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National Republicans

01
The politicians, when you get down to the short rows, are the varmints who decided to hang  a ‘Not Open for Business’ sign on the federal government – but, in an odd way, it wasn’t the politicians who were pouring gas on the fire.
 
In the age of the twenty-four hour news cycle and roaring commentators from dawn to dusk the government shutdown turned out to be the perfect news story. The blondes on Fox News were having the time of their lives.
 
Last night was like watching the cable news version of the countdown to Armageddon with anchormen roaring the end of the world was coming in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 hour, and tersely reporting each new hope, explaining breathlessly, The House just met, the House just passed a bill, the Senate killed the bill, Obama said, Boehner said, Harry Reid said….on and on it went until midnight when Armageddon happened and I went to bed.
 
I woke this morning expecting to turn on the TV and hear: Horrible carnage. Aftermath of the end of the world.
 
Of course, none of the news channel pyrotechnics absolves the politicians; whether you believe the shutdown’s justified or pure folly, it’s proof our politics is broken beyond any hope of quick healing. But the twenty-four hour cable news cycle may not be the best thing that ever happened either.


 

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29
The shutdown showdown shows how much worse politics is today than in the 1990s. And it was bad then.
 
Back then, Newt Gingrich shut down the government because…well, nobody can remember why. Except he was mad that President Clinton made him sit in the back of Air Force One. And Newt wanted to show that he was the most powerful man in the world.
 
Well, Bill showed Newt a thing or two about politics. The Republicans backed down. Poor Bob Dole’s campaign for President never recovered. Clinton built a bridge to tomorrow and met Monica, and the rest is history.
 
But politics is worse today. And a long shutdown is more likely because the same consequences as last time are unlikely.
 
None of the Republican red-hots are afraid of losing their congressional seats, because they picked their voters. Their crowd will cheer when the government shuts down. Until the voters realize government does some things they like.
 
There’s no presidential election next year, like there was in 1995. This time, in fact, wanna-be’s like Ted Cruz think a shutdown is their ticket to the GOP nomination.
 
Also different: for all his strengths, President Obama is no Bill Clinton when it comes to hardball, insider politics.
 
Obama should just stand his ground. After all, Republicans already lost the Obamacare war. Congress passed it, the Supreme Court upheld it, Mitt Romney ran against it, and Obama won again. Tuesday, health care reform begins. In a couple of years, everybody will wonder what all the fuss was about.
 
And American politics will still look like trench warfare from World War I a century ago.

 

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27
It’s an old American saga: The President has a program he’s in love with but can’t muster the votes in Congress to fund it. So he doesn’t get his program.
 
That’s the way it’s been for over two centuries.
 
So why, now, isn’t the story coming out of Washington simply, “The President fails to win the votes he needs to fund Obamacare?” After all, when it comes to passing the budget, what’s unusual about Congress saying to the President what Congresses have said to every President, We’ll fund part of what you want – but not all.
 
Of course, no one expected President Obama to take being told ‘No’ lying down – and he didn’t. Stamping his foot he shot back, I want it all. I won’t take less, and he hit the road telling anyone who listen that the vile wicked nasty Republicans were about to shut down the whole federal government. The more he talked the madder he got. The Republicans were like children he said, adding,  Just because you don’t get your way you don’t have to threaten to blow the whole thing up.
 
But, in fairness, if the whole thing does blow up, who’s to blame? Congress which voted to give the President trillions to spend? Or the President who insisted, That’s not enough. I want more.

 

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26
Yesterday I asked why the three camps in Washington – the House Republican Bigwigs in Washington, the House Republican Conservatives in Washington, and President Obama –couldn’t sit down and make a list of the government departments they can agree to keep open and then fund them this week to avoid an absolute government shutdown.
 
Then, at their leisure, they could fight it out over funding the rest of the government – while the rest of us go happily on with our lives.
 
I expect the answer to that question may be as plain as the nose on your face: The two Republican camps in Congress, since they are less enamored of government, would be happy to fund parts of the government and let the rest lie fallow for a while. They might get a few less new jets (and a few less defense contracts for their districts) than they’d like, and there’d be a few unhappy farm State Republican Congressmen, but by and large they’d be pretty content.
 
The same is not true of the President.
 
He’s in a harder spot: If he does not get ObamaCare funded now, with the threat of a government shutdown hanging in the air, chances are he won’t get it at all. Not this year. And maybe not next year. And, even then, he’d have to win an election and put a majority of his allies in the House first.
 
Which of course is exactly the cure for gridlock our forefathers had in mind when they created our clunky, clanky, three headed lump of a government.
 
So the President has to use the threat of a government shutdown to force Congress to give him ObamaCare and the more complete and painful the shutdown appears to be, the more likely he is to hear Congress say, Uncle.
 
Of course, that still sounds like Obama faces an against-the-odds fight, but he has a pretty fair chance of winning for one reason: John Boehner.
 
The Speaker of the House is the master Washington Insider – but he’s no warrior. Political combat is not his cup of tea. And the minute he climbs into the ring with Obama, well, the President may be soft-spoken and polite – but there’s pure warrior blood flowing through his veins.
 

 

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26
Today I suspend Republican-bashing to recommend a provocative political analysis.
 
Titled “Will Disillusioned Millennials Bring an End to the Reagan-Clinton Era?,” it’s from a professor and Daily Beast contributor named Peter Beinart. It’s long, and it’s worth reading.
 
Here’s my best shot at a short recap:
 
For decades now, politics has been dominated by the children of Reagan and children of Clinton. But the Millennials – the generation born between 1980 and 2000 – are very different. And they are going to make American politics very different – maybe, very soon.
 
Beinart: “Millennials are entering adulthood in an America where government provides much less economic security. And their economic experience in this newly deregulated America has been horrendous….The Millennials are unlikely to play out their political conflicts between the yard lines Reagan and Clinton set out.”
 
They lean much farther to the left – cultural, economically and politically. They are secular and socially tolerant. And they can be decidedly anti-corporate.
 
Beinart: “If Millennials remain on the left, the consequences for American politics over the next two decades could be profound. In the 2008 presidential election, Millennials constituted one-fifth of America’s voters. In 2012, they were one-quarter. In 2016, according to predictions by political demographer Ruy Teixeira, they will be one-third. And they will go on constituting between one-third and two-fifths of America’s voters through at least 2028.”
 
The politician who may be most vulnerable to this generational cohort? Hillary Clinton. Specially, an anti-Wall Street candidate like Senator Elizabeth Warren could do to her what RFK and Gene McCarthy did to LBJ in 1968.
 
Forgot for a while DHHS scandals and federal government shutdowns. Ponder the coming Millennium.

 

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25
With thick smoke clouds billowing out of the Capitol it’s hard to see who’s winning the latest war in Washington – plus, it isn’t a simple us versus them war: It’s a three tribe melee (with two camps of Republicans fighting Obama and each other at the same time).
 
At first, a couple of weeks ago, it looked like Chief Boehner of the largest Republican tribe was about to work out a deal with Obama to fund Obamacare and avoid a government shutdown – but then the second Republican camp (a small but fearless tribe of conservatives) threw a monkey wrench into the works.
 
The Republican Chief then reversed course which, of course, didn’t sit well with the President – who, it turns out, is a match for both the conservatives in fearlessness and Boehner in cunning.
 
Suddenly, the Republican Chief found himself under attack from both sides. He’d send a trial balloon floating over toward the Obama camp which the President would shoot down, saying, I’m not budging; then the Chief would try his hand in his own Republican Caucus, explaining, Look, Obama’s not going to give an inch. He knows if the government shuts down we’ll be blamed.
 
That homily fell on deaf ears, too – showing Boehner little more empathy than Obama had, the conservatives more or less said nobody had ever won a fight by running away.
 
Now, all that said, right in the middle of this melee, there is one thing all the tribes agree on: A government shutdown is not a good idea. After all, it means Senators and Congressmen won’t get paid. And all three camps also agree paying soldiers and sailors makes sense – so, while a sergeant’s fighting in Afghanistan, back home his wife isn’t wondering how she’s going to make ends meet at the end of the month.
 
It’s not hard to understand a conservative saying, As a matter of conscience I can’t vote to fund Obamacare.
 
Or to understand Obama saying, And as a matter of conscience I can’t let you not fund Obamacare.
 
But it’s hard to see either saying, I can’t agree to pay soldiers and policemen and to care for the infirmed.
 
So why isn’t someone – anyone – in Washington saying, Let’s fund the things we agree on (which amount to trillions of dollars) then fight it out later over the rest.
 
It’s one of those odd mysteries.
 

 

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10
Foreign policy is not my forte, so don’t ask me what America should do about Syria. But I get politics, and I don’t get President Obama’s political strategy.
 
If you want to do something, why ask permission from a Congress that has proven itself incapable of doing anything?
 
Most Republicans won’t vote for anything Obama wants. They’d rather vote for Putin. After all, they’ve voted to repeal Obamacare only 57 times. They need something new to vote against.
 
And most Democrats will use any excuse to vote against any military action ever.
 
Members of Congress are making a great show of “listening” to their constituents on Syria, which most of their constituents couldn’t find on a map, let alone understand the complexities of what is going on there and what we should do.
 
Obama can make a strong moral case for acting unilaterally. Gas and chemical weapons cross a line. Even Hitler was afraid to use gas as a weapon of war; he used it as a weapon of mass murder.
 
But it doesn’t help that Americans are war-weary after a decade in the Middle East. It doesn’t help that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld & Co. misled the nation into war in Iraq. It doesn’t help that Obama made his chops in 2008 by being the only Democratic presidential candidate who opposed that war from the start. It doesn’t help that John Kerry was famously for the war before he was against it.
 
With Iraq, Americans mistakenly believed – and maybe still believe – that Saddam was behind 9/11. Maybe tonight Obama will have evidence that Assad was behind the Boston bombing, or shingles.
 
Maybe Obama is looking for an excuse not to do anything. That, Congress can do.
 
Or maybe – wow! – he believes this is the right thing to do. Maybe he believes Congress should be consulted before America engages in acts of war. Maybe he thinks it is best to try to persuade, even if he fails, than act on his own.
 
Maybe he is doing something we see so rarely we don’t recognize it: putting a principle over poll numbers. Maybe he is counting on Americans to hear the case, look at the facts and make a thoughtful judgment.
 
What a concept.

 

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06
In the Senate of the world’s oldest democracy the Honorables sat down around a giant horseshoe-shaped table to hold a hearing to ask the Secretary of State how he figured bombing Syria was a good idea – but a strange thing happened: As soon as each Senator asked his first question the Secretary of State would talk and talk and keep on talking hardly pausing for breath.
 
Then another peculiar thing happened – not one Senator said, Mr. Secretary, I understand you figure talking and talking and talking is a pretty good way to keep me from asking more questions and there’s no doubt you’ve proved it works but I’m trying to figure out whether we ought to go to war – so could you stop your filibuster?
 
Over and over with honeyed-words Kerry urged Senators to support a limited, narrow, brief, short bombing attack on Syria, sententiously weaving a time-honored illusion.
 
I can’t remember the last time I agreed with Charlie Rangel but when he was asked how he’d vote on bombing Syria he cut right through Kerry’s chaff and said: “There’s absolutely no question I would vote no because there’re so many questions. One of them is, is this a war? And if it’s not a war, if it’s a limited war, I never heard of anything [like that] in my entire life. If you’re going to fire shells and bomb a community, that’s war, and you have to have a declaration of war, and the Congress should legally, constitutionally approve it and I haven’t seen that evidence.”
 
That’s plain English: If someone landed a cruise missile on, say, the Pentagon that would be war and, by the same token, bombing a city in Syria is war and John Kerry’s weaving illusions (to hide that fact) is how politicians land democracies in wars: By saying they’re not wars. That there’s no pain. Or risk. And no surprises. And no price for believing a fiction.

 

 

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04
Broken politics and posturing politicians present one degree of mendacity when it comes to passing a budget – but the moment a war appears on the horizon that same devilment turns lethal.
                         
A few days ago the President declared that, as leader of the oldest constitutional democracy on earth, he needs the support of Congress to go to war with Syria. Then, two days later, his Secretary of State, with inerrant political versatility charged pell-mell in the opposite direction – declaring the President may attack Syria even if Congress tells him, No.
 
The Secretary of State also said, yes, there is a civil war in Syria but then added (with a somber, straight face) that bombing one side doesn’t involve us in the civil war.
 
In the last twelve years the world’s greatest democracy has attacked Iraq, Afghanistan, bombed Libya, and supported a revolution that deposed the government of Egypt – but now, up in Washington, politicians are stamping their feet, insisting we have to bomb Syria because if we don’t our enemies the Iranians will get the idea we’re weak-kneed.
 
But there’s another fact the clamoring politicians don’t mention: If we bomb Syria then we’ve started a war with Syria and they have every right to attack back.
 
Not one overheated Washington politician has offered a word about where that may lead.
 

 

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03
In the desert land where the Lord struck St. Paul blind then showed him a vision, a pair of skunks are fighting a Civil War and five-thousand miles away in the world’s oldest democracy a great hue and cry has arisen to bomb one of the skunks. 
 
Now in the oldest democracy politics is a bit underhanded so hardly a politician calls bombing another country a war – they call it a ‘limited military action’ with ‘no boots on the ground.’
 
The Viking-helmeted war-hawks – like John McCain and Lindsey Graham – are telling anyone who’ll listen that one of the two skunks (the Assad-skunk) is the worst, lowest, meanest varmint to walk the earth since Hitler. It’s the vile puppet of our bitter enemies the Iranians. And thinks nothing of gassing innocent women and children.
 
And the powerful voices of cable TV, with the prospect of bombs falling and evening news ratings soaring, have raised their voices from the usual howl to a thundering chorus of outrage spiced with devilment. But hardly a soul’s asked: What about the other skunk? Has it slaughtered innocent women and children too?
 
And no one – from the President to the Secretary of State to the leaders in Congress – seems to have given a thought to how not long ago, in the land of the pyramids, when a pair of skunks were fighting we abandoned the 'Mubarak-skunk' to side with the ‘Muslim-Brotherhood-skunk’ – which didn’t work out too well. Or how before that, in the land of the Barbary pirates, we helped the ‘Libyan-rebel-skunk’ by bombing the ‘Gaddafi-skunk’ – which ended with our embassy being blown up.
 
War’s a deadly business. Limited military actions spin out of control. Skunks strike back. People get killed. And no matter what our over-heated politicians in Washington declare – this time someone ought to stop and remember: Replacing one skunk with another is not a grand plan.

 

 

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Carter & Gary
 
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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. 
 
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