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New political age must be dawning

The people of Iowa can turn their TV sets back on. The barrage of commercials touting this year’s presidential hopefuls is over for the time being. It’s safe to watch “Law & Order” and “Grey’s Anatomy” again.
North Carolina should have such problems. We are the wallflowers at the presidential primary dance. There’s plenty of action on the dance floor, but we’re sitting on the sidelines with little hope of being courted by any presidential candidates. Why waste time on North Carolina?
The chief job of choosing the Democrats’ and Republicans’ nominees has been assigned to Iowa, New Hampshire and the early primary states. By the time North Carolina holds its primary in May, the selection process is a fait accompli, an empty gesture that wastes space on the ballot.
As TV viewers, we’re spared seeing endless commercials from all the presidential candidates. As U.S. citizens, though, we are spared being involved in important political decisions.
Even after the primaries’ winnowing process has taken place, North Carolina has voted so strongly Republican in presidential elections over the past 30 years that the GOP takes us for granted.
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Life has changed for social wallflowers. Maybe it can change for North Carolina, too.
Girls without beaus no longer sit on the sidelines and tap their toes unless they want to. They go to dances with friends and, if the music moves them, they dance with other girls or groups of people. The dance floor is no longer the exclusive domain of couples.
Makes me wonder if there’s a way North Carolina ó or at least some of the people in it ó can take control of our political destiny in a way that would make people seeking the presidency consider our vote as important as an Iowa caucus or a South Carolina primary.
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After Barack Obama won the Democratic Iowa caucuses, people started talking about second place spelling ultimate defeat for John Edwards, North Carolina’s former senator. And he does face an uphill struggle against what he calls two “celebrity candidates.”
Think Oprah. Think Bill Clinton.
Naturally, Edwards declared the selection process far from over, and he talked about a key difference between himself and other candidates, clearly alluding to “Let’s Talk It Over” Obama.
You can’t change the status quo with powerful entities like insurance companies and drug makers through negotiation, Edwards said. You have to stand up to them.
Edwards has been criticized as being too negative in Iowa with his talk of “two Americas,” the rich and the poor.
It will be interesting to see how his message ó and that of Obama and Hillary Clinton ó evolves as the primary season goes on. I’m betting they’ll get more strident.
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Pondering how presidents approach big business ó either standing up or rolling over ó I went to an old textbook to refresh my memory.
“Most critics believe that at no other time in American history was the moral and intellectual tone of political life so uniformly low, or were political contests so preoccupied with patronage.”
That description of the Gilded Age in “The Democratic Experience” sounds eerily similar to the current political atmosphere.
Today’s workers are having to adjust to the Information Age and the global economy. In the Gilded Age, they were at the mercy of the Industrial Revolution when, for a time, politicians took an attitude of business-as-usual and laissez faire ó and didn’t understand how dramatically the sand was shifting beneath their feet.
We have a Congress ó and a polarized, partisan air ó where money rules the day and stalemate is ever present.
Gilded Age politicians degenerated “into a group of spoilsmen who served the business community as they were themselves served by business.”
And the nation was ambivalent about which way to go.
“The two major parties in this period,” wrote James Bryce, a contemporary English observer of the American party system, “were like two bottles. Each bore a label denoting the kind of liquor it contained, but each was empty.”
And election to the White House “depended heavily on the ‘doubtful’ states, which had enough shifting voters to swing the results either way.”
Deja vu.
I could go on. President Rutherford B. Hayes’ election was so close that even people in his own party referred to him as “the de facto President” and “His Fraudulency.”
George Bush could sympathize with Hayes on that count.
But enough about Bush. The nation needs to set a clear course, and North Carolina ought to play a part in drawing up the map.
How do we get there?
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Cook is editor of the Post. Contact her at 704-797-4244 or editor@salisburypost.com.

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