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13
Washington may be about to give us an answer on one of the longest running philosophical debates since Eve bit the apple: Are humans rational creatures?
 
For months, just about every politician in Washington – Republican Congressmen, Democratic Senators, President Obama, Speaker John Boehner – has been talking about how much they want to cut spending. They’re all for cuts.
 
Last month the Post Office weighed in, saying it was going to save taxpayers $2 billion by ending Saturday mail delivery – which, if you think about it, isn’t a terribly painful cut: No one will go hungry. The sick will still receive care. And, if worse comes to worst, you can always send an email on Saturday.
 
It all sounded sensible until Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid weighed in and said the Post Office was way out of line – that it couldn’t end Saturday mail delivery without Congress’s approval and, speaking for the Senate, he didn’t approve. 
 
That riled up some House Republicans who, just naturally, pushed back – saying Reid was all wet and the Post Office could end weekend mail anytime it wanted.
 
Then an odd thing happened.
 
It’s a little-known fact, but it turns out, in budgets going back for thirty years, Congress has included a law that requires the Post Office to deliver mail on Saturday – and last week when the House passed the continuing budget resolution it included the same law.
 
As soon as the bill passed, a Democrat Congressman merrily hopped up and announced (in the New York Times) that Saturday mail delivery was safe for another year. Then an unhappy Republican Congressman hopped up and announced the Democratic Congressman was dead wrong: The wording of the law Congress had just passed, the Republican conceded, was a bit vague – but then he added adamantly he didn’t have one scintilla of doubt the Post Office can stop delivering the mail on Saturday. Period.
 
So, here’s the status of clarity in Washington: The Post Office says it can end Saturday mail. The Democratic Senate Leader says it can’t. The House passed a bill with a thirty-year-old law in it – which both a Democratic Congressman and a Republican Congressman voted for. The Democrat says the law means one thing. And the Republican says it means the opposite.
 
 

 

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12
Congressman Walter Jones is an old-fashioned soft-spoken Southerner – so when I saw he’d put a statement on Twitter, I thought, What the heck? I clicked and landed on a statement (Walter had made) that explained just about everything anyone needs to know about the Sequester in one-page.
 
Last month up in Washington President Obama made his case against the Sequester by telling everyone who’d listen that the $85 billion in cuts meant teachers would be laid off, children would go without vaccinations and abused women would go without care.
 
Then, five days after the Sequester, President Obama asked Congress to send $65 billion to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) – which has been busy bailing out troubled European countries like Greece.
 
The question is obvious: Whatever happened to the needs of those teachers and children and abused women? Are they less important than the IMF? Or was the President, maybe, exaggerating the pain of the Sequester cuts?
 

 

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08
President Obama just announced the Sequester spending cuts are so terrible he has no choice but to cancel White House tours;---that upset House Speaker John Boehner who immediately cried foul, saying Obama was grandstanding and he (Boehner) had kept the Capitol tours running and Obama could have done the same thing – which is no doubt true but misses the point.
 
Obama made a cut. And a pretty painless cut. No one will go hungry. No one will go without medical care. No great harm will be done to anyone. So why didn’t Speaker Boehner simply shrug and say, Well, that’s unfortunate but the world won’t end without White House tours.
 
Floating beneath all this Washington chatter is a simple question: Is it possible politicians will be voted out of office for cancelling a tour – or is this a sign politicians are so weak-kneed they can’t take even a little ‘heat’ over a painless cut?
 

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07
While Governor McCrory prepares a “very, very tight budget” and blocks Medicaid expansion, the Republican governor of another purple Southern state is going in the opposite direction.
 
Governor Rick Scott of Florida was a Tea Party poster boy when he got elected in 2010. Now a Miami Tea Party leader has sent the governor a “breakup note.”
 
Scott signed off on Medicaid expansion in his state. He proposed a $2,500 across-the-board pay increase for teachers. The New York Times says he “has crisscrossed the state advertising his enthusiasm for education, state workers, highways, commuter rails, early voting, the disabled, environmental protection and jobs.”
 
Democrats ask: “Medicaid expansion, Obamacare, teacher bonuses — who is this guy?”
 
A Republican consultant explains: “If he is going to get re-elected, he needs to rebrand, reboot and repackage.”
 
In North Carolina, Governor McCrory has entrusted his immediate political fate to Art Pope, his budget director. For more than 20 years, Pope has spent, strived and struggled to get control of the budget. Now that he has it, he is going to put his ideological stamp on it.
 
The question is what the political impact will be of, say, deep cuts in education, the universities, community colleges and various economic development programs. All of them have constituents and supporters, including Republicans.
 
While Scott tacks to the center in Florida, McCrory is heading right in Raleigh. Soon he may hit high winds and rough waves. Then we’ll see if he follows Scott’s course.

 

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06

Taking a deep breath, inhaling a lungful of the highly oxygenated Washington air, celebrity, intellectual, and poo-bah Newt Gingrich announced he, himself, personally, was about to deliver a ‘very-direct, no baloney’ manifesto on Republican politics – then lit into Karl Rove, saying Republican political consultants were arrogant idiots and that the country was better off in the old days when a candidate did his own thinking (rather than hiring a two-bit consultant to tell him what to think).

Then, just as he had landed on a serious idea, Newt changed directions and announced that anyone who wanted to see a real leader doing his own thinking ought to buy Gingrich Productions’ film, Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny – and I thought, I’ll be darned – the whole thing was the lead-in to a pitch to sell a movie. 
 
Taking another breath, Newt lit into Rove again, saying he was absolutely ‘unalterably’ opposed to a bunch of billionaires giving Rove’s Super PAC millions so that a political boss (Rove) could handpick candidates he liked in Republican primaries and destroy candidates he didn’t like.
 
Rove, Newt added, had been dead wrong about the Presidential Race last year and dead wrong about the Senate races Republicans lost then he changed directions again and said anyone who really wanted to know why Republicans lost the 2012 election ought to sign up for Gingrich Productions’ ‘Lessons to be Learned Reports’ – and I thought, He did it twice.
 

 

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06
With Carter’s help, George Holding had a simple message last fall that boiled down the Republican mantra: “Cut spending now.”
 
It’s the one message that unites Republicans as they splinter over immigration, gay marriage and guns in the wake of Mitt Romney’s loss.
 
Here’s the challenge for Democrats: What’s your alternative?
 
House Republicans’ fervent faith in cutting spending led to the much-ballyhooed “sequestration” budget cuts. First Republicans said those cuts are no big deal. But now Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and Governor McCrory say the cuts could cause an “emergency” by shutting down North Carolina’s multibillion-dollar hog and poultry industry.
 
Thanks to the determination (or obstinacy) of the House GOP, cutting spending dominates the debate today. Speaker Boehner went so far as to call taxes “stealing” from the American people.
 
That was the philosophy underlining Romney’s “47 percent” comments, which cost him the election. He complains now it was distorted. No, Mitt, it was clear and it was what you and Republicans believe: A significant percentage of Americans are moochers who gang up on the producers to steal their money.
 
Carter has written before that the Founding Fathers foresaw that risk, and that it’s part of the risk of democracy. But, in fact, that hasn’t happened. Since the high-tax 1950s, we have cut taxes on people at the top.
 
But the issue is before us, and Democrats have to answer. They have to define what they believe constitutes the right level and the right kind of government spending – and taxing.
 
It’s an honest debate that America deserves.

 

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05
After the bell rang ending the Second Round of the Obama versus Boehner Fiscal Cliff-Sequester match-up, Obama danced around the ring arms raised as John Boehner staggered back to his corner wobbly-kneed.
 
Just six weeks ago, at the start of round two, the prim and proper Speaker was popular – viewed favorably by 29% of the voters and unfavorably by 21%. At the end of the round, Boehner’s buttoned down fastidiousness – along with his popularity – had vanished. He had a 23% favorable and 41% unfavorable – a drop of 26 points.
 
Worse, for a Republican Congressman needing the votes of Independents to be reelected, after Obama’s pummeling, the leader of the Republican Party’s popularity with Independents nose-dived to 14% Favorable and 49% Unfavorable.
 
Now Round 3 begins.
 

 

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26
President Obama’s in full campaign mode with his eyes fixed on taking control of the House of Representatives next election. He’s put his campaign to work targeting Republican Congressmen and he’s telling voters because of the Sequester 7,450 children in Florida won’t receive vaccinations, 800 victims of domestic violence in North Carolina won’t receive care, and 1,200 teachers in California will lose their jobs.
 
Now the Washington Republicans could argue Obama’s wrong – the cuts aren’t that bad. Or that the tax increases Obama wants will do more harm to the economy than the cuts.
 
But they’re not doing either. Instead they’re agreeing with Obama that the cuts are terrible – then they add that the terrible cuts are all Obama’s fault – that it’s the Obamaquester.
 
Obama’s answer to that is to say – reasonably – that he hopes Republicans will help him avoid children losing vaccinations by passing a few tax increases on the rich and Republicans say, again, the terrible cuts are all Obama’s fault.
 
It’s a dead end.
 
I don’t understand why the Republicans don’t make a list of $85 billion in wasteful spending – like the government’s free cell phone giveaways – and put it in front of Obama and say, If you want to spare unvaccinated children in Florida – let’s cut this program.
 
That sure sounds better than Republicans saying, Sure the Sequester is terrible but we won’t raise taxes to stop it because it’s all your fault.
 

 

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25
Kim Genardo of NBC-17 is following a well-trod path from capital reporter to Governor’s communications director. Most every governor hires a capital reporter to tame the savages. I made that switch from the N&O to then-Lt. Governor Hunt in January 1976 – 37 years ago! (As I recall, I was about 13 years old.)
 
Two issues arise here – one past and one prospective. First, the past: Was she talking to the Governor about the job when, as the N&O noted Saturday, “she did a one-on-one interview with McCrory for WNCN 10 days ago”? If she was, she shouldn’t have done the interview. It puts her coverage in question.
 
Second, looking ahead: Which master will she serve – Governor or media?
 
It’s a tricky task. Some Governors think that, since you were one of them, you should have some kind of mojo that insures positive media coverage. But some journalists think you’ve sold out and gone over to the dark side.
 
Some hacks-turned-flacks turn into media scourges. They block reporters’ access to the great man, yell and scream at reporters who write tough stories and thereby poison the relationship.
 
I made my share of mistakes, but learned one big lesson: Your job is, in fact, to serve two masters. Yes, you work for the Governor, but your paycheck comes from the taxpayers of North Carolina and you have a unique responsibility to serve the public.
 
So you have to respect the role journalists play in getting information to the public, even if your boss and the people around him get mad. You have to help both sides: help the governor tell his story and help the reporters write their stories.
 
Fortunately, I had a boss who understood the role of the media, liked to read newspapers and watch the news and – most of all – didn’t hold a grudge. Oh, he got mad about stories. But he vented his anger with me, not them, and he was willing to talk to the reporter again. After all, there will be another paper and another broadcast tomorrow.
 
Governor Hunt also found that reporters’ questions alerted him to problems his own people wouldn’t tell him about. Never in history has a gubernatorial appointee volunteered: “Governor, you know that assignment you gave us? Well, we have made a total hash of it.”
 
So good luck, Kim. All you need is a cool head, a thick skin and a sense of humor.

 

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20
What do Marco Rubio and Larry Hall have in common? They made the mistake of giving their party’s response to the State of the Union and State of the State speeches, respectively.
 
Inevitably, this ends up looking like a hostage tape or the speech given by the leader of space aliens who just invaded our planet: “PEOPLE OF EARTH, we come in peace….”
 
Both Senator Rubio and Rep. Hall did as well as they could under the circumstances. Their messages were perfectly fine and well-written.
 
It’s just that they were doing something that nobody – repeat, nobody – can do: Stare into a camera for 10 or 15 minutes (it seems longer) and keep the audience’s interest.
 
Listen to me again: Nobody does that. Do you watch television? Do you see anybody ever doing that? Not even the most polished entertainer would try it.
 
Plus, you’re in that artificial setting right after the audience watched the President or Governor performing in a live arena, surrounded by people who are clapping, frowning and otherwise acting like human beings.
 
It’s a lose-lose deal.
 
Worse, like Rubio, you end up being remembered only for wiping away sweat and awkwardly reaching for water while fixedly staring at the camera.
 
(When Governor McCrory reached over for a stack of papers Monday night, somebody tweeted: “I thought he was going for water.”)
 
Politicians, of course, have an ego that convinces them that the people of earth – or at least America or North Carolina – are eager to hear what they say. No. People change the channel, except for the people who either love you or hate you. You’re not going to win over the people who hate you, and you’re only going to embarrass the people who love you.
 
If you feel compelled to respond, sit down with an interviewer, answer their questions and look and sound like an actual human being.
 
And stop staring at me through the camera. You’re making me uncomfortable.

 

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