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18
Back in the old days there was a breed of Congressman, rugged individualists, who, whenever he (or she) had to cast an unpopular vote, would shrug and say, Let the chips fall where they may.
 
That political animal is now all but extinct.
           
In the place of a troublesome conscience (when it comes to unpopular votes) our average modern Congressman has a finely tuned set of political antennae so sensitive he can detect a political threat from miles away and take evasive action.
 
But, now, the ‘fiscal cliff’ is giving our archetypical Congressman fits.
 
According to a poll last week, 78% of the voters don’t like the idea of going over the cliff one bit – a political bombshell our Congressman's antennae clearly have in focus. He also has in focus voters agree with President Obama about raising taxes – but from there his life gets more complex.
 
Because voters also oppose cutting Medicare spending.
 
Oppose cutting Medicaid.
 
Oppose cutting Social Security.
 
Oppose raising the Medicare or Social Security retirement age.
 
And oppose increasing debt.
 
That leaves our Congressman in a fix – suddenly his antennae are sending a hurricane of storm warnings to his frazzled brain and he can’t see a single vote he can cast to reduce the deficit (unless he’s a Democrat voting to raise taxes) that won’t blow him to smithereens.
 
And to ‘pile Pelion on Ossa’ he faces one more threat: If he votes the way his constituents want today and the economy tanks in two years, when he's stumping for re-election, voters will be asking, Where were you when we needed a Congressman who had the guts to cast the tough votes?
 
Nature has played a cruel trick on him. He’s trapped.

 

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18
Don’t underestimate how much the Newtown killings can change politics. It has happened before.
 
In 1995, President Clinton was struggling to be relevant in a Washington dominated by Newt Gingrich and his newly triumphant Republican majority. Then came the Oklahoma City bombing. Seizing the moment, Clinton spoke for the nation’s grief and anger. The tone of politics shifted. Gingrich and the Republicans began a long, slow slide. Clinton cruised to reelection. Gingrich never recovered.
 
Even the horror of that bombing doesn’t compare to this. Nothing compares to the cold-blooded, face-to-face murder of little children in schoolrooms.
 
Americans are united in grief. But we’re divided in our anger. Many of us are angry about guns. Many are angry because their guns are threatened.
 
You can watch the divide play out on social media. Friends and relatives argue on-line – or unfriend each other.
 
President Obama spoke eloquently to the grief of all and to the anger about guns.
 
He clearly is planning something.  And he has to act.  While passions inevitably will cool and the NRA will bide its time, there is too much political pressure on the President and congressional Democrats.
 
This is going to be a bitter and divisive battle. Like the slavery debate in “Lincoln,” there can be no compromise – one winner and one loser.
 
And the battle could change politics dramatically.

 

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12
One thing I enjoy about this blog is learning how Carter and his political crowd see the world. It’s a lot different from how my crowd sees it.
 
I mention this because it drives some of my friends crazy that I associate in any way with Carter. One said he avoided me for two years because Carter ran a campaign that beat his candidate in 2010.
 
But, as Yogi Berra said, “sometimes you hear a lot just by listening.” You can even learn something.
 
For example, Carter says he put on polls this year a question something like, “Do you agree or disagree with the statement that America today is not the same country you grew up in?”
 
Most people agreed. But I’m guessing that people in Carter’s world (call it Red America) think that’s bad and people in my world (Blue America) think it’s good.
 
Red America sees a breakdown in social values, morality, religious faith and responsible behavior. Blue America sees a heartening trend toward tolerance, opportunity, racial equality and social fairness.
 
Jonathan Haidt, the author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, apparently does a good job of exploring this divide. He also delves into why it can hurt Democrats politically.
 
I need to read more – and understand better.  Maybe we all should, whichever world we’re in.

 

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11
Gary’s progressive but he’s also old-fashioned so a year ago when he said, ‘You know, you ought to use Twitter’– he surprised me.
 
‘I expect,’ I said, ‘Twitter’s too young for my blood.’
 
‘Use it like an old-fashioned clipping service,’ he said.
 
Back in the old days, in the dark ages before Facebook and Google News, if you ran a campaign and needed to know what the newspapers were saying about a candidate you had to subscribe to a clipping service and say, Send me every newspaper article that mentions Jesse Helms – then every morning a manila envelope stuffed full of clippings that were two or three days old would arrive in the mail.
 
Now you can use Twitter like an old-fashioned clipping service. And it’s free. For instance, you can ‘follow’ Under the Dome or Rob Christensen or Joe Klein or David Brooks and a link to whatever they write appears on Twitter.
 
Last Sunday I read the News & Observer the old-fashioned way, sitting in bed, then meandered over to the office and turned on the computer and up popped a headline in Google News from the Los Angeles Times: Mitt Romney Pollster: Why we thought we would win.
 
The reporter, interviewing Romney pollster Neil Newhouse, sailed right past the philosophical and got down to brass tacks.
 
Why, he asked, did Romney’s polls show him winning Colorado and New Hampshire? Why did Romney’s polls show him in a dead-heat in Iowa? Why did Romney feel sure he would win Florida and Virginia?
 
Mr. Newhouse gave a pretty valid answer. He simply said, I’m not sure.
 
So much for brass tacks. Maybe the answer is philosophical.
 
In my world of older white Republican males hardly a soul could imagine Barack Obama winning the election. Men – and women – were certain Obama would lose. Republican pollsters and consultants had their own point of view: Anti-Obama voters, they said, were more intense and more likely to vote than pro-Obama voters. Plus, they’d add, undecided voters always vote against the incumbent. Once, sitting in a meeting, I said, That might not be so on Election Day if undecided voters dislike Romney as much as they dislike Obama – but only one person in the room thought that made any sense at all.
 
Now, a lot of times, the truth is ambiguous. But a lot of times not seeing the truth has nothing to do with ambiguity – it has to do with eyesight. Republicans didn’t lose because of demographics or Hispanics or Obama’s ground game. It was simpler. We lost, say, Florida and Virginia because we listened to one another and saw an election unfolding before our eyes that bore no resemblance to the election that was unfolding in Richmond and Miami.
 
 
 

 

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10
The biggest demographic problem for the Republican Party may not be Hispanics, but cities – and increasing urbanization.
 
In 2012, Democrats won in cities, and Republicans won outside the cities. The more urban a state’s population, the more likely it voted for Obama.
 
Unfortunately for Republicans – in North Carolina and nationally – cities are where the growth is. Already, the Southern Growth Policies Board says, almost 60 percent of the U.S. population lives in cities of one million or more.
 
And the trend is accelerating. That’s because most job growth is in the cities – like the Triangle and Charlotte metro areas.
 
By 2030, North Carolina is expected to grow by another three million people. Where do you think they’ll live?
 
This is all part of the “Big Sort.” People in cities are younger and more culturally attuned to Democrats. One example: attitudes about gay marriage.
 
Governor-elect McCrory won big partly because he did better in cities, especially his home county of Mecklenburg. He beat Romney there by some 40,000 votes.
 
Maybe that’s why McCrory and Speaker Thom Tillis were less vehement about Raleigh’s Dix deal than Senator Phil Berger.
 
For Democrats, this is all reason for hope.
 
For McCrory, it poses a policy/political question: Does he resist this trend with his economic-development policies? Does he try to force job growth away from cities? Is that even doable?

 

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10
When I read in the newspaper that the House Republican Leadership had given four Congressmen the boot, kicking them off their committees, for not loyally voting with the leadership I thought, Those guys must have been voting with the Democrats – but then I read one of the four Congressmen was Walter Jones the most conservative Congressman in North Carolina.
 
Congressman Jones routinely gets elected every two years, goes to Washington, keeps his promises, votes his conscience, is unfailingly polite and won in the biggest landslide of any Republican Congressman in North Carolina last fall.
 
So how did he get crossed-up with the Republican Leadership in Washington? Well, it turns out, by voting to cut spending too much – for instance, by voting against the Leadership’s 2011 Budget Deal with Obama to raise the debt ceiling.
 
So, now we have Republican Leaders in Washington unhappy with Walter Jones because he voted to cut spending too much.
 
What’s wrong with this picture?
 

 

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07
Up in Washington, right after Obama won reelection, House Speaker John Boehner held a press conference to announce he’d seen the light and was ready to compromise and accept more tax revenues (which translated from political speak into plain English means higher taxes).  
 
Next the House Republicans set off in hot pursuit of Hispanic votes, passing a bill that, as Arizona Republican Jeff Flake put it, “staples a green card” to the diploma of immigrants who graduate from colleges in the United States with degrees in Math or Science.
 
House Republicans also proposed allowing immigrants who are working here to bring their spouses and children to the United States without having to endure the wait for additional visas or green cards – then, as a fig leaf, to cover their flanks with less open-minded Republicans they proposed to end the Diversity Visa Lottery Program – a long-standing program that grants visas to immigrants from Africa and Asia.
 
None of this troubled the Democrats in Congress.
 
They simply said, That’s not a big deal. We’ll do all that – plus we’ll pass the ‘Dream Act’ and keep the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program.”
 
Republicans placed a bid to buy Hispanic votes.
 
The Democrats said, We’ll see you and raise you.
 
And the bad news is – in this poker game – the sky’s the limit.
 

 

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06
It was like watching the rerun of a bad old black and white movie: Obama won reelection then, the next day, at a press conference in Washington John Boehner stood up and announced he was ready to compromise and accept new taxes – but only on one condition. Obama had to accept big spending cuts.
 
Then Obama departed Washington to give a speech at a toy factory in Pennsylvania and, the same day, his Treasury Secretary traipsed over to Capitol Hill and plopped a counter-proposal on the table in front of Boehner: The President wanted a $1.6 trillion dollar tax increase, more spending, eliminating debt ceiling votes, and proposed kicking the can down the road on spending cuts by deferring the sequestration for a year.
 
Boehner grimaced and said, We’re getting nowhere.
 
And Obama fired a broadside at Boehner, saying Boehner was against a tax cut for middle class families because he (Obama) wouldn’t give one to millionaires too.
 
A couple of days passed and Boehner came back with his own proposal: A ‘compromise’ that also included a big tax increase – which started a conflagration among conservatives. By sundown Boehner was catching it from Obama on one side and Jim DeMint to Rand Paul on the other.
 
So with the ‘fiscal cliff’ days away here’s where our political leaders in Washington stand:
 
The Democrats won’t cut spending because they’re afraid their supporters will go berserk.
 
The Republicans are for raising taxes and their supporters are going berserk.
 
So there’s only one way to escape the briar patch: More debt.

It’s like déjà vu all over again.

 

 

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05
It’s shameful that Republicans believe their political future rests on voter suppression. But Democrats can turn this chicken shit into chicken salad.
 
First they tell voters: “Republicans are doing all they can to make sure only angry old white men can vote. If you’re young, old, a minority or anyone who doesn’t look like them, they want to keep you from voting. How do you like that?”
 
Second, use it as an organizing tool. Keep the Obama field and volunteer armies angry, energized and working. Get a voter ID for everybody who needs one. And make sure they vote in 2014.
 
For Republicans, this is like immigration. There is short-term gain in suppressing Democratic voters, just as there is short-term gain in demonizing immigrants. But the 2012 presidential election shows there is also a long-term price to pay.
 
Democrats have to make them pay.

 

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03
There’s a lot of talk up in Washington these days about compromise: President Obama’s ready to compromise and John Boehner’s ready to compromise but, so far, amid all the cooing no one’s laid a deal on the table so it’s hard to tell if Congressmen and Senators are going to say, Gosh, that compromise is swell – or – There’s no way on earth I’ll vote for that.
 
There’s also a fair amount political rhetoric camouflaging exactly what the politicians are compromising about.
 
Way back in 1990, when Harvey Gantt was running against Jesse Helms, at a press conference a reporter quizzed Gantt’s campaign chairman Mel Watt (who’s now a Congressman) about Jesse blasting Gantt for supporting tax increases when he was Mayor of Charlotte. Watt shot back, Harvey didn’t support any tax increases, those were revenue increases.
 
There’re a lot of Republicans (like Speaker Boehner and Senator Graham) who’re now saying they’re open to revenue increases – but then they turn around and add there’s no way on earth they’ll support raising tax rates. That’s a political fig-leaf of sorts – but not much of one. In the end, whether it’s a revenue increase or a rate increase taxes go up.
 
There may, perhaps, be a new spirit of compromise afoot in Washington – but the old spirit of who-doo is alive and well too.
 

 

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