.
 
That was the philosophy underlining Romney’s “47 percent” comments, which cost him the election. He complains now it was distorted. No, Mitt, it was clear and it was what you and Republicans believe: A significant percentage of Americans are moochers who gang up on the producers to steal their money.
 
Carter has written before that the Founding Fathers foresaw that risk, and that it’s part of the risk of democracy. But, in fact, that hasn’t happened. Since the high-tax 1950s, we have cut taxes on people at the top.
 
But the issue is before us, and Democrats have to answer. They have to define what they believe constitutes the right level and the right kind of government spending – and taxing.
 
It’s an honest debate that America deserves.

 

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05
After the bell rang ending the Second Round of the Obama versus Boehner Fiscal Cliff-Sequester match-up, Obama danced around the ring arms raised as John Boehner staggered back to his corner wobbly-kneed.
 
Just six weeks ago, at the start of round two, the prim and proper Speaker was popular – viewed favorably by 29% of the voters and unfavorably by 21%. At the end of the round, Boehner’s buttoned down fastidiousness – along with his popularity – had vanished. He had a 23% favorable and 41% unfavorable – a drop of 26 points.
 
Worse, for a Republican Congressman needing the votes of Independents to be reelected, after Obama’s pummeling, the leader of the Republican Party’s popularity with Independents nose-dived to 14% Favorable and 49% Unfavorable.
 
Now Round 3 begins.
 

 

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26
President Obama’s in full campaign mode with his eyes fixed on taking control of the House of Representatives next election. He’s put his campaign to work targeting Republican Congressmen and he’s telling voters because of the Sequester 7,450 children in Florida won’t receive vaccinations, 800 victims of domestic violence in North Carolina won’t receive care, and 1,200 teachers in California will lose their jobs.
 
Now the Washington Republicans could argue Obama’s wrong – the cuts aren’t that bad. Or that the tax increases Obama wants will do more harm to the economy than the cuts.
 
But they’re not doing either. Instead they’re agreeing with Obama that the cuts are terrible – then they add that the terrible cuts are all Obama’s fault – that it’s the Obamaquester.
 
Obama’s answer to that is to say – reasonably – that he hopes Republicans will help him avoid children losing vaccinations by passing a few tax increases on the rich and Republicans say, again, the terrible cuts are all Obama’s fault.
 
It’s a dead end.
 
I don’t understand why the Republicans don’t make a list of $85 billion in wasteful spending – like the government’s free cell phone giveaways – and put it in front of Obama and say, If you want to spare unvaccinated children in Florida – let’s cut this program.
 
That sure sounds better than Republicans saying, Sure the Sequester is terrible but we won’t raise taxes to stop it because it’s all your fault.
 

 

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25
Kim Genardo of NBC-17 is following a well-trod path from capital reporter to Governor’s communications director. Most every governor hires a capital reporter to tame the savages. I made that switch from the N&O to then-Lt. Governor Hunt in January 1976 – 37 years ago! (As I recall, I was about 13 years old.)
 
Two issues arise here – one past and one prospective. First, the past: Was she talking to the Governor about the job when, as the N&O noted Saturday, “she did a one-on-one interview with McCrory for WNCN 10 days ago”? If she was, she shouldn’t have done the interview. It puts her coverage in question.
 
Second, looking ahead: Which master will she serve – Governor or media?
 
It’s a tricky task. Some Governors think that, since you were one of them, you should have some kind of mojo that insures positive media coverage. But some journalists think you’ve sold out and gone over to the dark side.
 
Some hacks-turned-flacks turn into media scourges. They block reporters’ access to the great man, yell and scream at reporters who write tough stories and thereby poison the relationship.
 
I made my share of mistakes, but learned one big lesson: Your job is, in fact, to serve two masters. Yes, you work for the Governor, but your paycheck comes from the taxpayers of North Carolina and you have a unique responsibility to serve the public.
 
So you have to respect the role journalists play in getting information to the public, even if your boss and the people around him get mad. You have to help both sides: help the governor tell his story and help the reporters write their stories.
 
Fortunately, I had a boss who understood the role of the media, liked to read newspapers and watch the news and – most of all – didn’t hold a grudge. Oh, he got mad about stories. But he vented his anger with me, not them, and he was willing to talk to the reporter again. After all, there will be another paper and another broadcast tomorrow.
 
Governor Hunt also found that reporters’ questions alerted him to problems his own people wouldn’t tell him about. Never in history has a gubernatorial appointee volunteered: “Governor, you know that assignment you gave us? Well, we have made a total hash of it.”
 
So good luck, Kim. All you need is a cool head, a thick skin and a sense of humor.

 

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20
What do Marco Rubio and Larry Hall have in common? They made the mistake of giving their party’s response to the State of the Union and State of the State speeches, respectively.
 
Inevitably, this ends up looking like a hostage tape or the speech given by the leader of space aliens who just invaded our planet: “PEOPLE OF EARTH, we come in peace….”
 
Both Senator Rubio and Rep. Hall did as well as they could under the circumstances. Their messages were perfectly fine and well-written.
 
It’s just that they were doing something that nobody – repeat, nobody – can do: Stare into a camera for 10 or 15 minutes (it seems longer) and keep the audience’s interest.
 
Listen to me again: Nobody does that. Do you watch television? Do you see anybody ever doing that? Not even the most polished entertainer would try it.
 
Plus, you’re in that artificial setting right after the audience watched the President or Governor performing in a live arena, surrounded by people who are clapping, frowning and otherwise acting like human beings.
 
It’s a lose-lose deal.
 
Worse, like Rubio, you end up being remembered only for wiping away sweat and awkwardly reaching for water while fixedly staring at the camera.
 
(When Governor McCrory reached over for a stack of papers Monday night, somebody tweeted: “I thought he was going for water.”)
 
Politicians, of course, have an ego that convinces them that the people of earth – or at least America or North Carolina – are eager to hear what they say. No. People change the channel, except for the people who either love you or hate you. You’re not going to win over the people who hate you, and you’re only going to embarrass the people who love you.
 
If you feel compelled to respond, sit down with an interviewer, answer their questions and look and sound like an actual human being.
 
And stop staring at me through the camera. You’re making me uncomfortable.

 

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18
Like a bull seeing a red cape Karl Rove lowered his head and horns swinging, charged straight for Cole Porter’s adoring but unhappy wife;— as soon as actress Ashley Judd (who starred in De-Lovely) became a possible Senate candidate in Kentucky Rove had put out an ad out saying, “Ashley Judd’s an Obama-following, Obama-loving, radical Hollywood liberal and a carpetbagger who looks down her nose at hillbillies.”
 
Goring a hard-bitten politician is one thing – but goring a soft-spoken, doe-eyed actress is another. The same shoe doesn’t fit every foot. And Karl Rove’s been hollering ‘Obama-loving liberal’ for so long he’s now beginning to sound like a one-trick pony.

 

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14
I settled into my chair, rocked back, opened a book, and a few minutes later Obama’s measured voice floated across the room saying John Boehner ought to delay the Sequester, then Obama explained how government ought to do more for people with less and it’s only fair the well off pay a little bit more – and whether you agree with him or not Obama’s voice sounds reasonable and logical.
 
Then the voice of a Republican Congressman speaking in short clipped sentences floated across the room saying Obama invented the Sequester, calling it the Obama-quester three times and it was like listening to a teenage child or Sean Hannity during a rant.
 
It’s odd: Even as I disagreed with Obama he sounded reasonable. While the Republican Congressman sounded petty and mean.
 
The next morning in the News & Observer there was a poll about Obama’s soaring approval ratings and Congress’s sinking popularity and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal – explaining the Republicans’ demise – said, It’s time Republicans started sounding like adults.
 
As the Lord told St. Peter, The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart: Obama’s got an old-fashioned liberal’s heart and words like ‘saving the middle class’ roll off his tongue like honey. Obama-quester is a kind of vision too but when the word rolled off the Republican Congressman’s tongue it sounded like a howl.
 

 

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13
After Tea Party candidates rolled to victory in 2010 they headed for Congress to cut spending, and late one night, six months later, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner announced they’d made a deal to pass the biggest annual spending cut in history.
 
Now, two years later, it turns out the cuts were an illusion: Most of the spending that got killed, the Washington Post reports, was already dead – because President Obama and Speaker John Boehner cut money that was never going to be spent. They ‘cut’ $14.6 million that had been authorized to build the Capital Visitor Center – which had already been built. They ‘cut’ $375,000 that had been authorized for a road that didn’t exist. And cut $6 billion that had been authorized to pay for the Census in 2011 – but the Census ended in 2010.
 
A former Obama official also told the Post that both sides, both the President and the House Leaders, knew what they were calling cuts were simple authorizations that were never going to be spent.
 
The Tea Partiers got fusselled.
 
As Congressman Mick Mulvaney ruefully explained, looking back, “Many of the cuts…were smoke and mirrors. That’s the lesson from April 2011: That when Washington says it cuts spending, it doesn’t mean the same thing that normal people mean.”
 

 

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13
Thanks to the 2012 campaign and Mitt Romney, President Obama has found his voice. That gives him a big advantage over Republicans the next two years.
 
For all his writing and oratorical skills, Obama never found a way in his first term to effectively tell his story – and sell his message. That led to the 2010 electoral disaster.
 
But something has changed. It started election night. Democrats asked: “Where was this guy in that first debate?” It continued in his inaugural speech. And he showed it again last night in the State of the State.
 
Obama even looks different – looser, more relaxed, more confident. And he has figured out how to explain his vision of government in as strong and compelling a way as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton did theirs.
 
Here was the key line last night: “They (the American people) know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.”
 
Here’s how he said it at the inaugural: “The commitments we make to each other - through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security - these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
 
That theme set him up last night to draw this contrast with Republicans: “…we can't ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful. We won't grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters. Most Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – understand that we can't just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that's the approach I offer tonight.”
 
Of course, Obama might never have found that message without Mitt Romney. Romney set out an opposing vision, and Obama had to counter. And Romney gave Obama an opening that he seized with alacrity.
 
In 1996, remember, Bob Dole talked about “building a bridge to the past.” Clinton countered with “building a bridge to the future.” That became the theme of his second term.
 
In 2012, Romney and Republicans – sometimes deliberately and sometimes clumsily – talked about a nation of builders and a nation of takers, the “47 percent.” Now Obama has flipped their own message against them.
 
Marco Rubio is a prettier, more pleasant face than John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and Rand Paul. But Obama has him and the Republicans in a rhetorical box, hoist by their own words.

 

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11
There’s a full throated debate going on in Washington – Republicans are saying ‘the Sequester’ wasn’t their idea, it was Obama’s idea, and the White House is saying, ‘Obama’s idea! John Boehner not only voted for the Sequester, after it passed he bragged he’d gotten 98% of what he wanted.’
 
Meanwhile the Republicans, after frantically searching for a way to match the President’s bully-pulpit, at last have found one by whacking Obama with the Twitter hashtag #Obamaquester.
           
So here’s where we stand: Two years ago, Obama invented the Obamaquester to cut spending, and, two years ago, John Boehner was for it (98%). But now Obama’s against it. And so are the Republicans. And the whole thing’s clear as a bell on Twitter.
 

 

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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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