Monday, October 12, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Democrats Finally Debate

The small and evidently relatively weak field of Democratic
candidates for president in 2016 are finally going to take to the
TV stage for their first debate. The most exciting personality
among them, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, will have his
first televised confrontation with frontrunner Hillary Clinton,
and that seems to be the major draw to an otherwise ho-hum
event that CNN has shortened, fearing a small audience that
might swiftly become even smaller.

There will be five hopefuls on the stage, including former
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island
Governor/Senator Lincoln Chaffee, and former Virginia
Senator Jim Webb. Missing from the debate will be the only
major Democratic candidate who yet might run, Vice President
Joe Biden.

In the current cycle, thanks to their two debates which already
took place, the Republicans have dominated the free television
air waves with their large and controversial field of candidates.
Several Democratic Party leaders have called for more
Democratic TV debates, but the liberal party chair Debbie
Wasserman-Schultz has refused to schedule them, purportedly
to protect her friend Mrs. Clinton. Two DNC vice chairs,
including former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, have been
rebuffed by the DNC chair for advocating more debates.

In advance, whatever political fireworks are likely to occur will
arise between Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton, but Mr. O’Malley
will probably have his last opportunity to rise in the polls occur
in the debate. He might attempt something dramatic to put
himself into a more prominent place in the campaign. Mr. Webb,
the lone centrist in the field, has found it difficult to get traction
in a party moving decidedly to the left. In spite of his resume,
Mr. Chaffee has impressed no one with his campaign so far.

It is likely that it will be the absentee potential candidate, Mr. Biden,
who will loom largest behind the first debate, but Senator Sanders,
a self-described socialist, has shown considerable ability to draw
crowds, media attention and growing poll numbers, and he  could
steal the show.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 9, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekend Update 6

In the wake of the withdrawal of Kevin McCarthy, the hitherto
favorite to replace him as speaker of the U.S. house, Speaker
John Boehner has let it be known that he intends to serve in his
post until a successor is chosen. This might take his incumbency
past the October 30 date which Mr, Boehner had earlier announced
would be his date of resignation from his seat in Congress.

Could Minnesota’s become the next U.S. house speaker? Rumors
have it that the retiring congressman (as of January, 2017) might be
a compromise choice following the unexpected chaotic turn taken
in the contest when the favorite, Kevin McCarthy, withdrew. A solid
conservative, and much respected by colleagues from both parties,
Mr. Kline however is part of the current house leadership, and that
could be a drawback to the radical conservative wing members of
the caucus, many of whom ironically have a lower conservative
voting record than he has had (or as had Mr. Boehner) in Congress.

Although he narrowly lost his 2014 challenge to incumbent
Democratic (DFL) Rick Nolan in Minnesota’s sprawling northeast
eight district, businessman Stewart Mills has indicated he is running
again in 2016. Citing strong support from Republicans in the
more-conservative-than-usual DFL district, the lack of statewide
races this cycle, and the likelihood that the Democratic presidential
nominee will not match the turnout in 2008 and 2012, Mr. Mills says
he has also polled voters district and found Mr Nolan’s prospects for
re-election weak. Without a Mills challenge in 2016, the race had been
rated “safe” for the incumbent. If Stewart Mills is his GOP opponent
next year, the race is close to a toss-up, with a slight advantage to Mr.

After weeks of teasing the media and his political colleagues, it is
becoming more and more likely that Vice President Joe Biden will
enter the presidential race in the next several weeks. He could yet
decline to run, but this would go against the momentum of the
behind-the-scenes activity by Biden and his supporters in recent
days, the continued decline of frontrunner Hillary Clinton, and the
rise of Biden’s own poll numbers. Should he choose not to run, as
well, the approaching primary and caucus filing deadlines would
make it almost impossible for any other major liberal candidate to
enter the contest, thus making the nomination of Vermont Senator
Bernie Sanders a much more likely possibility. Mr. Biden’s delay
so far, furthermore, has been probably excellent political strategy,
making his formal announcement, when and if it happens, all the
more likely to be well-received by Democratic activists and voters
alarmed by Mrs. Clinton’s incredibly inept campaign to date.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Lincoln Wasn't Perfect

Treated as a secular saint and icon by most Americans, and
unarguably the nation’s most eloquent president, Abraham
Lincoln has become almost wholly a mythic figure.
Following several new books about him during and after the
200th anniversary of his birth in 2009 (a recent example
is Harold Holzer’s superb Lincoln and the Power of the Press
in 2014), however, a more human, imperfect and perhaps even
more interesting Lincoln has emerged, and his overall eminent
stature has remained.

In late April, 1865, two weeks after his tragic assassination, a
disaster occurred as former Union prisoners of war were being
brought back to the North. The steamboat Sultana, which
had been transporting Union soldiers and supplies during the
war, was among the many Mississippi River steamboats used
to bring the surviving Union prisoners of war home. Many of
these soldiers had been held at the infamous Andersonville
prison camp, and all of them were undernourished and
weakened by their captivity. Offering a bounty of $5 for every
enlisted man and $20 for every officer, these former prisoners
were herded onto crowded steamboats for the ride North. In
what turned out to be the worst maritime disaster in U.S.
history, almost 2500 persons (mostly soldiers) were packed
into the Sultana in Vicksburg, even though the wooden ship
had a maximum capacity of only 350 passengers and 85 crew.

With the Mississippi flooded and in cold weather, the boilers on
the Sultana exploded in the night soon after sailing from
Vicksburg, and 1800 persons died either immediately from
drowning or from burns and exposure as a result of the sinking.
No sea disaster in war or peace, including the sinking of the
Lusitania 50 years later, killed more Americans. The death toll
even exceeded all those lost on the Titanic in 1912.

There were several men who shared levels of responsibility for
this tragedy, but clearly the greatest villain was a Union
quartermaster named Reuben Hatch, who had a long history
of corruption and incompetence throughout the Civil War..
Historical evidence clearly points to his taking bribes and
kickbacks to place as many soldiers as possible on the vessel.

How did he get to be placed in this position?

Despite a history of criminality during the Civil War, Hatch
happened to be the brother of an Illinois state official who was
a home state crony of president Lincoln. Each time he got into
trouble, Hatch’s brother wrote to Lincoln who promptly wrote
letters getting the quartermaster off the hook. The most recent
and most tragic example was a note from the president penned
only a few days before his assassination, and which enabled
Hatch's role in Vicksburg. As one of the most preeminent
Lincoln scholars today, Harold Holzer, concedes, had he
survived, Mr. Lincoln would likely have had to answer for his
part in the Sultana disaster.

Ironically, at about the same time he was writing such inspiring
speeches as the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural
address, indisputably among the most sublime public speeches
in American history, Lincoln the politician was writing notes of
patronage and giving favors for supporters and their friends and
relatives, including his repeated efforts on behalf of Lt. Col.
Hatch. (Virtually all of the notes in this case, in Lincoln’s own
handwriting, survive.) Historians point out that such patronage
was the order of the day in that era, and in 1864, an increasingly
pessimistic Lincoln, facing a revolt in his own party and defeat
for his re-election in 1864. was pulling out all stops to help his
political friends and allies on whom he depended to survive at
the polls. (As it turned out, when Union forces began winning
dramatic victories just before the election, public opinion turned
around and Lincoln won a resounding re-election.)

There is no evidence, of course, that Lincoln could know what
his notes to help Hatch would lead to, but there can be little
doubt that the always world-savvy president knew what a bad
actor the brother of his friend was. Others protected Lt. Col.
Hatch, including Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and General
Ulysses S. Grant, but it was Lincoln, in the highest position of
all, whose complicity is the most serious.

Reuben Hatch was not punished for his crime involving the
sinking of the Sultana. Realizing he would be prosecuted, he
hurriedly resigned from the army and went into hiding.
Later efforts to prosecute him failed to materialize, and he
died in 1871 before justice could catch up with him. Despite
the enormity of the catastrophe, it was little known outside
the Vicksburg area. The nation was still reeling from the
shock of Lincoln’s assassination two weeks earlier, and the
headlines and stories filling the nation’s newspapers were of
the capture and killing of John Wilkes Booth the day before
the sinking. Today, such huge loss of life would be the number
one news story all over the world, but in late April, 1865, the
nation had just endured four years of immense death and
casualties. More than 600,000 American soldiers, north and
south, had died. Tens of thousands had perished in single
battles.  How could 1800 more deaths stand out to a nation
already in shock and immense grief? The tragedy of the
Sultana was soon forgotten. Lincoln became a martyred and
sainted figure. After a brief period of Reconstruction and
emancipation, old patterns of prejudice, civil injustice and
racial segregation reappeared.

This was a difficult piece to write. Lincoln is my favorite
American political figure, my favorite American writer and
speaker. He remains so, perhaps even enhanced so, not
because I can or want to condone his tragic error in this
case, (or his pattern of reckless patronage), but because like
all great men and women of the past, the present, and the
future, he was sublimely imperfect, not just a myth.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 5, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Post-Weekend Update 5

There is some movement in Republican presidential polls,
with previous leaders, Donald Trump and Ben Carson still
ahead, but losing ground. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina and
Florida Senator Marco Rubio have made the most recent
gains, as has, to a lesser extent, New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, but the race remains
volatile and quite undecided with four months before the
first voting.

The 2015 Nobel Prize in medicine has been shared by a Chinese
researcher whose discovery and contribution was founded in
ancient herbal folk medicine. Chinese medicine, which employs
acupuncture as well as other traditional and ancient remedies,
has some different bases and methodologies than most Western
medicine, and this might be the first time that this preeminent
global award has acknowledged an Eastern medicine discovery.
Researcher To You-you turned to the plant artemisia annua for
her breakthrough treatment for malaria after conventional
medicines failed to halt the worldwide scourge of malaria which
kills 450,000 persons every year, and places half the world’s
population or 3.5 billion persons at risk. Her discovery, in fact,
might in terms of its impact on numbers of persons be one of
the most important in modern history.

It appears that Vice President Joe Biden is close to a decision
about whether he will run for president next year, but the 73
year-old Delaware figure and his close advisers have been quite
successful in disguising what that decision will be. Most Biden
family members are believed to be supportive, but several
close Biden friends are known to have discouraged him.
Recent polls show Mr. Biden competitive with the fading
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and her major opponent
so far, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Meanwhile,
Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers and public support continue to
wane as she faces persistent allegations about her conduct while
U.S. secretary of state.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has scheduled the election of
his successor for October 29, the day before his resignation as
speaker (and his seat in Congress) is to take place. There are
now three announced candidates for the post which is just behind
the vice president in the order of presidential succession. The
GOP frontrunner for speaker, California Congressman Kevin
McCarthy seems to have the votes to win in the caucus, but
might lack enough votes in whole body, especially after he made
a recent gaffe about the house committee investigating the
Benghazi affair.

The annual October baseball postseason is now underway with
the conclusion of the 2015 regular season. Most of the match-ups
and home field advantages were determined prior to the final
games, but a loss by the Houston Astros, following the virtual
collapse of the New York Yankees in the Bronx team’s final six
games, gave the Yankees home field advantage, in spite of
themselves, on the last day for the "wild card" game on Tuesday.
The Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers
won their American League division pennants, and will now face
the winner of the wild card playoff and each other to determine the
American League championship.
Control of the U.S. senate in January, 2017 remains in doubt, but
Democrats are still having difficulties in recruiting strong
challengers to potentially vulnerable Republican incumbents up
for re-election. The GOP is similarly not yet finding a strong
opponent for Colorado Senator Michael Bennett who is
considered one of the weakest Democrats running next year.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Next Comeback Kid?

In late January, 1992, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton’s presidential
campaign appeared to be over. His personal life had become
public scandal, and the experts in Washington, DC were saying he
was kaput. At about that time, I ran into one of the senior titans of
the national Democratic Party who knew I had predicted two years
earlier that Clinton would be the Democratic nominee, and he
assured me that Clinton was finished. I told him he could not be
more wrong.

Today, 23 years later, there is general consensus among the media
and political experts that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
has no chance to win. Their absolute certainty was shaken a bit
after Mr. Christie’s strong performance in the second GOP debate
at the Reagan Library, but the consensus remains.

Look at the polls, they say. Christie is at 1% in Iowa, virtually at the
bottom of the competing pack in this first electoral event of 2016.
Overall, his numbers improved slightly nationally after the Reagan
Library, but he’s still near or at the bottom of the top ten. Look at
his negatives, the experts say. Remember the bridge “scandal,"
they add, as if to make disputing them pointless.

But what do they say when six of the top Republican figures in
Iowa, including close allies of the longest-serving governor in the
nation, Terry Branstad, have just endorsed him?

What do they say when figures such as Rick Perry and Scott Walker
(the latter only weeks ago leading the pack in Iowa) withdraw so
early from the contest, leaving fewer sitting and former governors
in the race?

This is not to say that Governor Christie will be the Republican
nominee. But with large numbers of delegates to be counted from
eastern and northeastern states, the goodwill and alliances he made
while campaigning for fellow governors (when he was Republican
Governors Association chair) in 2014, his demonstrated fundraising
ability, and, most of all, his exceptional communications skills, it
seems ludicrous to suggest he cannot yet re-emerge in this contest.

In the 1992 New Hampshire primary, Bill Clinton only came in
second. He then declared himself the “comeback kid.” He
apparently did not believe the negative pronouncements of his
party establishment, his party expert consultants, and the media.

We all know what happened next.

Copyright (c) by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Presidential Candidates Missing The Minnesota Boat

Republican presidential candidates are coming to Minnesota
this year, but they don’t seem to looking for votes. Perhaps it
is because of the Gopher State’s reputation as one of the bluest
(most liberal) states, and because the state has not given its
electoral votes to a Republican since 1972. On the other hand,
Minnesota has no statewide races next year, and there is
significant cash available from big donors, so many of the
2016 GOP hopefuls are quietly slipping into the state for
fundraisers only.

They are probably making a big strategic mistake. Here’s why:

The next cycle, which culminates in November, 2016, is turning
out to be atypical, especially in presidential campaign politics.
Attention is beginning to shift from the first four primary and
caucus states (Iowa New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada,
in that order), and to the March 1 Super Tuesday when a large
number of delegates will be chosen in 13 state contests. With
the large Republican field this year, and presuming many of
them will still be running in early 2016, the surviving candidates
will each need some victories to keep their campaigns going.

One of the Super Tuesday states will be Minnesota, and several
delegates will be available. Only one candidate will win Iowa,
only one will win New Hampshire, and only one will win South
Carolina, but there will likely be more than three finalists in the
race on March 1, so a win in Minnesota could provide some
momentum either for someone who has not won in the first four
contests, or solidify the lead for someone who has. Furthermore,
there are many contests on the March 1 Super Tuesday, and it’s
unlikely that a candidate who does not win at least one of them
could survive for the primaries and contests that remain.

There are other advantages, too. Minnesota is located adjacent
to and between Iowa and Wisconsin, two likely battleground
states in 2016. (In fact, the three states form the superstate
Minnewisowa” --- a term I coined in the 2004 presidential
election --- that provides 26 electoral votes). The Twin Cities
and Duluth media markets reach much of western Wisconsin,
and the Rochester, MN media market reaches northern Iowa.
It’s easy logistically to schedule campaign appearances in
Minnesota when a candidate also has appearances scheduled
in Iowa or Wisconsin.

Minnesota holds a caucus on March 1, so GOP candidates
can concentrate on the limited number of caucus attendees.
If only one or a few presidential candidates compete in this
state, a surprise victory is quite possible.

And, of course, there is the cash. Minnesota is a particularly
affluent state with numerous successful businesses and
corporations. Many of its executives and owners are liberal,
and give generously to Democratic (DFL) candidates, but there
are also numerous conservative major donors in the state,
including several billionaires or near-billionaires.

(In 2013-14, ten of the GOP candidates for the most closely
contested U.S. senate races held fundraisers in the state. Each
raised in excess of six figures, and all ten candidates won in
November.) With no statewide races in 2016, Minnesota major
donors, if past history is a guide, will want to be fiscal players
in the presidential race.

Finally, although Iowa and Wisconsin are already battleground
states, and could cast their electoral votes for the GOP nominee,
Minnesota could break with its recent liberal pattern in 2016 and
be up for grabs. Democrats (DFLers) now only comprise about a
third of the state’s registered voters; Republican a few percent
less, but a third of Minnesota voters are now independents
(remember, Jesse Ventura won the governorship in 1998 as a
third party candidate) or unaffiliated, and these voters will make
the difference, more than ever before, next year. Hillary Clinton
is still popular with DFL women in Minnesota, but Mrs. Clinton
does not have the kind of support that Barack Obama had
here in 2008 and in 2012. A strong center-right Republican
nominee could surprise in Minnesota in 2016.

It will be interesting to observe which GOP presidential
candidates, if any, figure all of this out.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 28, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Post-Weekend Update 4

Local elections in Spanish autonomous region of Catalunya
just gave two pro-secessionist parties enough votes to have a
majority in the Catalonian parliament, but the record turnout
failed to give these parties a majority of the popular vote. The
leader of the largest pro-secessionist party had declared the
vote an unofficial plebiscite on the northeastern part of Spain
to become an independent nation. The Catalans speak their own
language and have a long history of hostility to the national
government in Madrid. The regional capital of Barcelona contain
much of the nation’s industrial and commercial resources, and a
long-standing Catalan complaint is that the area does not receive a
fair share of federal financial resources. Spanish President Rajoy
has declared the vote invalid for secession, and a true separation
of the Barcelona region from the rest of Spain remains
problematic and distant at best.


Businessman Stewart Mills, 43, who as the Republican nominee
for Congress in Minnesota’s Iron Range 8th district came close to
defeating incumbent Democrat (DFLer) Rick Nolan in 2014, has
indicated he will challenge Mr. Nolan again. One of the freshest
faces in state politics, and an energetic campaigner, Mr. Mills
received national attention for his 2014 effort. He contends that,
with no statewide races in 2016, he will have a better chance this
cycle, and cites private polls showing him in a strong position.
Mr. Nolan, 71, has announced for re-election, but some national
Democratic strategists have recently indicated he might be
vulnerable next year. This should be one of the most hotly
contested races in the nation.


Until now, few observers gave Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders a
credible chance to become the Democratic nominee for president
in 2016, despite his early success in his challenge to the party’s
frontrunner Hillary Clinton. In recent days, however, Mr. Sanders
has taken double digit leads in polls in early primary and caucus
states, and his support continues to grow while Mrs. Clinton’s
continues to decline. The big question in this contest now is
whether or not Vice President Joe Biden gets into the race. If he
does, there is an expectation that the race would become wide
open, and a serious possibility that the vice president could win.
If he does not enter, however, and Mrs. Clinton’s legal problems
and controversies continue to mount, Mr. Sanders’ delegate total
could rise quickly and his nomination inevitable. This would be
likely because the deadlines for entering primaries and caucuses
are rapidly approaching, and a major Democratic candidate’s
entry late into the race thus becomes technically impossible.

After Speaker of the House John Boehner announced his retirement
at the end of October, some activists in his party have turned
their attention to the GOP leader in the U.S. senate, Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell, with some calls that he be replaced. Mr. Boehner,
who had considered retiring in 2014, had constantly been the target
of mavericks in his house caucus, and after a quarter century in
Congress decided the controversy surrounding him was hurting his
party. Mr. McConnell, on the other hand, had just acceded to leading
a new GOP senate majority, and shows no signs of plans to leave.
The problem for both Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell has been that
a small group in their caucuses have demanded symbolic votes
against President Obama’s policies in spite of the fact that
Republicans lack the votes to override the president’s vetoes.
Calls to shut down the government as a tactic to force Mr. Obama’s
hand have not been successful previously, and with a month
remaining in office, Mr. Boehner is not expected to allow it to
happen. The structure of the U.S. senate is also quite different from
that of the U.S. house, and Mr. McConnell’s job seems safe for now
at least.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.