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24
50 years ago we declared war on poverty, spent $20.7 trillion, and lost. So now the President is trying again. Only this time he’s calling it a war on income inequality because a war on poverty only appeals to folks who are poor while a war on income inequality appeals to just about everyone except, maybe, Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.
 
Now you’d think the President would start by attacking the root causes of the income inequality. But politics doesn’t work that way. Because what politicians are interested  in is votes – and taking money from one group of folks and giving it to another is a proven plan that works at the ballot box.  But like a lot of modern politics it does little to fix the root of the problem.
 
The other day in the newspaper Robert Rector reported there are now 80 means-tested welfare programs that take $916 billion from one group of folks and give it to 100 million other folks. Despite that poverty rates haven’t dropped but, on the other hand, poverty is not what it used to be. Today, our typical poor soul lives in a house or apartment in good repair with air-conditioning and cable TV that is larger than the house of an average non-poor soul in France, England or Germany. He has a car, TVs and a DVD player. There’s a fifty-fifty chance he has a computer. A one in three chance he has a big flat screen TV. And, thankfully, a big majority of today’s poor are not undernourished and didn’t endure a day of hunger over the previous year.
 
Still, no one doubts there are still people who need a helping hand – which led Mr. Rector to a surprising fact: Fifty-one years ago, the year before we declared war on poverty, 6% of America’s children were born out of wedlock. Today 41% of our children are born out of wedlock. Now, why on earth should a child’s mother and father not marrying make a farthing’s difference when it comes to how much a child earns when he (or she)  grows up?
 
The answer’s a mystery but statistics don’t lie and they say children raised in single parent homes are four times more likely to be poor, and children who grow up without a father at home are 50% more likely to be poor when they grow up.
 
It sounds illogical but the numbers say more traditional families mean less poverty. But for a politician in pursuit of votes that turns a simple political opportunity into a knotty intellectual problem.
 
One more fact: Today when a mother on welfare has the good fortune to fall in love with a man who has a job and marries him she loses her benefits. Now, in a way, that’s logical. But if you’re a single mother who may be losing, say, $10,000 in benefits it’s also 10,000 reasons not to marry the man of your dreams.

 

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24
Whenever you think political discourse can’t get coarser, somebody comes along and proves you wrong. Especially super-PACs, which are basically piggy banks for political consultants who make big bucks by making over-the-top ads that make the people writing the checks happy but flop with voters. (See: Karl Rove, Crossroads GPS, 2012 elections.)
 
Carter and I got to talking about the hyperbole, overstatement and over-the-top rhetoric. We both have a suspicion that voters are on to the game; as soon as they hear the dark music and voice of doom that scream “political ad,” they tune out. Then Carter sent me some research that bears out our suspicion.
 
The Global Strategy Group studied the question: “How can candidates be more believable when talking about their opponents?” It concluded: “Cut the hyperbole, exaggeration and name-calling.” It elaborated:
 
“Eliminating hyperbole, embellishment and exaggeration leads to more credible messaging about opponents
 
“Given the need to break through, campaigns often dial up the heat to make their message as incendiary as possible. But our research shows that doing so makes messages less credible and thus less effective. Voters react better when there is no hyperbole or extraneous name-calling.
 
“GSG asked voters about a series of descriptions of their member of Congress. Half of voters heard descriptions with adjectives that summed up the negative with a pointed characterization, while the other half heard descriptions that did not include the additional adjectives.
 
“When asked if their member of Congress ‘has positions that are not moderate and lack common sense,’ 49% of voters agree the statement is true. But when asked if their member ‘has extreme and radical positions that are not moderate and lack common sense,’ just 27% agree – a 22-point decrease in believability. Similarly, when asked if their member ‘is a career politician who uses the title and office for personal financial gain,’ 52% agree. However, when asked if the member ‘is a corrupt career politician who uses the title and office for personal financial gain,’ just 31% agree – a 21-point drop.
 
“Eliminating hyperbole in ways beyond the characterization of an opponent also boosts credibility. Fifty-seven percent of voters say it is true that their member ‘hasn’t accomplished very much, and someone else could be more effective,’ but just 48% agree when the statement says their member ‘hasn’t accomplished anything at all, and someone else could be more effective’.”
 
One of the plagues of modern campaigns is consultants out to prove the’re the toughest SOBs in town. Their tough talk might impress their clients. But voters see through it.

 

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22
From a message point of view, the rollout of McCrory 2.0 was a mess – and a missed opportunity for the Governor.
 
McCrory might have heeded his “mentor” Jim Hunt and called for a sustained three-year effort to raise teacher salaries to the national average.  Instead, he vaguely promised some kind of pay raise for this year only, gave no details and refused to endorse Hunt’s plan.
 
Whew! Democrats dodged a bullet.
 
Instead of a bold, focused stroke that seized public imagination and reshaped the political landscape, McCrory opted for a multi-themed “2014 PrioritiesPalooza!”
 
He offered a laundry list of government-speak: teacher pay raises (for some teachers), fracking and offshore drilling (gee, what could go wrong there?), revamping Medicaid (ditto), fixing DHHS, reining in puppy mills, less drugs and alcohol on college campus (but more guns), nicer state government buildings and “art on the move” (paintings, not Pope).
 
The choreography was odd. He, his Cabinet and senior team sat around a table in the ornate Executive Mansion, with an elaborate chandelier looming behind the Governor. From one camera angle, he was in front of a plush love seat that looked like a throne.
 
For Democrats, McCrory offered up a smorgasbord of political targets. But, most of all, they’ll say he’s not doing enough to get teacher pay out of the national basement. And they can say his happy talk about the “Carolina Comeback” ignores people who can’t find jobs and can’t make ends meet.
 
Then there was his somewhat baffling question: “Is DHHS too big to succeed?”  Well, it’s clearly not too big to fail.
 
In the end, the whole production mattered very little. Only one thing does: What does Senator Berger want?

 

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21
Back when General Washington whipped King George the old saying ‘A penny saved is a penny earned’ was a bit of folk wisdom hardly a soul disagreed with – but these days modern economists have determined that kind of old-fashioned virtue is really a vice and that the true path to prosperity is borrowing – which is why the economists were tickled pink when they saw the headline the other week that read: ‘Consumer borrowing rose $18.2 billion in October.'
 
At last the long moribund ‘consumer-driven economy’ was showing signs of life.
 
Of course, this new modern idea of virtue is a little odd – after all, it leaves American families $18 billion deeper in the hole. But the masters of economics have no doubt they’re right – even though their turning virtue upside down hasn’t worked out too well over the last few years.

 

 

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21
A TAPster who spent years working in economic development shares this:
 
“The most astonishing news last week (other than the daily calamities at DHHS) was the invitation we received via email to attend a fundraiser in Raleigh for the governor of South Carolina. Yes, the head sandlapper is coming to Raleigh to raise money at the behest of a Raleigh lobbyist.
 
“Huh?
 
“Why would any North Carolina lobbyist think this is a good idea and why would any North Carolinian attend and give money? Gov. Haley leads an administration that is agile and effective when recruiting new business and jobs to her state. She and her team are kicking North Carolina’s butt all over the place in the industrial recruiting wars, and won’t think twice about luring away our existing businesses, aggressively wooing our prospects with big incentive packages we can’t match, or starting the Civil War again if that seems necessary.
 
“What we need is a road block at South of the Border and a strong dose of reality in Raleigh.”

 

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20
My blog below on the 1984 Senate race prompted a TAPster to note that the Martin Luther King holiday was a big issue that year.
 
Jim Hunt led Jesse Helms in early polls, but Helms turned the race around in late 1983 when he filibustered on the Senate floor against a national holiday honoring King.  He followed the filibuster with a notable TV ad: “I oppose the Martin Luther King holiday. Where do you stand, Jim?”
 
There were a lot of factors in that race, including Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale at the tops of the tickets. But, after the November election, Harrison Hickman did a poll to help us understand what happened. He found that the single issue that best predicted how a person voted in the Senate race – with almost a 100 percent correlation – was how they felt about the King holiday.
 
Few if any of us in Hunt’s campaign would have believed that, 30 years later, America would have an African-American President. And none of us would have been surprised to know that race is still a powerful force in politics.

 

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20
Thom Tillis is walking the same tightrope that Jim Hunt walked in his U.S. Senate race 30 years ago. But Tillis’ balance is even more precarious.
 
Tillis today, like Hunt then, has to appeal to the broad November electorate and also pacify an extreme faction in his own party.
 
Hunt’s problems came from the then-ascendant left wing of the Democratic Party, symbolized by Walter Mondale, Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson. For Tillis, it’s the Tea Party.
 
Unlike Tillis, Hunt didn’t have to run a primary gauntlet. Tillis wants to avoid it, so he’s avoiding debates and joint appearances with his opponents. He saw what happened to Mitt Romney when Romney tried to appease the Fox News crowd in 2012.
 
Tillis is also resorting to the last resort of political scoundrels: the argument that he is more “electable.” That’s code for “not a nut.” His campaign is busily warning other Republicans, especially legislators, that they will be endangered species in November if the GOP nominates one of Tillis’ opponents.
 
Tillis hopes to avoid proving the old adage that the only things in the middle of the road are yellow stripes and dead possums.

 

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17
The newspaper reporter asked if North Carolina’s Senate Primary was going to be the next litmus test of the Tea Party’s political muscle – and as fast as he could Greg Brannon’s campaign spokesman said ‘Yes’ then added the Primary was just like Senator Rand Paul’s election in Kentucky in 2010 and Senator Ted Cruz’s election in Texas in 2012.
 
“In those races, he said, you had a candidate that was handpicked and heavily supported by the DC establishment up against a Tea Party candidate supported by the grassroots. In both instances the grassroots candidate won big.”
 
Now, of course, you can’t fault Greg Brannon’s spokesman for wanting to get a step ahead of Thom Tillis – but what landed in the newspaper was only part of the story.
 
It’s true Rand Paul and Ted Cruz both won.
 
But on the way to winning they also raised a lot of money. Rand Paul with the help of his father’s supporters across the country. And Ted Cruz with the help of Senator Jim DeMint, who all but adopted him.
 
Here in North Carolina, so far, Greg Brannon and Mark Harris, who’re challenging Thom Tillis, have both been noticeably short of cash.
 
And that’s the big fact in the Senate race: No one, or at best only a handful of voters,  knows Greg Brannon. They don’t know he’s the next Ted Cruz. And he hasn’t had the money to change that. So the real fight in the Republican Primary isn’t between the Establishment and the Tea Party – it’s between Greg Bannon and his empty cash box.

 

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17
Pat McCrory looked this week like a man urgently pushing the reset button. Like a politician who desperately wants to change course before he goes off a cliff.
 
So first he talked about teacher pay. Then he praised Jim Hunt. Then he was at the airport greeting President Obama, then in the audience listening to the President’s speech. While other Republicans bashed Obama, McCrory talked about a partnership with the White House,
 
But three people stand in the way of a reset: Aldona Wos, Phil Berger and Pat McCrory.
 
As long as Wos and DHHS stay in the headlines, McCrory will be stuck with the appearance of cronyism and ineptitude. As long as Berger wages ideological warfare on teachers, McCrory will be dragged down by the legislature’s abysmal poll ratings. As long as McCrory sticks with both of them, he won’t get back to what got him elected: an image as a moderate, bipartisan, can-do Mayor.
 
Bipartisan words and photo-ops won’t be enough. McCrory needs a bold stroke.  Two of them.

 

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16
A couple of weeks ago the News & Observer  published a story that got folks stirred up over how the head of the Raleigh Housing Authority was making $280,000 a year and wining and dining his board of directors for $3,000 at a Christmas banquet at Raleigh’s elegant Second Empire Restaurant – all paid for by taxpayers.
 
The story caused a ripple which passed but then just before Christmas the News & Observer published a second story reporting the board had given the director nearly eleven weeks of paid vacation last year and the year before and the year before that.
 
The director, defending himself, said that wasn’t quite fair because part of his vacation was ‘comp time’ (which means if he worked 8 hours in a day instead of 7.5 then 30 minutes got added to his vacation time).
 
The Board of the Housing Authority – who’re all political appointees – stood foursquare behind the director. In fact, it just voted to give him an additional six days of vacation this year.
 
Meantime, up in Washington, the government’s borrowing a day to avoid cutting spending.

 

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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