Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bubba Speaks

by Carter Wrenn
(visit TalkingAboutPolitics, by Gary Pearce and Carter Wrenn)
Gary, I’m guessing you slept very well last night and woke up this morning with a smile on your face. If I had a lick of sense I’d hang out a sign today that says “Gone Fishing” instead of writing about Bill Clinton’s speech but I promised so here goes.

The good news, from where I sit, is one speech can’t decide the election. The bad news is one speech can be a wind change – and Bill Clinton gave such a humdinger of a speech he had me thinking I ought to be for Obama-care and that Republicans can’t add 2 + 2.

More seriously, since January voters have formed a picture of what has happened to them over the last four years and of Obama and Mitt Romney. Last night, Bill Clinton offered them a completely different way to interpret the picture. For instance he said, No one could have repaired the damage he (Obama) found four years ago – then set out to prove it, in detail, and along the way rebutted the Republicans’ attacks on Obama on workfare, on Medicare, on unemployment.

The moment he was done, thinking, With all those statistics that speech must have been packed full of half-truths, I clicked over to Fox News to watch the ‘fact-checkers’ whip out the long knives and see the “fair and balanced” commentators chop Clinton to shreds. I heard:

The speech was defensive – backwards looking.

People will get lost in the details.

The speech was sprawling, undisciplined, self-indulgent.

It was a policy work seminar.

Well, Obama’s no Clinton.

And finally, Clinton’s speech was too long – people turned off the TV set at eleven o’clock.

Let’s hope so.

Because not one commentator cited a fact Clinton got wrong.

As I said, Bubba’s speech didn’t elect Barack Obama, but Bill Clinton did hand Obama a road map to get elected and what happens next depends on whether Barack Obama knows a good thing when he sees it: Whether he returns to the Obama campaign’s ‘politics as usual’ or changes course to follow Clinton’s roadmap.

If he does, Mitt Romney is going to need a new road map too.

The Master

by Gary Pearce
(visit TalkingAboutPolitics, by Gary Pearce and Carter Wrenn)
Bill Clinton gave this campaign three things it hadn’t seen so far: substance, civility and good old Southern country-boy wit and charm. It was a powerful combination – and a tutorial in political communications.

Where Tampa Republicans spewed venom and vitriol at President Obama, Clinton treated his opponents with kindness, courtesy and respect. Then he eviscerated them with logic, arithmetic and a smile.

Where other Democratic speakers sharpened our political polarization, Clinton staked out center ground where compromise isn’t a dirty word and politics isn’t “blood sport.”

Where political ads blithely ignore facts, Clinton served up an hour-long feast of facts, statistics and reasoned arguments.

Where conventional political wisdom is that you never repeat your opponents’ attacks on you, Clinton took the main Republican attacks on Obama, stated them clearly and then – like a crack lawyer walking the jury through a complex case – demonstrated why they don’t stand up.

And he performed the most elegant takedown of a vice presidential candidate since Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle “you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Analyzing Paul Ryan’s Medicare attack on Obama, Clinton ad-libbed: “It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.”

The video introduction reminded you how much things – and Clinton – have changed in the 20 years since Democrats nominated him for President. The Big Dog shows some age and some dents and dings. He’s leaner from a vegan diet he took up after quadruple-bypass surgery. His voice is raspy, and his hands a bit shaky.

We thought politics were mean back in the 1990s, when Republicans accused the Clintons of having political opponents murdered and Newt Gingrich was busy impeaching Clinton over an extramarital affair while having his own affair. We hadn’t seen anything yet. Still, Clinton and Gingrich (and Erskine Bowles) worked together to give us welfare reform and a balanced budget.

Wednesday night, Clinton did again what he did so well back then. He showed us an alternative to “the brain-dead politics of Washington.”  He taught us that politics can be honorable, constructive and – yes – fun.

One more thing: A shout-out to another Southern politician who can rise above it all, my man Jim Hunt. He gave a tight, focused, optimistic speech about what we’ve done in North Carolina and why Obama should be reelected.

It was good to see these two thoroughbreds on the track again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Getting Out of the Ditch

by Carter Wrenn
(visit TalkingAboutPolitics, published by Gary Pearce and Carter Wrenn)

Read more here:

It’s not about the conventions – it’s about the stories the conventions are telling.

The Republicans’ story goes like this, Obama hasn’t done the job, let ‘em go. The Democrats’ story goes this way, We are more like you than Mitt Romney.

The question is: Which story is the strongest with Independent voters? And, right now, my guess is it’s the Republican story. Because, more than anything else, Independent voters want the economy fixed. They want out of the ditch. And if Obama can’t fix the economy, it won’t matter much if he is “more like them.”

There’s another difficulty with the Democrats’ story.

I thought, last night, Mrs. Obama made an excellent speech. I get her story. Poor. Growing up in Chicago. African-American. Dad ran a pump in the water plant. Mom held the family together. I have met women like Michelle Obama.

But after the convention, while I was watching Charlie Rose, author David Maraniss made an excellent point of his own: He said Mrs. Obama’s story is a natural American story. But President Obama’s story is “exotic.” He grew up in an unusual family. Without a father. He lived in Indonesia and so on. Unlike Mrs. Obama, voters don’t hear the President’s story and say, I’ve met people like him.

So it’s powerful, Maraniss added, when Michelle Obama says, I respect this man. He’s been a good father.

In a way, Obama’s gift for oratory works against him. He is so erudite and articulate he sounds more like a blue-chip product of the Harvard School of Elocution than a guy you might meet on the street – so President Obama saying to a “middle class” voter, I’m more like you than Mitt Romney, may not ring true because, in a sense, neither candidate fits that bill.
Which party’s story is more powerful? My guess is the Democrats’ story doesn’t work unless they prove Mitt Romney can’t fix the economy – or prove that Barack Obama can.

If we ever had a President who wasn’t “middle class” it was Franklin Roosevelt. And he was elected four times. Voters didn’t care if he was “like them.” They cared about whether he could defeat the Nazis.

The Democrats are betting in the end they can make the election about empathy. But, right now, it looks like the question this election is:  Can you get us out of this ditch?

A Tale of Two Conventions

by Gary Pearce
(visit TalkingAboutPolitics, published by Gary Pearce and Carter Wrenn)

There may not be, as John Edwards famously said, “two Americas.” But there sure are two parties with diametrically different views of America.

That’s the value of conventions. Cynics may dismiss them, and TV viewers may ignore them. But the conventions tell a story and paint a picture. As Yogi Berra said, you can observe a lot by watching.

The Republican convention was rich, white and older. The Democratic convention is younger, darker and not as rich. Republicans believe in big business and hate government. Democrats believe in government and are wary of big business. Republicans are more churchy. Democrats are more secular.

Another big difference: Democrats seem a lot more enthusiastic about their nominee than Republicans were about theirs. The Democratic convention is all about President Obama. The Republican convention looked like an audition for 2016. Romney may have the Republican nomination, but he doesn’t have Republicans’ hearts the way his running mate does.

But here’s a big similarity between the conventions: Independent viewers and voters might easily conclude that neither party is talking to them.

Fully one-fourth of all North Carolina voters today are registered Unaffiliated. There are 1.6 million of them, 1.9 million Republicans and 2.7 million Democrats.

Both conventions seem to be dedicated to the proposition that this is a base election. Not base in the sense of “mean and ignoble” (though that might apply), but base as in turning out the party zealots rather than persuading people in the middle.

This bothers people in the middle. They are bothered by the Republican’s angry tone and visceral hatred of the President. Also, as one unaffiliated voter said: “Republicans look like they’re for people who’ve got it made, and Democrats are for people who are trying to make it.”

But Democrats have their own problems connecting with the political center. One example: the Democratic platform doesn’t mention the word “God.”  My old boss Jim Hunt, for one, feels strongly that Democrats ought to talk more about their faith and how it shapes their politics.

Also, a friend who describes himself as a “conservative Democrat” was bothered by a profile he read of several Democratic convention delegates. “They all work in government,” he said. “None of them have ever met a payroll.”

There’s a vast gulf between the parties. Will either party fill it, or will it go ignored?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Swing Voter

by Carter Wrenn
(visit TalkingAboutPolitics, published by Gary Pearce and Carter Wrenn

In case you missed it there’re two new polls this week but nothing’s changed. Republicans are still voting rocklike for Romney, Democrats are still rocklike for Obama, and if you want a portrait of a swing voter she’s a mother with young children living in the suburbs in a nice (but not too nice) home.

She’s not from the South, probably moved here because of a job, but, now, the earth has shifted beneath her feet – so she’s got very definite ideas about her goals this election: She wants the recession over.

She figures Obama’s proved he can’t get the job done but she’s not certain Mitt Romney can either so it looks like when she walks into the voting booth on Election Day she may have to gamble and as a female with children that’s the last thing she wants to do.

Her credit cards were valued possessions not long ago but now she abhors debt, not only her own but government debt. However, at the same time, she’s against cuts in Medicare and Social Security and supports cheaper student loans and government mortgage subsidies to families about to lose their homes.

She’s pro-choice to her fingertips yet at the same time she’s worried about the decline in religious values. Unlike almost everyone around her – who’s either a Republican or Democrat voting their party line this fall – she’s an Independent with no loyalty at all to either party.

Wooing and winning her is the fixation of both conventions. She’s why Ann Romney gave the first speech in Tampa and why Michelle Obama’s leading off the Democratic Convention and it’s a safe bet before the Democrats pack up their tent and leave Charlotte she’s going to get courted a lot more. But she’s nobody’s fool: She hasn’t been swayed by gossip about tax returns and doesn’t give a toot about Barack Obama’s birth certificate – she just wants the hard times behind her and she means to pick the suitor who’ll get the job done.

Picking - and Picking on - Charlotte

by Gary Pearce
(visit TalkingAboutPolitics, published by Gary Pearce and Carter Wrenn

Over the past few weeks, a stream of state and national reporters asked essentially the same question: "Was it a mistake for Democrats to come to Charlotte?"

Let’s set aside the existential question of whether it’s ever a mistake to come to Charlotte – especially when you could go to New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta or, like the Republicans, Florida in hurricane season.

The reporters always raise the same problems: unions are unhappy, North Carolina is a tough state for Obama, Governor Perdue didn’t run again, Republicans are on the rise, the state Democratic Party is a mess, etc.

All true. But it’s still a good idea to come to Charlotte.

Holding a convention in Charlotte is a major political and historical statement for Democrats.

Years ago, when I was working for Governor Hunt, we didn’t think we would EVER want the national Democratic convention in North Carolina. We ran away from the national party as hard as we could.

More important, not so many years ago, no one in North Carolina imagined that said convention would re-nominate a President who is African-American.

For Democrats, a Charlotte convention plants a flag in what used to be safe Republican territory.

For North Carolinians, whatever your politics or party, it’s saying: "We’ve come a long way, baby."

Even more, North Carolinians of all political persuasions should like what a Charlotte convention means in the long run: Our votes for President count.

America has a Presidential election that, every year, is decided in no more than a dozen states.  The other 38 get ignored. 

We got ignored too, until President Obama put us in play in 2008. That’s why the convention is here. That’s why candidates and surrogates parade through here continuously. That’s why you see so many competing and contradictory TV spots (which may not be such a blessing).

But it’s nice to matter. It’s good to have a voice. Let’s hope it stays that way.

And here’s some advice for those purist Democrats who object to Charlotte because North Carolina has a low level of unionization, or because the state banned gay marriages and civil unions, or whatever perception pains them: Get over it.

If Democrats can expand the presidential playing field by competing in North Carolina, that’s a good thing for this year – and years to come.

Welcome, indeed, to Charlotte.

Monday, September 3, 2012

No Empty Chairs Here

by Gary Pearce
(visit TalkingAboutPolitics, published by Gary Pearce and Carter Wrenn

There's one problem with the Clint Eastwood line that Carter likes: This week, the chair will talk back.

Even better, President Bill Clinton probably will talk back. And say something like:

"You're right, Clint, When somebody doesn't do the job, you gotta let 'em go. That's why the American people let the Republicans go from the White House in 2008 - and shouldn't bring them back.
 "Remember what America was like the last time a Democratic President served eight years? We were at peace. The economy was booming. We had a budget surplus. We were paying down the debt AND saving Social Security.
"Then the Republicans took over. They started two wars. They cut taxes for the rich. They blew a hole in the budget and exploded the deficit. They deregulated Wall Street and big banks. The financial system nearly collapsed, and they drove us into a deep recession that we're still digging out of."

Then he'll make a case for Obama's four years, as The New Yorker reported he did at an Obama fundraiser:

"(I)t takes ten years to recover from a financial crisis rooted in a housing collapse, and, by that historical standard, Obama was 'beating the clock, not behind it.' That Obama's stimulus plan had shaved two points off the unemployment rate. That Obama's restructuring of the auto industry had saved one and half million jobs. That Obama's health-care law will bring consumers and employers $1.3 billion in refunds from insurance companies."

He'll conclude:

"Romney-Ryan would go back to what didn't work before. Obama will put us on the right track. And Republicans in Congress should stop trying to make him and the country fail."