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21
All American politics today – the battle over immigration, the election two weeks ago and even legislative elections in North Carolina – is all about Barack Obama.
 
Presidents always dominate the political scene. But this is a special case. Yes, it’s about race. But it’d also about something more, something deeper in America’s psyche.
 
Here’s a theory. The election of Obama in 2008 as our first African-American President was a shock to the American system, both pro and con. For blacks and for whites who cared about equal rights, even if they didn’t vote for Obama, it was an historic step forward. For many other people, well, not so much.
 
At the very same time, we went through another huge shock to the system: what felt and looked like an economic collapse. I know very smart and very affluent people who were so worried they were hoarding as much cold cash as they could. It’s as close as we’ve ever come to feeling the fear that our parents and grandparents felt in the Depression.
 
So we had a double-whammy: our first black President and an aggressive – and controversial – effort by the federal government to intervene in the economy and prevent a collapse. An effort begun, although this is totally forgotten today, by the Republican administration of President George W. Bush.
 
Bush’s Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulsen, famously got down on one knee and begged then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi to save his plan to save Wall Street.
 
Somehow in our minds, that all morphed into an image of Obama as a Welfare King, taking money away from honest, hard-working people and giving it to lazy, good-for-nothings who just want a handout – the Great Redistributor.
 
Which then led to Wall Street types like Mitt Romney, who were rescued by Paulsen’s plan, blasting Obama for raiding “makers” and rewarding “takers.”
 
Now that narrative has taken hold, and Democratic politicians and political operatives in North Carolina this year tell about voters – especially older white voters – who refuse to even talk with a candidate who is a Democrat, let alone vote for him or her.
 
As one consultant said, “White, working voters – young and old – see everybody else getting help. The government helps poor people, the government helps big banks and now Obama wants to help immigrants. Well, what about me? What about my job, my income, my retirement? What about my children graduating from college with a huge debt and not being able to get a job?”
 
The divide in the Democratic Party today is whether to try to answer their questions – or to simply drive up turnout among those people (judging from the Tillis-Hagan race, 47 percent this year) who have stuck with Obama.
 
The Republican Party has chosen its course: No to Obama, all the time, whatever he does.
 
But a party of No ultimately has no future. Especially if the other party figures out how to bridge the divide. And say Yes to everybody who’s trying to make it in America.

 

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21
Fleeing toward the mountains from her burning village, fifteen years old and trapped on a dusty road packed with refugees, she was captured and carried across the border to a town on the Euphrates River filled with captive women from other towns.
 
The soldiers sold part of the women at an auction as slaves then divided the rest as spoils;---taken by a bearded soldier she fought back until he put a knife to her 19 year old sister’s throat then she followed him out of the camp to a house where he told her to undress and bathe and gave her a hijab to wear; for trying to escape she was beaten and traded to another soldier who locked her in a room full of women he intended to force to marry him.
 
The next night, sitting and listening to girls in other rooms in the house being raped, she tried to escape again, squeezing through a small window – just before dawn, exhausted, at an isolated farm house a young Arab man gave her shelter. The next day he took her to an older man who offered to smuggle her out of Syria if her family would pay him a ransom.
 
Her brother paid $3,700.
 
It’s a story straight out of the Dark Ages but it didn’t happen nine hundred years ago in the Levant it was reported in The New York Times last Saturday.
 
ISIS is the rebirth of the Mongol Horde and the Huns and our army could stop it but our President has been in China making a treaty on global warming.


 

 

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20
Governor McCrory’s political instinct is right, but his choice of battlefield is puzzling.
 
The Governor seems to understand that the best way to get reelected is to pick a fight with the legislature. Governors are always more popular than legislatures. McCrory’s approval ratings are twice as high as this legislature.
 
But why not fight over something the public cares about? Nobody cares which politician appoints the coal ash commission.
 
And McCrory brings a glass jaw to this fight. As Senator Berger put it a while back: “The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer.”
 
“Former employer”! Yikes! Sounds like something a Democrat would say.
 
Or will say next year.

 

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20
The Governor sent a letter to Thom Tillis and Phil Berger taking the legislature to task for asking for an independent audit of the Department of Health and Human Services.
 
Then the next day, when the Governor needed it least, the News and Observer reported that when DHHS’ new computer didn’t work the Department got into such a tizzy the number of mistakes it made processing food stamp claims quadrupled and it paid out $440,000 in excess benefits.
 
Here’s how government works: DHHS spends a hundred  or so million dollars on a computer program, it  doesn’t work, the department makes four times more mistakes than it did the year before and pays out $440,000 in excess benefits – and the Governor tells the legislature an audit’s a waste of time.


 

 

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19
Pat McCrory had one of those days.
             
First, a typist switched an ‘h’ for an ‘f’ so he sent out a press release announcing a Wilmington company was ‘firing’ 1300 new workers instead of ‘hiring’ 1300 workers.
 
Then a passing photographer snapped a photo of the Governor with his arm draped across Rep. Tim Moore’s shoulder and sent it sailing across the Internet – which sure looked like the Governor  was diving into the middle of the Speaker’s race – which left him backpedaling, saying it wasn’t so.
 
Then, piling Pelion on Ossa, the Governor sued Senator Phil Berger – which is like walking into a grizzly bears cage and whopping him on the nose.
 
Sometime between now and next June Berger and the Senate are going to vote on a budget which includes the Governor’s salary and how many staff the Governor has and right now it’s even money by next summer the Governor will be down to one part-time assistant and won’t have a penny to pay the lawyer he just hired to sue Phil Berger (and Thom Tillis).
 
So why would the Governor pick a fight with Phil Berger (and Thom Tillis)?
           
He says last session the legislature set up three Independent Commissions (on coal ash, fracking and Medicaid) but didn’t give him all the appointments to the Commissions. Instead the legislature gave him some and kept some for itself which, according to the Governor, is downright unconstitutional.  
 
Phil Berger answered the Governor’s charge pretty simply, saying if he thought the laws were unconstitutional he should have vetoed them which he hadn’t.
 
It’s hard to figure out: The Governor’s fighting Phil Berger over control of the Coal Ash Commission. Think about that: If you were Governor and the legislature said it wanted to own two thirds the biggest tarbaby in North Carolina you’d hardly  be able to believe your luck – you’d say, Sure, in fact, if you want, you can have it all.
 
But Pat McCrory wants to own the whole tarbaby.           


 

 

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18
Since the election tsunami, Democrats have been scouring the rubble for answers. Liberals say the party needs to take on Wall Street. Moderates say retake the middle. Labor says raise the minimum wage and stop trade deals. Hispanics say push ahead with immigration reform. Millennials say get rid of the old crowd. The old crowd says bring in some gray hair. Obama fans say embrace the President. Clinton fans say embrace her.
 
Then consultants weigh in. Their solutions boil down to: hire me.
 
But if you look at the lessons of the last 50 years of American politics, it’s clear what Democrats really need is a great leader with a great story to tell.
 
After 1964, the Republican Party and the conservative movement were left for dead. But that campaign produced Ronald Reagan, who became the defining conservative President of the 20th Century (after the Nixon-Ford detour).
 
After 1980, 1984 and 1988, Democrats seemed incapable of ever winning the White House again. Then came Bill Clinton to define the New Democrats for the 1990s.
 
In retrospect, both Reagan and Clinton have the magic glow of charismatic inevitability. But that didn’t come until after they were elected President.
 
What they both had was a political philosophy that made sense, one that people could understand and that both explained present problems and promised a better future.
 
For Reagan, it was: government is the problem, not the solution. And America is the greatest country in the history of the world.
 
For Clinton, it was and is: We’re all in this together. And American is a still the home of hope and opportunity.
 
It’s not just the sum of individual issue positions. It’s not just the story of the man who would be President.
 
Jimmy Carter had a great story. He was an honest farmer who wasn’t from Washington – just what we needed after Watergate. But he couldn’t sustain a convincing narrative about where the nation was and where it needed to go.
 
Barack Obama has a great story, one that inspired millions to break down old racial barriers. But for all his accomplishments – wars ended, financial disaster avoided, banks and industries rescued, deficits reduced, stock market up, health care provided – one of the great orators of our time somehow has been unable to give us the kind of narrative framing that we yearn for.
 
Obviously, an inspirational candidate like a Reagan or Bill Clinton comes along rarely.  But they have a way of coming along when a party is lost in the desert and searching for a leader.

 

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18

 

President Obama set out to restore his political fortunes by going to China – and announcing a new climate change agreement.
 
Then, still intent on repairing his fortunes, he traveled on to Australia where he announced he was giving $3 billion to the U.N to help poor nations fight the harm done by climate change.
 
Then he returned home and announced to save the Internet he’s going to fight for ‘net neutrality.’
 
There’re Russians in the Ukraine. ISIS is beheading people. Iran is building a nuclear bomb. And the President’s spending money to help poor nations repair the damage from a meltdown that hasn’t happened yet and fighting to save the Internet from Netflix.
 
What’s wrong with this picture?


 

 

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17
Republican wins this year could make Governor McCrory’s reelection road rockier.
 
Over the past month, the Governor seemed to tack to the middle and away from the arch-conservative legislature. He reacted mildly to the gay-marriage court decisions. He suggested that he might support Medicaid expansion. Last week he sued the legislature over appointment powers.
 
The Empire struck back.
 
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, blasted McCrory: "It is a shame when our governor is more interested in expanding his executive power than he is in actually protecting and defending a real threat to our Constitution — the overreach of power by a federal judge who enjoined the marriage amendment and forced same-sex marriage on our state.”
 
Fitzgerald, not incidentally, is the mother-in-law of newly reelected Senator Chad Barefoot, an ally of McCrory’s Number One nemesis, Senator Phil Berger.
 
Berger is as strong as ever. And McCrory’s ally Thom Tillis is gone from the House. Will the new Speaker side with the Governor the way Tillis did?
 
It obviously didn’t please some Republicans that McCrory enlisted former Democratic Governor Jim Hunt to his side on the appointments lawsuit.
 
McCrory knows he has to get back to the middle to get reelected. But does that lead to a tough legislative session for him next year – and maybe a primary challenge in 2016?

 

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17
Governor McCrory needed a lawyer to advise him on cleaning up Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds but the one he found raised eyebrows: He hired a Duke Energy attorney.
 
The press naturally asked if that wasn’t a bit like having the fox guard the hen-house so the Governor had his spokesman explain to reporters, Not at all – that there was a “legal wall of separation between his new lawyer and any issue effecting Duke’s coal ash operations.”
 
But, then, the reporters went to an Environmental Management Commission meeting and there sat the Governor’s new attorney on the front row advising the members how to change groundwater regulations that affected his former client.
 
Next, Southern Environmental Law Center pointed out how, when it had sued Duke a year ago, one of the lawyers representing Duke, saying the ponds didn’t need cleaning up, was the attorney now telling the Governor how to clean them up.
 
You couldn’t make this stuff up.

 

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14
Some two-score years ago, I started going to the National Governors Association winter meetings in Washington. These were at the time great bipartisan policy wonk-fests, three days of earnest discussions about issues, ideas and innovations, with plenty of after-hours barroom political gossip.
 
Three young governors stood out at the time (during the day sessions, at least; none of them drank): Jerry Brown, Bill Clinton and Jim Hunt.
 
So I was struck this year when Jerry Brown was elected to his fourth term as Governor of California, Bill Clinton campaigned gleefully across the country in anticipation of Hillary’s presidential run, and Jim Hunt was the most-sought after Democratic headliner across North Carolina.
 
All three have graduated from ambitious young men to senior statesmen, admired for what they did in office, emulated as political icons and still in demand.
 
What did they have – and still have?
 
First is a zest for politics. They live it and breathe it. They’ll stop only when their hearts stop beating. And they love it not just for the game, but for what you can do for people through politics.
 
Second is an innate gut feeling for what moves people, what people care about and what people want from their leaders. Hunt and Clinton always shared a human warmth; Brown was California Zen cool, but then he got a wife and a dog and became almost human.
 
Finally, they’re all smart, and they never stop learning. They read voraciously, vacuum up ideas and information, and think.
 
For any aspiring young pol who wants to be a four-term Governor, a President or at least a much-admired senior statesman in four decades, you’ve got your road map.

 

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