Socialism Goes Viral

Coronavirus may not make us all sick, but it may make us all socialists.

Washington is suddenly awash in ideas that some might call socialism. Some ideas are coming from people who regularly denounce socialism.

The Trump Administration first floated a trillion-dollar-plus stimulus, including a bailout/parachute for airline companies and help for cruise lines, casinos and the hotel-hospitality industry. Then Republicans and Democrats in Congress battled over a recovery plan that could cost nearly $2 trillion.

One idea was direct cash payments to Americans. One of the first politicians to endorse it was Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who in the 2012 presidential race criticized the “47 percent of Americans…who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Mitt Romney

Now Romney sounds like Andrew Yang, whose signature issue in the Democratic presidential race was a $1,000-a-month Universal Basic Income for every person over 18.

In fairness, is this all socialism?

The dictionary defines socialism as “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”

Not even Bernie Sanders – who calls himself a “democratic socialist” and Republicans call a “radical socialist” – calls for public ownership of “the means of production, distribution, and exchange.”

Sanders does call – loudly and often – for Medicare For All. But that’s a single-payer system. The government wouldn’t own and run hospitals, doctors’ offices and pharmacies.

In truth, “socialism” is an epithet we use for things government does that we don’t like.

Conservative Republicans once called Social Security and Medicare socialism. Today Republicans denounce Democrats’ “radical socialist agenda” on issues like economic inequality, health care and climate change.

On the other side, liberals decry “corporate socialism,” which is what they call cash payments to farmers hurt by trade sanctions and tax cuts for billionaires and big corporations.

Rather than “socialism,” it’s probably more accurate to call all this “redistributionism.”

I’ll show you a real redistributionist.

In the early 1930s, Americans were suffering through a real Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt came along with the New Deal. Republicans called it socialism or even “Bolshevism.”

But Huey P. Long, the “Kingfish,” the Governor of and (for a while, simultaneously) Senator from Louisiana, thought FDR didn’t go far enough. If an assassin hadn’t killed him, Long might have run against Roosevelt for President.

In his autobiography, “Every Man a King,” Long said his “Share the Wealth” program would mean “all taxes paid by the fortune holders at the top and none by the people at the bottom; the spreading of wealth among all the people and the breaking up of a system of Lords and Slaves in our economic life.”

Huey Long

Long said of the 1929 crash, “The wealth of the land was being tied up in the hands of a very few men….When the fortune-holders of America grew powerful enough that 1 percent of the people owned nearly everything, 99 percent of the people owned practically nothing, not even enough to pay their debts, a collapse was at hand.”

He added, “I have expected this crash for three years. It is here for many, many years. It cannot end until there is a redistribution of wealth.”

Huey would be right at home in America today.

Pandemic, Panic and Politics

Three big crises have hit America in the first 20 years of the 21st Century: 9/11, the 2008 financial crash and now the coronavirus/stock market crash. Each one has left us more divided and our politics more dysfunctional.

This time we’re so divided we can’t even agree if there’s a crisis. A Quinnipiac University poll, taken before President Trump declared a national emergency, found that “roughly six in 10 Republican voters nationwide said they were not especially concerned that the coronavirus would disrupt their lives. Two-thirds of Democratic voters said the opposite.”

Dick Armey, the former Republican congressman from Texas, tweeted that coronavirus “is the biggest hoax since climate change.”

Apparently, we all do fear a toilet paper crisis. Store shelves are – pardon the expression – wiped out.

Big events like this scramble politics.

The 9/11 attacks made Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg national political figures. Giuliani was the unpopular lame-duck mayor of New York. The crisis made him a hero and “America’s Mayor.” Today, Giuliani…well, you know.

Bloomberg was the Republican candidate for mayor that year. He was given little chance to win in the heavily Democratic city. The primary was on 9/11, but got postponed. Naturally, there was little media coverage of the ensuing campaign. Only Bloomberg had the money to advertise. He won narrowly. Today, Bloomberg…well, you know.

Nationally, 9/11 helped President George W. Bush and Republicans win big in 2002 and 2004. But Bush overreached, attacking Iraq and targeting Social Security. He and the GOP got a “thumping” in 2006. Democrats won the House and Senate for the first time since 1994.

The September 2008 economic crisis helped elect Barack Obama. Surprisingly, the freshman Senator looked cooler and more in command than John McCain.

Republicans bitterly opposed Obama’s economic stimulus plan. Then he went after health care reform. That led to the Tea Party, the 2010 Republican landslide and, ultimately, to President Trump.

Now Trump is squarely in the crisis crosshairs. He’ll be there for the duration.

Most voters long ago made up their minds for or against him. But the switch of a few percentage points in a few key states, like North Carolina, can make all the difference in November.

Voters use crises like this to make judgments about their leaders. It’s one of the few times politicians aren’t seen in scripted, tightly controlled, made-for-TV events. That’s why debates are so important in presidential races.

Times like this open a window into politicians’ competence, compassion and character – or lack thereof.

Voters are watching closely. They’re judging. Not just Trump, but also Governors like Roy Cooper who are suddenly thrust in front of the cameras and into the front lines.

The crisis contributed to the swift and sudden coalescing of Democrats behind Joe Biden.

Bernie Sanders said he would bring out a surge of new voters. He did, but they weren’t his voters. They were African-Americans, moderates and people over 45. In unsettled and unsettling times, they turned to the candidate they viewed as the most tried, trusted and tested: Biden.

Forget the theorizing about why Elizabeth Warren didn’t win, why Pete Buttigieg fell short, why Cory Booker didn’t catch on, and on and on. It’s simply about who Democrats think can beat Trump and handle a crisis.

This year’s version of March Madness will have a big impact in November. But we still have seven long months to go before the election. And what October Surprise or Halloween Horror might await us?

Super Tuesday Was Super for Moderate NC Democrats

Moderate Democrats in North Carolina think Super Tuesday gave them the best of two worlds: Joe Biden’s candidacy and Mike Bloomberg’s money.

They’re happy because Biden is heavily favored to win the nomination now. They’re also happy because Bloomberg says that, even though he’s out of the race, he’ll spend heavily to beat President Trump and help Democrats in six swing states, including North Carolina.

This is how moderate Southern Democrats hoped Super Tuesday would work when they devised it back in 1988 – coincidentally, the first time Biden ran for President.

Jim Clyburn and Biden

In the weeks before this year’s Super Tuesday, there was palpable gloom among North Carolina’s moderate Democrats – the “Mods.” Trump’s impeachment acquittal, while expected, was deflating. Bernie Sanders’ emergence as the frontrunner was terrifying.

The Mods were split mainly between Biden and Bloomberg. Bloomberg impressed a lot of them with his “I can beat Trump” message. And yes, his money.

Some Mods feared that Biden and Bloomberg would split the centrist vote and Sanders would win big on Super Tuesday. Then he’d be unstoppable.

They didn’t think Sanders would lose North Carolina in November by McGovern- or Mondale-like 30-point margins. The electorate has changed. But the difference between the presidential candidate losing by three points or six points could have a huge impact on the races for Governor, U.S. Senate, legislature and down the ballot.

A number to remember: Trump beat Hillary Clinton here by just under four points in 2016, and Governor Cooper barely edged Pat McCrory.

Anxious Mods began pushing like-minded Democrats to unite behind Biden. Others cautioned that Democrats could very much use Bloomberg’s formidable campaign infrastructure this fall. And, yes, his money. They didn’t want to alienate Bloomberg by coming out publicly against him.

Behind the scenes, there was much jostling, jockeying and jawboning.

In the end, South Carolina solved the problem. Yes, all you Clemson- and Gamecock-haters – the state that Robert E. Lee supposedly said is “too small to be its own nation, but too big to be an insane asylum.”

Biden came out of that primary like he was shot from a cannon. Specifically, the Jim Clyburn cannon.

If not for early voting, Biden would have won Super Tuesday even bigger – here and from Texas to Virginia to Massachusetts to Minnesota.

Suddenly, other candidates were dropping out, and Biden was the frontrunner. Bloomberg withdrew, but he promised to deploy his army of operatives and organizers – and, yes, his money and his ads – in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Florida in November.

Which brings us back to 1988. Super Tuesday was engineered that year by white Southern Democrats who wanted no repeat of Walter Mondale’s landslide loss in 1984. Their candidate was Al Gore.

It didn’t work. Gore and Jesse Jackson split the Southern states. Michael Dukakis won the nomination and lost the election.

Super Tuesday helped Bill Clinton in 1992, after a string of losses in early states.

In 2008, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton split the Super Tuesday states. In 2016, Clinton won more states and delegates on Super Tuesday than Sanders, but didn’t put him away.

This year, largely thanks to African-Americans, Super Tuesday worked just super for the Mods.

Correction: Last week, I incorrectly said some polls in South Carolina had shown a three-way tie between Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg. Bloomberg wasn’t on the ballot there. I meant Tom Steyer. Remember him?

What a Ride! But Wait – There’s More!

Joe Biden has had some tough breaks in life, so maybe it’s karma that, for two weeks, he was the luckiest man in the history of American politics.

Mike Bloomberg may be the unluckiest. But, hey, he’s made $60 billion in his life.

It started the night of Bloomberg’s first debate, Wednesday, February 19. I remember because I didn’t watch. I went to see my Wolfpack beat Duke. (Yes, Duke won the rematch. But we beat them by 22, and they beat us by only 19.)

During the game, somebody texted me that Elizabeth Warren was eviscerating Bloomberg. She turned into a heat-seeking, Bloomberg-blasting guided missile. He never recovered.

Then, on Saturday, Bernie Sanders overwhelmingly won the Nevada caucuses. Suddenly, he seemed poised to put the race away on Super Tuesday. Moderate Democrats panicked.

Then the coronavirus exploded. Americans panicked. President Trump’s response panicked his critics. The stock market panicked and took a scary, sickening dive. And kept diving.

Then, exactly one week after the debate, came James Clyburn. The South Carolina Congressman’s eloquent, emotional endorsement electrified Biden’s campaign. South Carolina turned into a rout. Remarkably, nearly half the voters there said Clyburn’s endorsement was an important factor in their choice.

A tip of the hat to Tom Jensen at Public Policy Polling in Raleigh. When other polls said Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg were tied in South Carolina, Jensen said Biden might win by 20 points or more.

He won by nearly 30, and a stampede of endorsements began. Then came Super Tuesday.

This is Biden’s third race for President in 32 years – he ran in 1988 and 2008 – but he had never won a primary. Then he won 11 in four days.

It was an extraordinary political comeback. One day he was being pushed to withdraw; the next day, his opponents were withdrawing and endorsing him.

But hold on. The talking and tweeting heads who prematurely buried Biden are now prematurely crowning him.

Sanders is still a formidable foe. He raised a remarkable $46 million in February, way more than Biden has ever raised. Sanders has a committed army of true believers. His is no ordinary campaign; it’s a crusade.

James Carville argued on MSNBC Tuesday night that Sanders should get out of the race. James is a great arguer. I’ve known him since 1984, back before he was famous. But nobody can convince Sanders to get out.

If you watched both Sanders and Biden speak Tuesday night, regardless of how you feel about each one, you saw that Sanders’ speech was more strategically effective. He made his case against Biden – and against the political, financial and media establishment. Biden just shouted about how good it was to come back and win.

That’s understandable. But Sanders can say now what his opponents would say if he was the front-runner: there’s a long way to go, there are a lot of states still to vote and anything can happen.

Sanders may regret one thing he’s said: that a candidate who gets a plurality of delegates, but not a majority, should still get the nomination.

Politics, like basketball, is a game of runs. A steal and breakaway dunk can light up the crowd and ignite a comeback. Conversely, a turnover can beget more turnovers – and a loss.

This game isn’t even to halftime yet.

NC is a Target for Information and Disinformation

For weeks before Tuesday’s primary, North Carolina was flooded with political information, misinformation and disinformation.

You ain’t seen nothing yet. Wait ‘til the fall.

When you’re a purple, swing state, you’re everybody’s target. You’re a guinea pig for whatever new twist, trick or technology some communications genius – or evil genius – develops.

Politics is a fast adapter. Especially Presidential campaigns. Whenever a communications innovation shows promise, somebody’s campaign tries it. The candidates and campaigns that move fastest go farthest.

Franklin D. Roosevelt mastered radio with his rich, reassuring voice. John F. Kennedy won on TV when he looked cool and Richard Nixon looked shifty. Nixon won when Roger Ailes stage-managed his TV town halls. Ronald Reagan mastered movie-star stagecraft. George H.W. Bush, for all his patrician manner, won thanks to race-baiting negative ads. Bill Clinton played his saxophone on late-night TV and answered boxers-or-briefs on MTV. Barack Obama’s campaign mastered online organizing. Donald Trump’s tweets overwhelm the news cycle.

What will it be this year?

Mike Bloomberg introduced us to flood-the-zone TV and online ads. So did Tom Steyer, to a lesser extent; it didn’t work for him.

Pete Buttigieg turbocharged his campaign early by accepting any invitation to any TV talk show anytime. He didn’t last.

Seen a Bloomberg ad?

Elizabeth Warren surged last year with long selfie lines and personal calls to donors.

Bernie Sanders has staying power thanks to his online army, a formidable small-dollar fundraising machine.

In the U.S. Senate race, a super-PAC backed by Mitch McConnell meddled in the Democratic primary to help Erica Smith. The group helped Smith not just by saying she supports Medicare For All and the Green New Deal, but by telling Democrats she’s African-American. Smith didn’t have much money to deliver her own message.

Cal Cunningham got his own boost from a Democratic super-PAC, VoteVets, that’s close to Chuck Schumer. Cunningham’s campaign ran ads countering the pro-Smith super-PAC. So did a group called Carolina Blue, which presumably is not about UNC basketball.

Then there are misinformation and disinformation campaigns.

Facebook took down a pro-Trump fake news site called “North Carolina Breaking News” that was posting bogus stories, one of them in Russian.

WRAL reported that a progressive group, Piedmont Rising, ran an ad that looked like news criticizing Senator Thom Tillis on health care.

Then there’s whatever the Russians are doing.

President Trump got mad when the nation’s intelligence agencies reported that Russia is again trying to influence our elections. But the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is co-chaired by North Carolina’s Republican Senator Richard Burr, reported in October that Russian trolls “sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.”

Politics has always been bare-knuckled in North Carolina. Tough competition fueled innovation.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Senator Jesse Helms’ National Congressional Club pioneered direct-mail fundraising and negative TV ads. That’s how they won the 1980 and 1984 U.S. Senate races, defeating incumbent Robert Morgan and Governor Jim Hunt.

Democrats learned a hard lesson, and Hunt won governor’s races against Jim Gardner in 1992 and Robin Hayes in 1996. John Edwards unseated Senator Lauch Faircloth in 1998.

Dirty tricks go way back here. In 1950, racist flyers and ads – “White People Wake Up!” – helped Willis Smith beat Frank Porter Graham in a historic U.S. Senate race. Graham’s followers learned how to fight back, and Terry Sanford beat I. Beverly Lake in 1960.

Tom Ellis, Jesse Helms’ political godfather, used to say, “Politics ain’t beanbag.” It certainly ain’t in North Carolina this year.

Democrats May Face a Long, Bitter Battle

Now that three tiny states have voted, the talking and tweeting heads have jumped to the conclusion that Bernie Sanders is on the way to the Democratic nomination.

Hold your tongues and thumbs. Democrats instead may be in for a bitter, divisive battle that lasts months.

The media and political commentariat wants to keep winnowing the field. But it’s still a fluid race, and there’s every reason for every candidate to stay in and see what happens.

We’ve heard only from Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, which combined have just over 2 percent of the population – 7.5 million people out of 327 million. Only Sanders’ neighboring New Hampshire had an election; the other two had caucuses.

Sanders did well. But in Iowa and New Hampshire, the moderates (Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden) won more votes combined than the liberals (Sanders and Elizabeth Warren).

Let’s call them Mods and Libs. In Iowa, Mods got 54 percent and Libs, 34. In New Hampshire, Mods got 53 and Libs, 34. In the Nevada caucuses, the Libs got 56 and the Mods, 43.

But there’s no guarantee that Warren voters would go to Sanders. There’s some bitterness there, remember.

The battlefield changes now. This Saturday, South Carolina votes. Next Tuesday, North Carolina and 13 other states get their say. Two additional, big-spending moderate candidates, Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, will be on the ballots.

Centrist Democrats worry that the moderate vote will split and Sanders, like Trump in 2016, will win the nomination thanks to a passionate minority of supporters. But Sanders isn’t as strong now as Trump was. In mid-February 2016, Trump had the support of 39 percent of Republicans. The latest New York Times polling average has Sanders at 28 percent of Democrats nationally.

This could come down to a contest between Bernie and ABB (Anybody But Bernie).

Sanders has said it would be “very divisive” if a candidate gets a clear plurality but not a majority of delegates and then doesn’t get the nomination. Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman, a North Carolina native, replied, “(It’s) even more divisive if a candidate wins the nomination with a majority opposing the nomination.”

The race has turned nasty. Bloomberg got bludgeoned in his debate debut. Sanders, as the front-runner, may be the next firing-squad target. Bloomberg might put his billions of dollars to work bludgeoning Sanders.

Those scars could last a long time.

This isn’t just an ideological fight. It’s strategic: Which is the best path against President Trump?

Sanders’ path is turnout-based. He argues he’ll beat Trump by bringing out a flood of new and young voters.

But turnout in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada wasn’t significantly higher than in past elections, especially as a percentage of eligible voters. If new voters don’t come out now, will they in November? And other Democrats worry that Sanders will scare off more voters than he brings in.

The moderates’ path is persuasion-based, appealing to swing voters ready to move on from Trump. If a Democrat wins all the states Hillary Clinton won plus Pennsylvania, which she narrowly lost, that’s 247 of the 270 electoral votes needed. Then the Democrats could go after, say, Florida (29 electoral votes), Michigan (16), North Carolina (15), Arizona (11) and Wisconsin (10).

But that’s no sure path against a revved-up incumbent who just beat impeachment, has his party in lockstep behind him and is sitting on a big pile of campaign cash.

By the time they pick a path – and a candidate – Democrats may be bitter, bloodied and deeply divided.

Correction: Last week’s blog, “David Zucchino Exposes Wilmington’s Lie,” said incorrectly that Zucchino won a Pulitzer while at The Los Angeles Times. He was at The Philadelphia Inquirer. Thanks to Bruce Siceloff for catching the error; Bruce wrote the N&O story when Zucchino was awarded the Pulitzer.

David Zucchino Exposes Wilmington’s Lie

“The killers came by streetcar. Their boots struck the packed clay earth like muffled drumbeats as they bounded from the cars and began to patrol the wide dirt roads. The men scanned the sidewalks and alleyways for targets.”

That’s how David Zucchino, perhaps the greatest reporter North Carolina ever produced, begins his gripping new book about the most evil and shameful chapter in North Carolina’s history: white supremacists’ massacre of black citizens in Wilmington in 1898, their violent overthrow of the city’s lawfully elected government and the ensuing entrenchment of white supremacy across the state.

In “Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy” (Atlantic Monthly Press), Zucchino tells the story as only a gifted reporter and writer can. Few people can write as well as he does. Even fewer can report like him.

Now a contributing writer for The New York Times, Zucchino won a Pulitzer Prize at The Philadelphia Inquirer for reporting on apartheid in South Africa. He’s a four-time Pulitzer finalist for reporting in Iraq, Lebanon, South Africa and inner-city Philadelphia. A graduate of UNC Journalism School, he began his career at The News & Observer.

David Zucchino and Jim Jenkins at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

For nearly a century, what happened in Wilmington was portrayed, even in history texts, as a “race riot.” It wasn’t, Zucchino shows. It was deliberate, premeditated murder of blacks by whites.

On November 10, 1898, the killers swept through black neighborhoods. They met little resistance. They murdered blacks indiscriminately. At least 60 died. More than 2,000 fled the city. Many never came back.

The overthrow of the city’s government, a coalition of blacks and white Republicans, was orchestrated by Furnifold Simmons, chairman of the state Democratic Party, and Josephus Daniels, founder and publisher of The News & Observer.

Afterward, Simmons and Daniels worked together to disenfranchise black voters and assure white control of North Carolina’s government for decades to come.

Both the Democratic Party and the N&O changed later. Beginning the 1960s, the Democratic Party embraced civil rights and voting rights for African-Americans. The N&O, owned by the Daniels family until 1995, become a strong progressive voice.

But Zucchino says racial politics isn’t dead. After Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2010, he writes, “white legislators reprised a tactic perfected by their forbears in 1898: suppressing the black vote.”

They passed a voter ID law “that included a set of restrictions aimed at black voters.” They “adopted yet another tool of Wilmington’s white supremacists: gerrymandering.”

The past is not always past.

On a personal note, I was at the N&O in the 1970s when Zucchino worked there. Everyone in the newsroom knew “Zook” would be a star.

Jim Jenkins, the retired editorial writer at the N&O, recalls a story about an officious newsroom editor who ordered reporters to write memos about their plans for each day.

Zucchino’s memo began: “10:15: Try to slip in late without being noticed. 10:30: Get Sun Drop from snack bar. 11:15: Start planning where to go for lunch. We went to Marcus’ yesterday, so the Mecca might be good.” And so on.

Enraged, the editor stormed into the office of Claude Sitton, the N&O’s legendarily no-nonsense editor, and declared, “We can’t have this kind of insubordination.”

Sitton stared at him and said, “Well, I’ve been in journalism a long time. I worked at The New York Times. David Zucchino is one of the best young reporters who’s ever come through this newsroom. If it’s you or him, you better start packing.”

I don’t know what became of the editor. But Zook proved Sitton right.

The Two M’s Rule in Politics

James Carville, the political consultant, once said, “Good campaigns focus relentlessly on the two M’s: money and message. And money comes first, because without it you can’t get across your message.”

It’s customary – in fact, it seems mandatory – to denounce money in politics as evil. And money can be the root of political evils like bribery, corruption and improper influence.

Yet, money also enables a candidate or a cause to get information to voters. To educate them so they can make wise decisions. To inform them about the choices before them.

That includes information about a candidate’s background, public record and stands on issues. Or an opponent’s lack of honesty, questionable past or dangerous ideas.

Right now, in North Carolina, we’re seeing the importance of money and message. We see it in the Presidential race and in the Democratic U.S. Senate race. We see it because we’re seeing the ads.

We see ads from Mike Bloomberg about himself and President Trump. Bloomberg’s ads tell us that he supports gun safety laws, action against climate change and protections for people with pre-existing health conditions. The ads tell us that Trump opposes all of those.

In the Senate race, we see ads from Cal Cunningham and from VoteVets, a super-PAC supporting him. The ads say Cunningham is a veteran who won a Bronze Star, was a progressive legislator and will fight corruption in Washington.

Cal Cunningham

Last week, we began seeing ads, reportedly from a Republican group, boosting state Senator Erica Smith in the Democratic primary.

Now, we know that ads on TV and Facebook may or may not be true. But my experience is that voters are pretty good at sorting out what to believe – or, at least, what they’re going to believe. After all, we have thousands of hours’ experience in our lives watching television and deciding what and who to believe. And if something sounds fake, you could look it up.

The Bloomberg and Cunningham campaigns raise two issues about money.

Some Democrats don’t like Bloomberg using his billions to compete with candidates who raise money the usual way: begging other people for it. But I’ve listened to voters talking in polls and focus groups about self-funded candidates. They typically say, “It’s his money. He can do what he wants with it.” And, “At least he can’t be bought.”

That’s what Trump’s supporters say about him.

Cunningham has a financial advantage in the primary because he has the backing of Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who controls the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. That helps Cunningham raise big money. It’s why VoteVets is running ads for him.

That galls his opponents, like Senator Smith. It galled Deborah Ross, the Democratic Senate nominee in 2016, and state Senator Jeff Jackson, both of whom wanted to run this time.

It just goes to show the power of party caucuses today, in both parties. Senator Thom Tillis got the same support from Mitch McConnell.

Certainly, it can feel unfair when your opponent has money and you don’t. But how do we solve that? If you limit spending, you favor incumbents and career politicians over newcomers and outsiders. You deprive citizens of what they need and deserve to have when they vote: information.

Politics is – and should be – about getting information to voters.

Which reminds me of what a wise old politician told me years ago: “Never underestimate the intelligence of voters. But never overestimate how much information they have.”

This Impeachment Lacks a Star From NC

This is the first presidential impeachment that hasn’t had a North Carolinian in a starring role.

Congressman Mark Meadows got air time defending President Trump last year, but then announced his retirement. No other N.C. House member had a big role. Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis were safe votes against witnesses and for President Trump.

It wasn’t always thus.

The first Presidential impeachment was of Raleigh’s own Andrew Johnson in 1868. Johnson came within one vote of being removed from office by the Senate. He may have been saved by well-placed bribes.

More than a century later, North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin chaired the Watergate hearings that led to Richard Nixon resigning before being run out of town.

Ervin said of Nixon’s crowd, “What they were seeking to steal was not the jewels, money or other precious property of American citizens, but something much more valuable – their most precious heritage: the right to vote in a free election.”

He added, “The Founding Fathers, having participated in the struggle against arbitrary power, comprehended some eternal truths respecting men and government. They knew that those who are entrusted with power are susceptible to the disease of tyrants, which George Washington rightly described as ‘love of power and the proneness to abuse it’.”

At the hearings, Rufus Edmisten launched his political career by placing his chair – and his face – between Ervin and co-chair Howard Baker of Tennessee and on national TV for weeks. Rufus is still regaling us with those stories.

Bill Clinton’s 1998 impeachment starred three – count ‘em, three – Senators from North Carolina.

Republicans Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth are credited with, or blamed for, engineering the appointment of Kenneth Starr to investigate Clinton. They allegedly urged a federal judge to replace the prior independent counsel with Starr. Starr is now defending President Trump and warning, “impeachment is hell.”

That November, Faircloth lost his seat to political newcomer John Edwards. Edwards had never served a day in public office. He was a trial lawyer. So what’s the first thing the Senate did after he was sworn in? A trial. Bill Clinton’s trial.

Democrats put Edwards on the team that deposed Monica Lewinsky about her affair with the President. During the Senate’s closed-door debate, Edwards was credited with giving a persuasive speech against conviction. He called Clinton’s conduct “reprehensible,” but argued that it didn’t justify removal from office.

It was a strong start for a freshman. A decade later, Edwards’ career and presidential campaign ended after his affair and lying about it became public.

In the Trump trial, Burr got some notice for not wearing socks and for passing out fidget-spinners and stress balls to his Republican colleagues. Tillis got a mention when he left the floor and listened from the visitors’ gallery.

But Tillis may yet be in the spotlight. Both he and Trump will be on the ballot in November. No President has ever run for reelection after being impeached. No one knows how impeachment – and the Senate’s verdict – will affect the election.

After Nixon resigned in 1974, Republicans suffered historic election losses across the country and in North Carolina.

In 1998, Faircloth and Republicans nationally tried to make the election a referendum against Clinton. It didn’t work. The GOP lost a number of Senate seats. Newt Gingrich, architect of the strategy, lost his Speakership.

This year, the Senate’s verdict is a foregone conclusion. The voters’ verdict in November is anything but. The trial will be on trial. So will the jurors.

Bitter Fight Over Women’s Rights Still Resonates Today

Just before triggering a bitter battle over gun rights this month, the Virginia legislature quietly passed a measure on women’s rights – the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The vote recalls a bitter battle in North Carolina over ERA more than 40 years ago. That battle presaged today’s polarized politics and culture wars. It raised concerns that persist today about gender and economic inequality.

With Virginia’s vote, ERA has passed in 38 states. That’s the three-fourths required for ratification. But Congress set a 1982 deadline for ratification, so the amendment is in legal limbo for now.

First proposed in 1923, ERA was passed by Congress in 1972. By 1977, it had passed in 35 states.

North Carolina became a crucial battleground. A bipartisan coalition of politically active women championed ratification. In 1973, 1,000 backers gathered in Durham to launch North Carolinians United for ERA. One of their leaders was Martha McKay, who got in politics with Governor Terry Sanford.

Opponents organized North Carolinians Against ERA. Their leader was Phyllis Schlafly of Illinois, who was campaigning around the country against ERA. They recruited two prominent Tar Heels: former Senator Sam Ervin and state Chief Justice Susie Sharp.

Before he famously chaired the Senate Watergate Committee, Ervin was best known as an outspoken opponent of civil rights legislation. Sharp was the first woman on the bench, but she was no supporter of ERA.

Sam Ervin opposed ERA

In 1977, Ervin and Schlafly spoke at a Dorton Arena rally jammed with 1,500 opponents, many from fundamentalist churches in rural parts of the state. They wore red “Stop ERA” stickers.

Supporters, who wore green ERA stickers, organized their own rallies around the state. Actor Alan Alda highlighted one event.

Supporters said ERA was needed to end discrimination against women in matters like divorce, property and employment. The amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Opponents said the language was too open to interpretation by judges. They said unintended consequences would jeopardize women and rip apart the fabric of society. Women might have to serve in the military and share bathrooms with men.

The battle came to a head in 1979. Lobbying was intense at the legislature. One member hid in the legislative chapel to avoid Betty McCain, an ERA supporter and state Democratic Party chair. The irrepressible McCain found him crouching behind a pew.

Governor Jim Hunt endorsed ERA in his State of the State speech. House Speaker Carl Stewart, a progressive Democrat from Gastonia, supported it. ERA passed the House 66-51.

But the Senate was dominated by conservative men from rural areas, Democrats in those days. Crusty, chain-smoking Lt. Governor Jimmy Green, a Democrat, was against it; he was against most anything Hunt was for.

A crucial vote was Senator R.C. Soles, a Democrat from Tabor City. Hunt pushed for his support, and Soles said he would decide over the weekend.
When he came back to Raleigh Monday, he voted no. His excuse was that his mother opposed it.

ERA lost 26-24. Its momentum stalled nationally.

In the years after the setback, ERA supporters focused on changing laws one by one to ensure equal rights and protections for women on issues including divorce, equitable distribution of marital property and domestic violence. Always, a prime concern was the pay gap between men and women.

Whatever happens now with ERA, the issues it raised – and the battle lines it drew – aren’t going away.