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21
Historians and politicos yearn for stable, predictable political eras.
 
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote about the “cycles” of American politics – the Progressive Era, the Republican Roaring 20s, the Age of Roosevelt, etc.
 
After 2008, James Carville predicted 40 years of Democratic dominance.
 
After 2000, Karl Rove predicted a permanent realignment.
 
So did Newt Gingrich after 1994.
 
Wrong.
 
After Nov. 2, Republicans and the media will predictably predict a dawning Republican era.
 
Wrong again.
 
Instead, we’re in the middle of a long period of political unpredictability and instability – perhaps with the parties trading power every two or four years after violent swings in public attitudes.
 
Since 1992 – a nine-election cycle – we’ve seen six dramatic shifts: 1992, 1994, 1996/1998, 2000, 2006/2008 and now, it appears, 2010.
 
The only real stability was in 2002 and 2004, but that reflected Bush’s strength after 9/11. And it disappeared in 2006/2008.
 
So hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

 

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20
By now most everyone has figured out the two things Democratic politicians love to talk about more than anything else on earth are Education and Health Care.  Beverly Perdue talked about both so much two years ago she got herself elected our first woman Governor.
 
But there was a peculiar fact – about health care in North Carolina – in the newspaper the other morning.   It turns out – under Governor Perdue – if you’re poor and mentally ill in North Carolina you’re more likely to wind up in a state prison than a mental hospital.  At least that’s what the folks at the National Alliance for Mental Illness report – that there are 770 beds in state hospitals to treat mental patients while there’re 5,513 people in state prisons that the Governor’s Department of Corrections says are severely mentally ill.  
 
And the Governor hasn’t disputed the figures.
 
Which, I guess, in an odd sort of way makes sense – because if you’re mentally ill and can’t get into a hospital it’s more or less inevitable sooner or later you’ll break a law and land in front of a judge.
 
And here’s a second peculiar fact:  Right in the middle of this mess the Governor is closing one of the state’s four mental hospitals – Dorothea Dix in Raleigh.
 
Her Secretary of Health Lanier Cansler – defending the Governor – tried earnestly to explain to the press that it’s not her fault.  The fault, Cansler said pointing fingers, lies with legislators who, in their wisdom, decided not to spend a penny to keep Dix Hospital open.
 
The legislators, of course, aren’t taking that lying down.  They’re telling the press a different story.  Cansler and Perdue, they say, never asked them for a penny to keep Dix open.
 
Now, one way or the other someone’s gilding the lily, but there’s no doubt about one fact:  The Governor is building a $151 million hospital with beds for mental patients inside Central Prison – which is right across the street from Dorothea Dix.  Which at first blush seems odd:   The Governor’s closing a public hospital to treat mental patients before they get to prison but opening a new hospital – across the street – to care for them after they’re in jail. 
 

 

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20
I don’t care for Paul Coble’s politics, but I like him personally. So I’m giving him some advice about his TV ads: lose the rich furnishings.
 
I regret I don’t have a link to the ads. Couldn’t find it anywhere.
 
The ads are short – maybe 10 or 15 seconds. Paul is talking to camera in what looks like his den or living room.
 
Unfortunately, the furniture, paintings, etc. fairly scream: “I’m a rich guy!” They all have an old-money feel to them.
 
Great setting for a Ralph Lauren commercial. Not so good for today’s political climate.

 

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20
I love polls. When I did campaigns, I spent hours digging through them. Numbers don’t lie, and they tell you what’s obscured in the political blather.

The latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll lays out clearly what’s happening in this election. 

The headline is that voters prefer a Republican Congress over a Democratic one by 50-43 (up from 46-43 a month ago).
 
But why?
 
One number explains it: By 59-32, voters think the country is on the wrong track, instead of the right direction.
 
And the so-called enthusiasm gap is obvious.
 
The 50-43 preference for a Republican Congress is among Likely Voters. Among all Registered Voters, it’s closer: 46-44.
 
In other words, the Democrats aren’t voting. And voters are pessimistic about the future.
 
That’s the story of this election.

 

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19
There’s a scene in the movie Erin Brockovich where Julia Roberts runs head on into the epitome of an oily corporate lawyer who represents Pacific Gas and Electric.  
 
In real life the lawyer who represented PG&E was Rene Tatro, who’s known as ‘The Darth Vader of the environmental movement.’  Attorney Tatro is now participating in a strange trial in Raleigh.
 
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is the state agency that (in theory) works to defend citizens from corporations like PG&E.  But hardly anything in state government works like it’s supposed to and DENR’s an example.
 
About a year ago DENR gave Alcoa Corporation, the giant aluminum conglomerate, the green light to run four dams by its old smelter in Stanly County for another 50 years.  What DENR ignored was, a few months earlier, the Stanly County Commissioners had decided it was past time Alcoa – which had been dumping toxic waste in Badin Lake for eighty years – cleaned up the mess around its smelter. 
 
That, of course, led to a brouhaha and when DENR wouldn’t budge the County Commissioners sued the state saying the folks who were supposed to be protecting the environment were asleep at the switch.
 
When that happened Alcoa rushed out to Los Angeles and hired Mr. Tatro and sent him to Raleigh – so now, while technically representing Alcoa, for all practical purposes he’s representing DENR, trying the state’s case against Stanly county.  Which, of course, is fine with the folks at DENR since like many state bureaucrats they’re happy to have someone else do their work for them.
 
As a result, today, in a Raleigh we have a trial no one ever dreamed of:  Where the ‘Darth Vader of the Environmental Movement’ is representing the state department in charge of protecting the environment.  
 
It could only happen in North Carolina State government.
 

 

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19
So here’s what has happened:  Secretary Lanier Cansler promised legislators he could cut the Medicaid Home Care $50 million (because, he said, the 45% of the patients were cheats) – if they’d let him give out a no bid contract to one of his former clients.
 
But it turned out only 3% of the patients were cheats – not 45%. 
 
Cansler got around that problem by taking away patients’ right to appeal – so he could rule a patient wasn’t sick and didn’t need care and there wasn’t anything the patient could do about it. 
 
Next his former client CCME Corporation (which Cansler gave a $25 million no bid contract) starting cutting patients’ care but it proved to be so inept it turned home care into a massive train wreck. Patients whose doctors said they needed care – for example, after a hospital stay – couldn’t get it because CCME couldn’t find time to examine them. New patients who needed care didn’t get it.  And sick patients care got cut which left them one choice: The only way to get care was to go into a Rest Home.
 
So, so far, the only winner is the Rest Home Lobby (which gains patients), which means the taxpayers lose (because they’re going to pay three times more to care for the patients in Rest Homes), and all that happened because Secretary Cansler misled legislators by telling them, I can cut home care $50 million – if you let me give a $25 million no bid contract to one of my former clients.
 
So now we have a pair of multi-million dollar health care train wrecks in North Carolina:  The mental health care train wreck and the Home Care train wreck.
 
But at least, Cansler can say to legislators, See.  Look. It worked just like I said it would.  I’m cutting in-home care 45% – which is an example of how government really works.
 
 

 

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19
D.G. Martin was interviewing Carter and me for “Who’s Talking” on WCHL radio when we began discussing the topic that soon will dominate political debate: WOWW – Where Obama Went Wrong.
 
Was it the policy or the politics (see “Blaming the Messenger” below)? Was it the economy? Was in getting in bed with Congress? Was it a failure to communicate?
 
It occurred to me that this is where Obama’s relative inexperience in politics hurt him.
 
He went from community organizer to back-bench state legislator. He sailed into the U.S. Senate without a negative ad being run against him. While he became a media superstar, he never was a real player in the Senate.
 
And he got crushed in his first race for Congress.
 
In truth, Obama has been a great politician when he has a foil a Hillary Clinton or a John McCain.
 
He hasn’t had a foil as President. Instead, he is compared to Candidate Obama. And he comes up short.
 
But soon he may have a foil: a John Boehner. Other Republicans in Congress. And then he’ll have all the Republicans running for President.
 
Maybe then he’ll get his mojo back.

 

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18
There’s only one way Democrats can interpret the early results from early voting in North Carolina: It’s bad.
 
According to Democracy North Carolina, “one-stop early voting is off to a record-shattering pace for midterm elections and the largest group casting ballots are white Republican men.”
 
Another way to look at it: So far, about equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans have voted. In 2008, Democrats had about a 20-point advantage in early voting.
 
Yikes!
 
I can predict the Democratic spin: (a) This is only three days. (b) Most early-vote sites haven’t opened. (c) Our turnout program hasn’t kicked in yet.
 
True, true and true. But it better kick in soon – and big.

 

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18
Here’s a caricature of how government works North Carolina style:   The Chairman of the Wildlife Commission, who naturally got his job by giving money to Governor Perdue, orders the Commission’s CEO to write a nice article about the Governor and publish it in the next edition of their magazine and mail it out to hunters and fishermen.
 
The CEO has a glowing article written, sends it out and back comes a disgruntled letter from an unhappy hunter who in effect says, ‘What’s this bull – this one fails the ‘smell test’ – and then adds some unflattering comments about the Governor.
 
The magazine’s editor (who obviously is new to the ways of North Carolina politics) then publishes the hunter’s ‘Letter to the Editor’ in the next edition of the magazine.  And all hell breaks loose.
 
As soon as Governor Perdue’s Donor/Chairman sees the letter in his magazine he has heart-lock; when he recovers he orders the CEO to ‘recall’ every copy of the magazine he can lay his hands on.
 
But, before the recalled magazines can be shredded or burned, the News and Observer gets wind of what’s going on, calls the Governor and asks a question that must have gone something like this:  How much is it costing taxpayers to shred that magazine because it had one letter in it criticizing you?
 
The order goes out immediately from the Governor’s office:  The press is on our heels, don’t shred the magazine, go ahead and send it out.
 
Next the Chairman and CEO tell reporters with straight faces that neither of them ever had one qualm about publishing that letter lambasting that Governor.  Then – still without blushing – they tell the press the real reason the magazine was recalled was an unrelated mistake made by the Editor.
 
And what happened to the poor editor?  Who’s now, no doubt, a wiser man – having learned stepping on Governor Perdue’s toes is no way to pursue a career in North Carolina state government.
 
He hasn’t been seen or heard from.
 
 

 

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18
I feel Robert Gibbs’ pain.
 
In a New York Times magazine article Sunday, President Obama said, “We probably spent too much time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.”
 
Gibbs, the White House press secretary, noted ruefully in the article, “I haven’t been at a policy-problem meeting in 20 months.”
 
It was a refrain I heard every Monday morning when I was Governor Hunt’s press secretary in his first two terms. At every Cabinet meeting, every Cabinet secretary would brag about the tremendous progress being made on every single initiative in their departments. They – and the Governor – would conclude: “We’re not getting the story out.”
 
Then they would all look at me. The message was clear: If we could just communicate better, all would be well.
 
So it is with the Obama administration as it faces electoral disaster in two weeks.
 
After 1994, Bill Clinton decided he had got the policy wrong. So he moved right.
 
Of course, he was a much more flexible – or, you might say, less principled – politician than Obama.
 
Obama & Co. are kidding themselves if they think their only problem is a failure to communicate. Americans have a pretty good sense of what the policy is.
 
Here’s the question: Are Americans rejecting the policy because the economy is still in the dumps? Or do they oppose the policy – period?
 
My guess: the voters in the middle – the ones Obama has lost since 2008 – are more practical than ideological. If the economy comes back, he will too.
 
The question he needs to ask: Am I doing what it takes to get the economy back?
 

 

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