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Entries for September 2012

28
Amid the turmoil and hard times, when 47% of the Americans depend on government for support, it came as a surprise to open the newspaper and read Raleigh is spending $60 million on a train station.
 
Medicare is, with mathematical certainty, heading to bankruptcy. Social Security is not far behind. And the government in Washington can only continue to function as long as someone is willing to loan it 40 cents of every dollar it spends.
 
But the federal government, state government and city governments are uniting to build a train depot.
 
Does that make any sense at all?
 

 

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28
There is a lot of sound and fury in the press – the latest storyline on the Presidential race reads: ‘Romney Stumbles,’ ‘Romney Sinks,’ ‘Romney Running Out of Time.’ Former Bush campaign aide Mark McKinnon wrote Romney ‘has dug his hole so deeply now, I don’t know if he can pull himself out.’
 
In fact, the last Gallop tracking poll (Wednesday night) showed Romney and Obama tied with 47% of the vote each.
 
So what’s going on here?
 
Tabloid journalism.
 
Whether it’s MSNBC, CNN or Fox News, tabloids – even the electronic version – feed on drama. Every night they need crisis and if a crisis doesn’t exist they’ll invent one. After all, they can’t report night after night that the polls didn’t change.
 
So watch the story line. I expect it may run: Romney Stumbles, Romney Falls, Romney Rallies, Polls Tied Again.
 
But don’t confuse that with the facts.

 

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27
The downside of drawing safe districts is that you get unsafe candidates. Like Republican House candidate Debra Conrad, who told a group in Winston-Salem: "Unfortunately, the more money you raise and give to the speaker, the better committee assignment you get."
 
Her comments were reported in YES! Weekly by Jordan Green. They came Tuesday at a luncheon hosted by the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce.
 
Green reported: “Conrad’s remark prompted a titter of discomfort at the table. One person suggested: ‘Off the record?’ Another person seated at the table uttered the phrase ‘pay to play’ — a common characterization of how business was once transacted in the NC House under the leadership of now disgraced Democratic Speaker Jim Black.”
 
Her audience seemed to have more political savvy than she did about what to say – and not say – publicly.
 
Speaker Tillis’ office quickly denied that what she said was true. But this is the danger of redistricting: You elect candidates who embarrass you and your party.
 
The coming bumper next crop of new legislators may give investigative reporters a lot to work with.

 

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26
If Mitt Romney feels like he’s up to his hips in alligators – he ought to consider the alligators that have chomped down on poor Tony Tata.
 
Two years ago, the newly elected Republican School Board made short shift of the old School Superintendent and hired Tata. Then the Democrats won the next election and their School Board set out to give Tata the boot.
 
Elections do have consequences.
 
Next, proclaiming it the “War at the School Board,” Wake County’s Republican Chairman Susan Bryant blasted the Democrats and emailed a call to arms to local Republicans, saying, ‘The radical extremists… are preparing to fire our great Superintendent, and we have to stop them.’
 
Unfortunately for Mrs. Bryant she ran head-on into a deadly foe: A sense of humor – which the News & Observer’s Barry Saunders has in abundance. Gently poking Mrs. Bryan in his column Saunders wrote: Chill, sisterwoman. ‘Radical extremists’ are those people who stormed our embassy and killed our ambassador and others in Libya…’
 
Anyway, it’s all over now. Yesterday the Democrats removed Tata.
 

 

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26
Even strong Democrats believe the Wake school board flunked this test. The board majority may have done the right thing, but they sure did it the wrong way. And Democrats may pay the price.
 
It was a mistake to fire Tony Tata without first setting out a bill of particulars. You can’t fire a superintendent, then refuse to say why because “it’s a personnel matter.”
 
Board members finally began explaining themselves today. That was a day late. They gave the public stage over to their Republican critics yesterday. At the start of the evening news broadcasts, no less.
 
John Tedesco, Paul Coble & Co. were happy to take the stage.
 
Tedesco may be the big winner here. He may stir up enough votes in Wake County to get elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
 
Coble now has an excuse not to give the schools more money.
 
And Tata gets a years’ pay so he can start (some critics theorize) running against Senator Kay Hagan in 2014.
 
But keep one thing in mind. This board didn’t do what Tedesco’s board did. His crowd forced Tata’s predecessor out immediately. This board gave Tata a chance. But Tedesco and his colleagues are shocked, shocked!
 
As Bill Clinton would say, it takes brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.
 
Still, the board botched this. They now get blamed for anything bad that happens in the system. They may pay the price next time they run. And the debacle may hurt Democrats in this election – all the way up the line to President Obama, who carried North Carolina in 2008 with the help of a huge majority in Wake County.
 
This is not acceptable work. See me after class.

 

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26
It’s a fad: Paul Ryan put his mother on TV, then David Rouzer put his grandmother on TV, then Tom Murray (who’s running for State House) put his mother in a TV ad. So which will folks say, ‘No one knows him better than his mother’ – or – ‘Does that mean he couldn’t get anyone except his mother to say something good about him?
 
David Rouzer has also done another ad people might look at two ways.
 
Back in 2008 two white-haired gentlemen sat down on a porch in a pair of rocking chairs and made a TV ad for Kay Hagan that all but sunk Liddy Dole. Two years later, the same two white-haired gentlemen reappeared, rocking and saying they’d made a mistake last election and this time they were voting for Senator Richard Burr. It was clever – and humorous and it worked.
 
Now David Rouzer has put the same two gentlemen in an ad, rocking for him – so will the third time turn out to be a charm or too much of a good thing?
 

 

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25
Imagine Mitt Romney, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton sitting in a room together, listening to a pollster describing the mythical undecided voter, saying: She’s forty-six years old. She grew up on a farm or in a working class neighborhood. She’s a working mother now with two children, living in the suburbs. She’s pro-choice. And she’s sitting in the pew in church every Sunday. 
 
Obama nods slowly. Mitt Romney scratches his head. And Clinton grins and says, Yeah, I know that girl. I went to high school with a girl like her.
 
That’s a long way of saying when it comes to undecided voters Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are talking to a concept they heard from a pollster – while Bill Clinton is talking to a woman he’s met and known.
 
For example, when the archetypical suburban working mother sees Romney’s new ad about China’s currency manipulation she may think, At last, he’s talking about an issue I care about – but, then again, she may also furrow her brow and sigh, Why on earth is he talking about the Yuan?
 

 

 

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25
The worst wounds in politics are self-inflicted. After a week, it’s clear that Mitt Romney inflicted a doozy on himself when he got carried away about the “47 percent” at that high-flying Florida fundraiser.
 
Voters today are sophisticated consumers of political messages. They know political ads lie. They know that every word a candidate says in a speech, debate or interview is polished and poll-tested.
 
So their antennae are up for the slightest sign of a candidate showing what he or she is really like – whether it’s under pressure, by mistake or “off the record.”
 
Romney gave Americans that inadvertent and possibly fatal glimpse of his real self. He cemented the image that Obama’s ads suggested: a rich, callous man who is not only out of touch with most Americans, but actually holds them in contempt.
 
Even worse for Romney, the camera angle and poor quality of the videotape are even more damning, because they’re real. The waiters in black vests are a special touch.
 
This campaign has six weeks to go. A lot can happen. But if Romney were a car, he’d be the 2012 version of the Democrat’s 2004 John Kerry model.

 

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24
It’s been a long hard fought political war – for years the folks over at the Civitas Institute have been racing the liberals at Public Policy Polling (who seem to be able to churn out a poll every five minutes) to see who could bombard the newspapers with the most propaganda disguised as polling.
 
Not long ago the Civitas Institute gained the upper hand when the New York Times reported that PPP’s polls had a “house effect” (which is a nice way to say a bias) favoring Democrats. But then, unfortunately, the wheel came off Civitas’ cart too. They released a poll showing Mitt Romney with a ten point lead (53% to 43%) over Barack Obama in North Carolina which sounded fine – until a reporter spotted a glitch: The poll had 30% of the African-Americans voting for Mitt Romney over Obama.
 
This is all more or less politics as usual but it may have added a new aphorism to the American lexicon. For years we’ve heard, “The check’s in the mail” and “Don’t worry, you won’t get pregnant” – now PPP and Civitas have also given us, “Our scientific poll shows…”
 

 

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24
I’m just back from several days in Northern California: spectacular rocky coastlines, innumerable wineries, gut-wrenching mountain roads, falling-apart expressways, low humidity, bohemian lifestyles – and no presidential election.
 
That’s an exaggeration. They have an election, too. But no suspense. California’s 55 electoral votes are already counted toward Obama’s goal of 270. He and Mitt Romney go there only to raise money.
 
There are no candidate visits, no surrogate visits, no get-out-the-vote drives, no grassroots offices, no candidate ads, no superPAC ads, no ads about Romney and the 47 percent (which, the way he’s going, will be the vote he gets in November), no ads attacking Obama, nothing.
 
We did run into a street-side Romney booth in San Francisco. “We need to get rid of this guy Obama,” one of the young workers said. He didn’t have many takers. It seemed about as productive as hawking anti-Roy Williams petitions on Franklin Street.
 
Today, we have a system in which only a handful of states – this year, about nine – matter in the presidential race. North Carolina used to be like California: ignored. But now we’re a battleground. Our votes actually will decide who becomes President! What a concept.
 
It reminded me of a California-based group – National Popular Vote – that devised an ingenious, if somewhat hard to explain, way of making sure the national popular vote decides presidential elections. It still retains the electoral college system, and it avoids the insuperable hurdle of a constitutional amendment.
 
Their bill got some traction here before 2008. Carter and I worked with them, and we were intrigued. But it was hard to overcome partisan suspicions about who would benefit. The effort fizzled.
 
You should check out their plan. NPV is about halfway to the goal of making it happen – and fundamentally changing presidential elections in America.

 

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