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Entries for September 2009

30
 
Earlier this week I wrote that Governor Perdue should consider championing tax reform.
 
To her advisers, that lifeline probably looks more like an anchor.
 
But history suggests otherwise. Mike Easley raised taxes – and survived. At least, survived raising taxes.
 
Jim Hunt raised the gas tax in 1981. Jesse Helms & Co. jumped all over it, sure it was the issue that would sink Hunt in 1984.
 
It wasn’t. Hunt sank, but that was because of the race issue and Ronald Reagan.
 
In retrospect, I believe we could have used the gas tax to our advantage. It gave the lie to Helms’ claim that Hunt was a flip-flopper who did only what was popular.
 
Perdue is at a point in her term where she needs an issue that gives her the aura of a courageous, visionary leader. One who is willing to do the right thing, even if it’s unpopular.
 

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29
A few weeks ago, I thought Governor Perdue’s best strategy was a Dick Morris/Clinton-like series of small, popular initiatives.
 
She’s been doing that lately, though I’m sure it wasn’t at my suggestion. She has rolled out a series of announcements on new industries, rural health care, nanotechnology and offshore energy.
 
But offshore energy was the only one that got much attention. And there is no sign her ratings, at bottom of all governors, are improving.
 
It may be time to stop the short-yardage plays and start throwing for big gains.
 
In fact, it may be time to consider devoting her next two years to what common sense would tell you could be political suicide: sweeping tax reform.
 
In today’s media environment, it takes something big to cut through the clutter. Perdue needs an issue that dominates the state’s agenda – and strengthens her shaky progressive credentials.
 
Suppose she were to spend the next two years – through the 2011 legislative session – pushing for a tax-reform plan that promises to end boom-and-bust budgeting and, more important, pay for the kind of education reforms she would like to champion.
 
It gives her something big to be for, something progressive and forward-looking. It would focus attention rather than letting the news/polling cycle gnaw at her like Chihuahuas.
 
Right now, Perdue’s biggest problem is that nobody really knows what she stands for. It’s time to find it and stand for it.

 

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28
Life and politics are full of irony. Like health-care reform.
 
One of the great obstacles to a “public option” is the fear of “government-run health care.”
 
One voter group most worried about reform are seniors. Specifically, they worry that reform will jeopardize Medicare.
 
That is, they fear that government-run health care will threaten their government-run health care.
 
If Medicare is so great, and all my (somewhat) older friends say it is, what’s wrong with Medicare for everybody?
 
For that matter, what’s wrong with Republicans doing what we Democrats have done so well for so long: Scare seniors?
 
We’ve won older voters election after election by telling them Republicans will cut Social Security and Medicare.
 
Now it looks like we get to wear the scary mask.

 

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25
The media frenzy over the last month or so has been that Americans don’t support – or understand – President Obama’s health-care reforms.
 
Bad news for Barack, the media and the pundits proclaim.
 
In Washington this week, a local executive told me, she heard one of the media Big Feet pontificating about how Obama missed an opportunity in his Sunday talk-show blitz: He didn’t spell out one-two-three exactly what he wants in a reform bill.
 
I think the “experts” are missing something because of their own obsession with the minutiae of issues. And, yes, before somebody starts screaming, the minutiae of issues is important. But let me finish.
 
What’s more important in politics is trust.
 
If people trust a politician, they trust him or her on issues, even if they disagree on specifics.
 
A perfect example was Ronald Reagan. For eight years, I listened to Democrats express amazement that the American people loved Reagan even though polls showed they disagreed with his policies.
 
Same thing with Obama. So today’s New York Times poll shows that, yes, the public is wary of his policies on health care and Afghanistan. But his approval rating is 56 percent.
 
More important, the public trusts him more than it trusts the Republicans in Congress.
 
That’s what Obama was up to last Sunday – and in his continuing media blitz. It’s not so much about issues as it is about persuading Americans he is a leader they can trust to do his best to do the right thing.
 
Besides, health care really isn’t where Obama needs to worry long term. He’ll get a bill, and he’ll claim victory. But getting a victory in Afghanistan is much tougher and much riskier – for Obama’s future and for America’s.

 

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24
I’m a big fan of The New York Times. It’s still the best newspaper going. But sometimes I wonder what happened to “All The News That’s Fit to Print.”
 
Like last Sunday, when the Times ran a front-page story on the John Edwards saga.
 
Must be something big, right? There was the page-one placement, the picture, the breathless buildup – not to mention the knee-jerk reaction of other media that, since the Times had a story, there must be some big news there.
 
But, as far as I could tell, there wasn’t.
 
Except, that is, for some rather titillating allegations contained in the book proposal that Andrew Young is shopping around.
 
When it came to Young’s credibility as a source, though, did the Times ask: Isn’t this the same guy who once assured us he was the father of the baby in question?
 
The News & Observer, the other newspaper I can’t live without, didn’t run the Times story. Maybe out of jealousy. Or maybe the N&O has higher standards.
 
I hope it’s the latter.

 

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23
Here’s a strange tale straight out of the North Country of New York State.
 
The liberals in the Democratic Party absorb modern values like the air they breathe. Their belief in the Modern State is absolute. Their faith in diversity and pluralism is written in stone. Their doubt is nonexistent.
 
To a Republican gay marriage looks like a moral dilemma but to a modern day liberal it’s a sure sign of the dawn of enlightenment; even the old fogies are shaking free of the shackles of the past – which makes a Special Election in New York a conundrum. Because it’s the Republican not the Democratic candidate who’s flying the banner of gay marriage.
 
In fact, the Republican – Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava – doesn’t just support gay marriage; she was endorsed by ACORN in 2004 and 2008.
 
And the Republican Political Establishment in Washington is lining up behind her.
 
House Republican Leader John Boehner may be blasting ACORN in Congress but in New York he’s promising Scozzafava a seat on the House Armed Services Committee to help her get elected, and the official House Republican Campaign Committee is running ads to elect her.
 
Now out of sheer cold-blooded political expediency Washington Republicans may figure running a liberal in New York makes sense – but they missed a key fact. The 23rd District is not in Brooklyn or Queens or Manhattan – it’s in the Adirondack Mountains in a district that’s been electing Republicans since the Civil War and where Republicans outnumber Democrats by 60,000 voters. Nancy Pelosi’s got a whopping 50% Unfavorable rating in the district – so the Washington Republicans are running a candidate who’ll vote like Pelosi in Congress.
 
The good news is the New York Conservative Party – which elected Jim Buckley to the Senate thirty-nine years ago – didn’t turn out to be as amenable to abandoning its principles as the Republican Establishment.  It declined to endorse Scozzafava, then chose a local businessman (and lifelong Republican) as its nominee. 
 
Doug Hoffman sounds a lot like a Republican Horatio Alger story. He was raised by a single mother, started delivering newspapers at eight to help his family pay the bills and got a job pumping gas at fourteen.  He graduated from High School at the top of his class but there was no money for college – so a group of businessmen got together and raised the money to send him to North Country Community College, then to SUNY (State University of New York).
 
What’s more even before Hoffman’s run his first ad he and Scozzafava and Bill Owens (the Democrat) are locked in a tight race, separated by 11 points.
 
And then there’s Hoffman’s his first ad – staring Elvis.
 

 
Now what Hoffman’s got to figure out is how to raise enough money to match the Democrats and Republicans (who just spent $5.6 million in another recent Special Election in New York).
 
But there’re plenty of conservatives around the country who, right now, must just be wondering if the Republican Political Establishment hasn’t lost its mind, and who might just decide to send Washington a message by sending Doug Hoffman a contribution.
 
If they do – and Hoffman’s reaching out to them on the Internet – he may just follow Jim Buckley’s footsteps straight into Congress.
 
His website is www.doughoffmanforcongress.com. You can go there now and sign up.
 

 

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22
If anyone’s wondering why Governor Perdue’s popularity is languishing at political rock bottom the answer may be zigging and zagging.
 
Governor Perdue was for budget cuts, then she was against budget cuts.  She told the legislature to raise taxes, any taxes, it didn’t matter to her which; then she blasted legislators for raising the wrong taxes.

Now she’s zigzagging again.

Last year, running for Governor, she said she was 100% against ‘drilling for oil off North Carolina’s coast.’  She said it would never happen on her watch.  Then gas prices soared and she redefined the meaning of never, saying, in effect, never had come and gone so she was going to appoint a panel of experts to study offshore drilling.

That got her through the election successfully then the whole idea vanished, no one heard another word about her panel – until a week ago when the Civitas Institute took a poll and found 72% of the voters still favor offshore drilling.

That, apparently, stirred the Governor into action.  The offshore oil drilling study panel came off the shelf and the Governor announced she was appointing it forthwith, except she didn’t appoint a single person – so, as far as I know, we’re the first state in history with a panel to study offshore drilling with no one on it.

Once upon a time Ole Governor Jim Hunt got himself into heaps of political trouble by always having his finger to the political wind and changing directions like a weathervane.  With Bev Perdue it’s déjà vu’ all over again. 

 

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22
A Democratic friend who was in Washington recently reports that Republicans there are “giddy.” They’re convinced they have Obama and the Democrats on the run, certain they’re finally headed for a big election.
 
But they may have miscalculated. The election is next year, not this year.
 
And they may be overreaching. Especially if the face of the GOP remains Crazy Joe Wilson, John Boehner and Rush Limbaugh.
 
They’ve forgotten a couple of things from their last landslide in 1994. Which didn’t last all that long. Namely, they forgot: 
  • They had a positive message then, the Contract With America. Not just rage.
  • Clinton took a blow, but he was reelected.
  • Democrats learned a lesson and retooled themselves to win back Congress and the White House.
I will say this: Richard Burr has avoided most of these mistakes. He has a smile, not a frown. He doesn’t go in for the ranting, raving and razzing that makes his colleagues look unhinged.
 
The winds may be with the GOP next year, and Burr looks stronger than some Democrats think. But Republicans had best not get too giddy.
 

 

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21
Sometimes Democrats are too logical. They forget that communication is mostly emotional.
 
Like health care “death panels.” Democrats need to get off the defensive and turn the issue into political death for Republicans.
 
A Harvard Medical School study says 45,000 Americans die every year because they don’t have insurance.
 
People will gladly take reform – shoot, they’ll take government-run health care – if they think it’s the difference between life and death.
 
President Obama got close when he said people shouldn’t have to go broke because they get sick.
 
Democrats need to go farther: You shouldn’t have to get sick and die because you can’t afford insurance.

 

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18
Walter Jones Jr. always surprises me.
 
I first met him in 1977, when he was Governor Hunt’s “eastern North Carolina representative.” It was understood that he was hired as a favor to his father, Congressman Walter Jones, and that young Walter was preparing to take his father’s seat eventually.
 
That was no surprise.
 
Then he got elected to the North Carolina House. He became a champion of ethics and open government. A pleasant surprise.
 
Then he was one of the Democrats who ousted Liston Ramsey and elected Joe Mavretic Speaker.
 
A disappointing surprise.
 
Then he lost a Democratic primary for Congress, mainly because the district had become heavily black. No surprise.
 
Then he became a Republican. And endorsed Jim Gardner over Hunt in 1992.
 
Another disappointing surprise.
 
Then he unseated Congressman Martin Lancaster in the 1994 Republican tide.
 
Another disappointing surprise.
 
Then he became a critic of the Iraq war – and some other Bush policies.
 
A pleasant surprise.
 
This week he was one of only seven Republicans who voted to rebuke Crazy Joe Wilson.
 
A very pleasant surprise.
 
Is it expediency or conscience? That depends on which way he surprises you, I suppose.
 
But I’ve talked to Walter several times in recent years. I believe there is a core of conscience that guides him.
 
Talking once about his switch to the GOP and his conversion to the Catholic Church, he made a great observation:  “I switched my church and my party, and I’m a lot happier with my church.” 
 
No surprise there.

 

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