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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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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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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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10
After last Tuesday, Democrats need a psychiatrist as much as a political strategist.
 
Here’s helpful advice from my old friend and pollster extraordinaire Harrison Hickman, titled Top 10 Least Helpful Democratic Excuses.” Harrison, an NC native and CEO of Hickman Analytics, Inc. in Washington, says, “To learn from our landslide defeat, Democrats should avoid excuses that divert attention from the tasks required to prepare for the next round of elections.” Among his 10 examples:
 
"’All hope is lost.’ Party fundraising emails may say so, but it's not. Ask anyone who went through 1984, 1994, and 2010. Elections are cyclical, and we need to be ready for the next opportunities by learning from our mistakes and moving forward.”
 
"’If only ... [fill in the blank].’ In a wipeout of this magnitude, no one factor would have changed the outcome. A multitude of factors were at play, including many completely beyond the control of the campaigns wrecked by the wave.”
 
"’There's nothing we could have done.’ Actually there are plenty of things we could have done, but most of them should have happened months or years ago. Maybe nothing tactical in the closing month would have changed the outcome, but better messaging and performance leading up to it could have helped. Besides, this type of thinking is self-destructive and presents a horrible image to the audience we most need to convince. Voters who expect courage and performance from their leaders are not going to cast their lot with a party of defeatists.”
 
"’It's all about race.’ Racial attitudes are part of it, but they are not the only reason we lost badly. If we want voters to put us in charge of their government, understand that they expect performance. We simply have not delivered in ways that meet their needs and expectations.”
 
And lastly: "’But so-and-so said ....’ Here's a dirty little secret. With some notable exceptions, most of the people opining about what went wrong and what needs to change are no longer paid to run or advise major campaigns -- if they ever were. You know more about these things than so-and-so does, and you have a helluva lot more at stake in coming up with the right answers. So do it.”
 
Dr. Pearce’s Rx: Take all 10 to heart. 

 

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03
It’s hard to sort out: Kaci Hickox sees healing the ill in Africa as a noble calling but protecting Americans from Ebola as pure villainy.
 
Ole Obama rides to Hickox’s rescue, saying Chris Christie’s a mean-hearted varmint stigmatizing heroes with his quarantine then, in his next breath, Obama announces the Army’s going to quarantine soldiers returning from the Ebola Zone.
 
So, now, Christie’s stigmatizing Hickox and Obama’s stigmatizing the Army. 
 
It’s like Alice Through the Looking Glass: Helping the Africans is noble. Protecting Americans is wicked. Quarantining soldiers is good. Quarantining Hickox is bad. Up’s down. And down’s up.


 

 

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30
President Obama may have the most brilliant strategy on earth to defeat Ebola but, on the other hand, he may go down in history as the first head of a government to encourage thousands of people (doctors and nurses) to visit a plague zone and then return home to meld back into the population without, first, determining whether or not they caught the plague.


 

 

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28

Kaci Hickox was mad as hops – she’d gotten off the plane in Newark, been hustled straight into quarantine, and three days later she was still in quarantine only by then she’d hired a lawyer to sue Governor Chris Christie.

A few days before Ms. Hickox flew from Sierra Leone to Newark, a doctor, who’d come home to New York after treating Ebola patients in Guinea, came down with Ebola – and Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie promptly ordered medical workers returning from West Africa to be quarantined.
 
Ms. Hichox landed in Newark about an hour later. And, by nightfall, the Obama Administration was criticizing Cuomo and Christie for the quarantines.
 
Back in 1952 there were 57,000 cases of polio: 3,000 people died and another 21,000 were paralyzed and we declared a war on polio.  In 1955, Jonas Salk invented the Salk vaccine and in 1961 there were 161 cases of polio.
 
Now we need to declare war on Ebola – instead of denouncing quarantines.
 
A person gets the Ebola virus by coming in contact with a sick person. The virus then incubates for up to 3 weeks and at some point, during that time, the person starts showing symptoms of the disease. From the moment that happens, anyone who comes in contact with them can also be infected.
 
According to the Administration that’s not a problem because, as soon as someone shows symptoms, they’ll voluntarily check into a hospital. But that didn’t happen when a nurse with a fever, who’d treated an Ebola patient, boarded an airplane and flew to Cleveland – with the CDC’s approval.
 
And it didn’t happen with the doctor in New York City – according to the officials, after the first symptoms appeared he spent the evening in a bowling alley.
 
Maybe it’s unlikely someone who’s had contact with an Ebola patient will infect other people, but quarantining them for 21 days avoids that risk which is what Governor Christie decided to do.
 
Quarantines won’t cure Ebola but they can slow it down and give the next Jonas Salk time to find a vaccine.

 

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03
When the media covers a scandal involving a politician, the coverage can be as big an issue as the politician. Take two stories this week – one national and one in-state.
 
The state Senate race in Fayetteville between incumbent Wesley Meredith and challenger Billy Richardson blew up over allegations that Meredith and his ex-wife fraudulently obtained government welfare benefits for their son 18 years ago.
 
The national story goes back 26 years to the sex scandal that sank Gary Hart’s presidential campaign.
 
The common thread is how the media did or didn’t cover the scandals – and what the media should and shouldn’t do.
 
Documents involving Meredith were “shopped around” – as several stories said – for a couple of weeks. But no newspaper or TV station bit. Then Richardson held a press conference, released the documents and called on Meredith to explain. Even then, at least one newspaper was still debating late in the day whether to run the story. It did.
 
The national story is over how in 1988 the Miami Herald staked out Hart’s townhouse in Washington after getting a tip that Hart was having a tryst with a young woman. Matt Bai wrote in The New York Times recently that the story marked the point in time when the mainstream political media went tabloid – and changed political coverage forever, for better or worse.
 
At Politico today, Tom Fiedler, the then-Herald reporter who confronted Hart and wrote the original story, defended it. At issue, Fiedler wrote, is “the existential question of the news media’s role in a presidential campaign. Simply put, what exactly does the public expect the news media to do? I think the voting public expects the news media to provide them with the factual information they need to cast an informed ballot.
 
“That factual information can mean different things for different voters. Some voters might want the media to report a candidate’s positions on the economy, abortion, civil rights, immigration, gun safety and so on. They care little about the candidate’s personal beliefs or behavior. But some voters—indeed, the great majority of voters—are more interested in who the candidate is. This is the much-discussed character issue. It goes to the essence of the candidate; it’s about authenticity, empathy, integrity, fairness and more. Issues change, and with them the candidate’s positions. But character doesn’t change, at least not much. For a journalist to withhold information that more fully reveals the character of a candidate would, in my opinion, be a sin of omission.”

Here, Senator Meredith has relied so far on the time-honored, knee-jerk political response – Richardson is smearing him, the allegations are beneath him and he doesn’t have to explain anything.
 
Wrong.
 
As Carter said in today’s Fayetteville Observer, "You can't shuffle it under the rug.”
 
And reporters and editors in North Carolina – no less than the national media – will have to decide whether to be the rug or the window. 

 

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24
The other day our top General went over to the Senate and said turning the Iraqi army into a real fighting force may not be possible ;--then he said no one knows who the ‘moderate’ Syrian Rebels will attack once they’re armed – they might attack ISIS or might attack Bashar Assad and, regardless of who they attack, arming just 5000 ‘moderate’ Syrians (as the President proposes) isn’t going to be nearly enough to whip anyone.
 
Meanwhile the same day, over in Iraq, the success of our bombing campaign was limited to blowing up a truck, an artillery piece, and two small boats on the Euphrates River.
 
This is an odd – but familiar – picture.
 
It’s beginning to look a lot like we may be getting into another ‘political’ war: If the President does nothing he gets pilloried but if he does what it takes to destroy ISIS (by putting boots on the ground) he gets run out of town on a rail – so he’s sailing down the middle ground uneasily doing what’s popular and avoiding what’s unpopular which may come back to haunt him – like it has other Presidents.

 

 

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