Wednesday, June 29, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Polls? For Now, Ignore Them

If you begin to read an article that’s based primarily on poll
results, my advice is to stop reading and go on to something
else.

My reasoning is based on the now irrefutable evidence that
political public opinion polls in competitive or controversial
contests in virtually all major Western nations, particularly
in the U.S. and Great Britain have been chronically wrong for
some time.

Dramatic poll numbers in the U.S. presidential primaries, and
now in the match-up between Donald Trump and Hillary
Clinton flip-flop in a matter of days or a few weeks, and that’s
assuming the dubious premise that these results are in any
way accurate at the time they were taken. Even exit polls have
been wrong.

Public polling has been an honorable profession when the
pollsters have maintained high standards, as many have. But
the rise of the use of the cell phone, internet and social media
has introduced a new level, if you will, of Heisenberg’s
uncertainty principle (the measuring device alters the
measure), and the disinclination of the millions of angry
voters to disclose their true feelings to pollsters has reached
epidemic levels.

In normal times, when political rules and traditions dominate
the political environment, polling errors exist, but are relatively
infrequent. Usually, those errors are caused by the pollsters
themselves, i.e., by some bias, by flawed questions, by flawed
samples. In a time such as we are now in, specifically the 2016
presidential campaign season, the flaws in public opinion
polling might be well beyond the pollsters best efforts and
intentions.

A portent of this phenomenon came in the 2014 U.S. national
elections, and the two most recent British parliamentary
elections.

There is now a full-blown mutiny taking place among the mass
of voters in virtually all Western nations, with elections in
in the U.S., Spain, France, Austria, Italy, Iceland, Netherlands,
Belgium and elsewhere seeing anti-establishment candidates
either upsetting major party candidates, or almost doing so.
These voters seem to be wary of candidly responding to
traditional poll takers or participating in most public polls.

This voter reluctance exists among voters of the left, right and
center. They are not only angry and frustrated, as most analysts
now concede, they seem determined to upset the political
shopping cart of candidates and policies put forward by the
major political parties.

With the discarded litter of bad polls for both the Democratic
and Republican presidential nomination contests still visible,
and the erratic behavior of recent polls of the November
contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump recently
published, and so much turbulence ahead at both national
conventions, why should anyone pay any attention to polls
about this race?

The Colorado Republican Party has just nominated an
unknown black military veteran Darryl Glenn to be their
candidate against incumbent Democratic Senator Michael
Bennett. The initial media comments have been that
Democrats should breathe a sigh of relief for this race which
has previously considered to be potentially competitive. The
black veteran is also an outspoken conservative, and was not
favored by most in the state party establishment. Mr. Glenn
might indeed lose, but it is extremely early to make
pronouncements about this race, especially in the year of
Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Brexit. Polls will now no
doubt come out heavily favoring Mr. Bennett. They might,
however, bear no resemblance to the final poll in early
November.

This will also be a political season in which the two largest
“third” party candidates for president might well receive very
large numbers of votes. The Green Party on the left, and the
Libertarian on the “sort of” right, could complicate both
polling and elections. Both these parties' tickets will be on
almost all state presidential ballots.

No doubt, by mid-October and later, the polls will become
more and more accurate, not only in the presidential race,
but also in many down-ballot races.

Until then, however, don’t count on opinion polls and analyses
based primarily on them to tell you much about what is going
to happen on election day, 2016.

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Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 27, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Political Update 18

SPANISH ELECTION STALEMATE AGAIN?
Sunday’s national election in Spain brought some relief to
continental Europe, but more bad news to Spanish politics.
The good news was that the populist left party Podemos did
not make predicted gains in the Spanish parliament. Podemos
was not exit-European Union (EU), but strongly opposed EU
austerity measures for Spain. The conservative party, led by
acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy, actually gained 14 seats,
but fell short once again of a majority. The socialist party was
predicted to fall into third place (behind Podemos), but held its
own, and a new fourth moderate party lost ground, although
with 32 seats and a few seats from minor parties, this party is
expected again to form a ruling coalition with the conservative
party. Short of a majority, Sr. Rajoy nevertheless declared
victory and the right to govern Spain. As in Great Britain,
constitutional monarch Felipe VI makes the choice of whom to
invite to become prime minister. The results on Sunday were
more or less the same as those in a recent December election
which put Spanish politics in stalemate, but this time there is
much public pressure to end Sr. Rajoy’s temporary status
and put him firmly in charge. The radical populist Podemos
Party had threatened to further destabilize Europe, but their
failure is at least somewhat reassuring to remaining EU
member states and their leaders. On the other hand, there
was little true anti-EU feeling in Spain, as there is in France,
Italy, the Netherlands, and at least two other EU nations
where demands have been made, after Brexit, for their own
referenda on EU membership.

OLYMPICS IN DISARRAY
With only days until the opening of the 2016 Olympic games
in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, there is unprecedented disarray as
the Rio state and the national governments teeter on
economic and political disaster. Not all the Olympic facilities
have been completed, environmental goals have not been
met, and the Zika viral epidemic is scaring away prominent
athletes from participating. Local Olympic authorities are
contending that the games will proceed as planned. Brazil,
which is in a deep recession, has impeached the nation’s
president (who is now awaiting trial for her formal removal),
and the governor of Rio de Janeiro state has declared a state
of emergency. Many nations and international agencies have
warned tourists about going to Rio for the games, primarily
because of the Zika epidemic.

ARGENTINA MAKING A COMEBACK?
In contrast to her larger hemispheric neighbor Brazil,
Argentina (long the trouble spot of South America) appears
to be growing stronger economically and politically under
new President Mauricio Macri who has brought more
conservative policies to the southernmost nation of the
continent. For almost a century after World War I, the once
prosperous Argentine nation has seen upheaval and decline
under radical and populist Peronista leadership that has
drained its considerable resources.

ICELAND ELECTS AN 
ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT PRESIDENT
The small island nation of Iceland has just elected a history
professor (who had not ever run for office before) as its new
president. Gudni Johannesson ran as an anti-establishment
candidate (much as the new woman mayor of Rome, Italy did),
and promised political reform, although the office is largely
ceremonial (but he can veto legislation). He opposes, as do most
Icelanders, his country joining the European Union, and he
cheered the British Brexit vote.

RUBIO IS BACK
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, once an early favorite to win the
Republican nomination for president this year, has changed  his
mind and decided to run for re-election to the senate. His
original pledge was to retire from the senate whether or not he
won the GOP nod, but the looming probability that his party
would lose the seat in November (Republicans have only a
four-seat majority) brought enormous pressure on the rising
conservative star to reconsider. It had been thought that Mr.
Rubio planned to run for Florida governor in 2018. Polls indicate
that Senator Rubio would likely win re-election, even though he
did not carry his home state in the presidential primary. The
man who did win, Donald Trump, had been a bitter foe, but now
as presumptive GOP nominee, Mr. Trump has been warmly urging
Mr. Rubio to run.

IS IT TIME TO RE-THINK PUBLIC POLLING?
The failure of British and Spanish polls, even exit polls, to predict
accurately results in those two very recent elections fits a pattern
of  failure in an earlier British parliamentary election last year,
and in many of the U.S. presidential primary elections this year.
In fact, public polling  has had many failures since the 2012 U.S.
presidential election and the subsequent 2014 national elections.
Perhaps most dramatically, the UKIP leader of the “leave the
EU” faction in the UK election last week, Nigel Farage, told
British television audiences on election day (as the voting
ended) that his side had probably lost the referendum, citing
private polls made by some of his establishment friends just
prior to the voting.  As early as election day, 2004, it might be
remembered, network exit polls predicted a landslide victory
for John Kerry, a victory which did not happen when the votes
were counted. The critical deterioration of public polls in so many
competitive elections on the state and national levels poses a
serious dilemma for many political observers and commentators
who have in recent decades come to depend on poll numbers as
the basis of their analyses.

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Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 24, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR; Brexit Over Bremain!

The British voters have decided to withdraw from their
formal relationship with the European Union (EU) by a
larger margin than was expected by most pollsters,
pundits and those who placed bets with London bookies,

With a robust turnout, especially in England, voters chose
to “leave” the EU rather than “remain” (in the language
of the British referendum ballot).

Scotland (by a large margin) and Northern Ireland (by a
narrow margin) voted for Remain. England (by a sizable
margin) and Wales (by a narrow margin) voted for Leave.
The final overall margin was 3.8% favoring Leave.

It was not an overtly party line vote, inasmuch as leaders
of the ruling Conservative (Tory) Party, opposition Labour
Party and the party in coalition with the Tories, the Liberal
Party, all supported Remain. Only the nationalist UKIP
Party was uniformly for Leave, and the Scottish National
Party was uniformly for Remain.

The real division in the referendum outside of Scotland
was between rural and small town voters --- and big city
voters. Although Conservative Prime Minister David
Cameron led the effort for Remain, Conservative M.P.
(and former London mayor) Boris Johnson led those who
were for Leave.

At stake in the vote was the UK’s membership in the EU.
It had joined in 1973, although it opted out of the rest of
the member nations’ adoption of a single currency, the
euro.

In spite of threats and warnings from the leaders of other
EU nations that a British exit would have dire consequences
for the island nation, it is likely that the huge British economy
and its enormous trade with its continental neighbors will be
stabilized over the next two years.

The short-term effect, of course, is likely to be a negative
over-reaction in the price of the pound and of British stocks,
but cooler heads will likely soon prevail as British currency
and markets stabilize. The UK is the second largest economy
in Europe.

There will now be calls throughout the remaining EU member
states for more referenda. The EU has recently been previously
destabilized by economic conditions in several of its smaller
member states. Only Germany, which has the largest economy
in Europe, and which dominates the EU, has avoided some of
these problems, although the controversial issue of immigration
to that nation has created problems for its government, as it has
for most other EU member states.

Immigration was only one of the issues which inflamed the
British EU referendum. Also upsetting to many UK voters was
the increasing power of the EU bureaucracy and parliament
(in Brussels) which dictated unpopular rules and regulations for
British farmers and small businesses. English sovereignty, almost
a thousand years old, moreover, was threatened by EU intentions
for political unification.

In  a critical way, British identity itself was threatened. Although
the island nation was no longer the dominant world sea power
and colonial power it was a century earlier, a majority of its
people felt that the nation which had contributed so much to
world law, representative democracy and global culture, should
not, and could not, be erased by bureaucratic fiat.

The British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, and the entire royal
family, remained carefully neutral throughout the campaign, as
is the custom in this constitutional monarchy, but few missed the
meaning of a private dinner conversation, leaked to the press,
during which the queen was reported to have pointedly asked her
guests to name “three good reasons why the UK should remain
in the EU.”

Great Britain’s withdrawal from the EU also provides it with
several positive economic and strategic new possibilities,
including potentially strengthening its ties with North America
and Asia. While “Brexit” was clearly a rejection of the
European status quo, it could be an early moment in a global
reorganizing, something already in the international wind as
China and India take their places as major players in the world
economic and political order.

Signs of voter mutiny have already appeared at various levels
in the Western democracies. Nationalist parties on both the
left and right have done well in Spain, France, Netherlands,
Italy, Austria, Belgium, Greece, and elsewhere. Just days ago,
the first woman mayor of Rome in 2800 years was elected
representing a reform-minded protest party that is likely to
become significant in Italian national politics. European
secession movements are widespread. Even if the British had
voted to remain in the EU, it is not at all clear that, as a
political entity, the EU could have survived much longer,
especially with the challenges of mass migration to the
continent, and the chronic problems of some of its member
states.

This current anti-establishment phenomenon has even spread
this year to the United States where an extraordinary
presidential campaign is taking place with mutinies in both
parties that have upended long-standing political rules and
partisan rhetoric.

The election of Mayor Virginia Raggi in Rome, the Brexit
vote in the UK, and the nomination of Donald Trump to be the
Republican nominee for president are neither accidental nor
unconnected.

They are eruptions from grass roots voters asking for change
and transformation. That does not mean they are necessarily
the right thing or the best thing, but whatever they are, they
cannot be ignored.

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Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Celebrity Culture Has Its Price

Accompanying the emergence of mass communications in
the mid-nineteenth century, a nascent celebrity culture arose
in Europe and North America. By the time that Hollywood
films, network radio, and professional sports were inserted
into daily life, international celebrity culture was in full
flower. Television, popular music recording, global cinema
and ubiquitous commercial media advertising pushed this 
culture “over the top,” and the subsequent introduction of
the internet and social media has enabled virtually anyone
to become a “viral celebrity” without leaving his or her own
home.

Given the the preoccupation in Western culture with physical
prowess, material evaluations and sexual beauty, this was
almost certainly inevitable. As traditional standards and
rules were overturned by the celebrity “squeaky wheels” in
each national culture, a certain universal vicariousness and
passivity arose. Individuals were content to become “fans”
and “followers.” (It’s no accident that active participants in
one of the largest social media institutions are, in fact, called
“followers.”)

In some European, Asian and South American societies
during the 20th century, particularly in societies with
undeveloped  democratic political traditions, the celebrity
culture was combined with new propaganda techniques to
induce totalitarian regimes, a phenomenon that seemed to be
avoided in the United States where celebrity culture and
political culture seemed to be kept more or less separate in
national public life. Of course, there were momentary lapses,
such as with the glamorous but dysfunctional Kennedy
political family personalities, yet for the most part, political
and celebrity values remained distinct.

The presence of powerful, multi-generational political U.S.
families is as old as the Republic itself. The first U.S. vice
president, and later the second president, John Adams, was
first of 19th century Adams political heavyweights, including
another president. The Harrison family produced two
presidents before 1900, and the Roosevelt family two after 1900.
The Taft family also had two major figures in the 20th century,
as did the Kennedy family (which actually had three). The 21st
century has brought us the Clintons, husband and wife,
interspersed with the Bush family with at least two presidents.
It’s a non-partisan phenomenon over time, and surely an
understandable one, but with the Kennedys (as already cited)
the celebrity culture and the political culture became somewhat
confused. Some would suggest that the 2016 candidacies of Jeb
Bush and Hillary Clinton, notwithstanding their considerable
political experience, represent a further step in creating a U.S.
political “celebrity dynasty” culture (to be followed presumably
by young George P. Bush and Clinton daughter Chelsea).

When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, it seemed
that celebrity culture was again becoming misapplied by the
political culture, but Ronald Reagan the movie star and
Hollywood celebrity had absorbed himself genuinely into the
political culture. Although controversial for his political views,
his presidency was substantive and transformational.

It is 2016, and one of the two major political parties is about
to nominate someone from the celebrity/entertainment culture
as its candidate for president. Donald Trump upset his party’s
establishment and 16 of its leading members to win the nod as
he defied virtually every political rule and the inhibitions of
political correctness. He treated the nominating campaign not
as a political process, but with his understanding as an
experienced entertainer and celebrity. He has infuriated almost
the entire political class, and its fellow-traveling pundit class.

Now the nation is confronted with a problematic choice, that is,
the voters have to choose between an unlikeable member of a
political family dynasty and an unlikable celebrity. The former
has an extraordinary political resume, but few real
accomplishments, and the latter has no political resume and
ambiguous accomplishments. Both have long trails of
controversies behind them, and both are promising to proclaim
the other’s scandals in a vicious mutual campaign of attrition.

It is an election made for television soap operas and Hollywood
melodramas.

The celebrity culture piper has worked hard for many decades
and many generations in American society. This piper has led
us to clowns and heart throbs, vamps and home run hitters,
pretty faces and assorted star athletes, crooners and adonises,
colorful gangsters and charming charlatans, knock-out punchers
and punk rocksters, daring quarterbacks and provocative
TV/radio hosts, and so on --- a seemingly endless list of
amusements for our starstruck entertainment and vicarious
delight.

The doorbell rings. It’s the piper. Time to pay, he says.

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Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

        


Monday, June 20, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Latest Political Update 17

TRUMP FIRES CAMPAIGN MANAGER
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald
Trump has fired his campaign manger Corey
Lewandowski four weeks before the GOP national
convention in Cleveland. Mr. Lewandowski was the
successful but often controversial manager of the Mr.
Trump’s unorthodox campaign that defeated 16 major
rivals. Since clinching the nomination several weeks ago,
Mr. Trump’s campaign against presumptive Democratic
nominee Hillary Clinton has faltered, primarily because
of Mr. Trump’s own inflammatory remarks, but also
because of deteriorating relations with the Republican
National Committee (whose cooperation he will need to
raise funds and solidify his position as GOP nominee).
Mr. Lewandowski’s departure is expected to improve the
latter.

BREXIT VOTE TIGHTENS
The historic British referendum on whether to leave or
remain in the European Union (EU) is now in its last
campaign hours, and polls indicate the final result will
be close. These same polls have indicated a pattern of
alternate “Leave” and “Remain” leads in the vote. The
referendum does not pit left vs right or Tory vs. Labour,
but instead pits large cities and Scotland against rural and
smaller urban areas. Conservative Prime Minister David
Cameron’s job is up for grabs (he favors ”Remain’), and
fellow Tory Boris Johnson (and potential successor) heads
up the “Leave” campaign. “Leave” supporters assert that
British sovereignty is at stake, and the whole world is
watching and waiting for the outcome.

AN UPSET IN NORTH DAKOTA
In what might be an omen for the national general
November election ahead, first-time candidate and
businessman Doug Burgum shocked heavy favorite and
current Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to win the
Republican nomination for governor of North Dakota.
Mr. Stenehjem had won his last two races with 75% of
the vote, and had the backing of almost all of the state’s
GOP establishment. Mr. Burgum was a very early
endorser of Donald Trump, self-funded his campaign,
and explicitly ran against the GOP-controlled legislature
and the GOP party leadership. He also had the critically
important endorsement of enormously popular former
North Dakota Governor Ed Schaeffer. Heavily favored to
win in November, Mr. Burgum will now have work
together with both the GOP legislature and Mr. Stenehjem
in Bismarck next January.

A PICK-UP AND A LOSS IN MINNESOTA?
Democrats nationally are expected to make net gains in
U.S house races in 2016, and the party (known as the DFL)
is expected to pick up a seat in Minnesota’s 2nd district
now occupied by retiring GOP Congressman John Kline.
If GOP-endorsed candidate Jason Lewis wins the
conservative party’s primary over party favorite Darlene
Miller, he will receive very little support from GOP donors
and activists. Lewis, a libertarian and radio show host, is
likely to join the anti-GOP leadership faction if elected. The
DFL nominee is businesswoman Angie Craig who has no
primary opposition and has self-funded her effort so far.
Ms. Craig is also strong campaigner, and would be heavily
favored against Mr. Lewis in November in this district
carried by President Obama in 2012.

But the liberal party might not make a net gain in the
Gopher state because Republican Stewart Mills could
upset DFL Congressman Rick Nolan in the state’s 8th
district. Nolan barely won in 2014 against Mills, and then
only because there was a statewide U.S. senate race at the
top of the ballot. In 2016, there are no statewide races.
Normally the presidential race would more than
compensate for this, but Hillary Clinton, the presumptive
Democratic nominee is not popular in the state, particularly
in areas outside the Twin Cities. In fact, Mr. Nolan pointedly
endorsed Bernie Sanders in the state’s caucus. With serious
races in MN-2 and MN-3, liberal campaign funds will not be
concentrated in MN-8, as they were in 2014, and Mr. Mills
(whose family business was just sold) has virtually unlimited
cash resources at his disposal. Mr. Mills, a political neophyte
in 2014, is now an experienced and spirited campaigner in the
district that was formerly DFL plus-3, but which polls now
indicate is GOP plus-1.

A third potentially competitive race is MN-3 for a seat now
held by popular GOP Congressman Erik Paulsen. The DFL
has nominated a state legislator Terri Bonoff, and GOP
presidential nominee Donald Trump is not popular in this
upscale suburban Minneapolis district. But Paulsen, a
member of the powerful U.S. house ways and means
committee, is well-liked, and Bonoff (who ran
unsuccessfully in another congressional district several
years before) might be an over-rated campaigner. Mr.
Paulsen and the local GOP, moreover, are taking the race
seriously while the state DFL must divide its resources in 
competitive races in two other congressional districts.

FIRST WOMAN MAYOR OF ROME
A 37 year-old member of the Rome city council has been
elected mayor of the Italian capital. She is the first woman
to head the city which is almost 2800 years old, and the
youngest person to win in modern times. A lawyer, she is a
member of an anti-establishment protest party that was
founded only 7 years ago by a popular Italian comedian.
Most mayors of large cities in Europe and the U.S. are
leftists, and Rome was no exception, but Virginia Raggi
defeated her leftist opponent in a landslide. Her party, the
Five Star Movement (M5S) also has just won 19 out of the
20 municipal elections in which it put up candidates.
Mayor-elect Raggi has promised sweeping reform of the
moribund Roman city government, and Italian observers
now expect M5S to be a significant factor in upcoming
federal Italian elections.

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Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Summer None Of Us Will Forget?

This is going to be quite a summer.

If you booked passage for a quiet cruise to various well-known
destinations, you are already alert to the fact that the ship has
changed course. There has been no announcement of this
diversion from the bridge. In fact, the captain is not even on
the bridge; he’s reportedly dealing with an unanticipated mutiny
of the crew that is spreading throughout the ship.

It all began with what was expected to be a conventional first
stop, the port of call known as the U.S. presidential nominating
season. The ship did not arrive as planned. Both major party
itineraries were disrupted by hijackers. Instead of heading
south to lazy tropical climes, the ship lurched to the east toward
the tired old continent of Europe.

Did you pack clothes for London? That’s the first stop. The
mutineers on the ship have friends in the United Kingdom who
are also in open revolt. On June 23 next, the Brits will decide
whether or not to remain part of the European Union (EU). The
referendum could go either way, but if they choose formally to
remain, they are in for a shock --- the European Union no longer
exists.

On that day, June 23, the presumptive Republican nominee for
president will fly to Scotland --- to open a golf course! Only an
American would have the chutzpah to do this. What will he say?
Does it matter?

Meanwhile, you are on an ocean liner now heading west.
The next ports are Cleveland on Lake Erie, and after that,
Philadelphia on the Delaware River. Do you dare to disembark
at either port? The unsuccessful Democratic hijacker is now
under house arrest in Vermont, but his agents are already
slipping into the City of Brotherly Love where the Big Sister is
planning to take charge. Do you care?

After departing the summer ports of Cleveland and Philadelphia,
the destinations are unknown. You decide it’s time to cut short
this cruise. The food is awful. The crew has disappeared. Only
the ship’s band is playing on deck, but it’s The Grateful Dead.
You can’t get off. No one is in charge. The captain has vanished
into a sea of platitudes.

You are in open water, and there’s no land in sight.

Have a nice summer.

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Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: England's Forgotten M.P; America's Unremembered Friend

One of the great English parliamentarians of the 19th
century has now been largely forgotten in his own country,
although his name in his own time was as well-known as
Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, Robert Peel and
Lord Palmerston, each of them significant prime ministers
in Great Britain’s most globally powerful era. His name
was John Bright, and he was the most important British
politician to take the side of the North in the U.S. Civil War.
He importantly helped keep England from assisting the
South, which might have led to an early Confederate victory
and the destruction of the American republic.

Abraham Lincoln admired John Bright greatly, and
communicated with him through an intermediary. The
night Lincoln was assassinated, a speech of Bright’s was
found in Lincoln’s vest pocket.

While the association with Lincoln and the U.S. Civil War
might give Americans today reason to take note of him,
Bright was also deeply involved with most of the important
British legislation of the mid-1800‘s, including English
economic and civil rights. When he died in 1885, the
prime minister, numerous former prime ministers,
cabinet officers, many of the top figures of English politics,
and a special representative of Queen Victoria (who was
then out of the country) were in attendance. He was
eulogized as one of the great men of his age.

Today, there is a statue of him in the House of Commons,
but only a relatively few Britons could tell you who he was
or what he accomplished.

Like so many important political figures in history who are
temporarily put on a forgotten shelf, Bright is now being
recalled for his role in English parliamentary history, and
part of this has been due to a biography in 2012 (John Bright:
Statesman, Orator and Agitator
) by Bill Cash. What makes
this biography particularly interesting is that Mr. Cash is
both a descendant of Bright, and himself a senior Conservative
member of parliament. The EU referendum, many would argue,
is one of the most important British votes of the 21st century.

Even more than that, Sir Bill (he was recently knighted by the
Queen) was a protege of Margaret Thatcher and an early
opponent (euroskeptic) of the 1993 Maastricht Treaty which
redefined the United Kingdom role in the European Union (EU)
which it had originally joined in 1973. Making this all the more
timely, the voters of the United Kingdom are now only days
away from a June 23 referendum on whether the island nation
is to remain in the EU or withdraw from it. The leader
of those who want to withdraw (“Leave”) is Conservative Boris
Johnson, former mayor of London and currently a Tory M.P.
Leader of those who want to stay in (“Remain”) is Conservative
Prime Minister David Cameron. If the Leave voters prevail,
Mr. Cameron will almost certainly have to resign, and Mr.
Johnson would likely succeed him. Sir Bill Cash continues to be
a top spokesman for Leave voters.

In full disclosure, I have known Sir Bill Cash since 1991 when he
was my official guest in Minnesota under the U.S. State
Department’s International Visitor Program. A euroskeptic
even then, Sir Bill’s ideas were not warmly received on this side
of the Pond (primarily because most Americans were not really
aware of the issues involved). The EU had been formed after
World War II on the continent as an economic union that would
prevent another round of European wars. The intention was
laudable, and as primarily an economic program, it worked.
But EU leaders had more ambitious goals, First, they wanted to
establish a European common currency which they finally did
with the euro. Great Britain wisely decided to opt out of the euro,
and kept the British pound. The next step for the EU was political
union, removing the national sovereignty of its member states,
even though each of these states had centuries of their own
cultures, spoke different languages, and had different ethnic and
religious histories. (not to mention the countless and violent
wars they had fought against each other).

As this goal of political union approached, economic problems
beset the EU which had become more and more dominated by
its most successful member nation economy in Germany. The
number of member nations was expanded, and the instability
of several smaller ones, created more and more skepticism
about political union, especially in Great Britain.

I visited London in 2010, just after the elections which brought
Mr. Cameron to power, and had a reunion with Bill Cash after
almost twenty years. He had, I thought, grown from being mostly
a backbench agitator to become a statesman. He was still a
euroskeptic, but recognized that the UK was a part of Europe,
and would always be a major trading partner with it. Yet he also
understood the critical danger, after a thousand years of national
identity, of losing British sovereignty.

This is where he continues to be today. While I was visiting the
House of Parliament, Sir Bill took me from his office there to see
the statue of his cousin John Bright. He told me he was going to
write a book about him to remind his countrymen and
countrywomen how much they owed to Bright and his 19th
century colleagues.

He did write it, and it’s a terrific read about a key period in
British history, and about someone who led the efforts to
expand British democracy. John Bright was indeed a statesman,
agitator and orator who felt passionately about his country.

It is fitting that his descendant and biographer is one, too.

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Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.