Wednesday, July 20, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Conventions

The Republican national convention is underway, and the
next phase of the presidential election has begun.

For those who do not attend one of these national
conventions, but instead are watching it on television, the
event is a Rohrshach test. If the convention is being run
by your political party, you see it in a sympathetic way.
If it’s the other party, you are inclined to see it other than
sympathetically. For partisans, conventions only very rarely
change minds. Many viewers, however, are undecided, and
for these observers, the speeches and coverage of a national
political party convention might make some difference.

I have attended many of the national conventions of both
parties (and even of third parties) since 1988, and I know
first-hand from these experiences over the years that these
political pageants are becoming less and less relevant to
the decision-making of voters. This is primarily due to the
repeated lack of suspense about who will be nominated,
and by the growing disinterest in the propaganda which all
conventions try to convey.

In 2016, however, we are going through a once-in-a-generation
political transformation, a “mutiny of the masses.” In the
case of the Republican Party, it has nominated an unexpected
and flamboyant non-politician, Donald Trump. The GOP
convention, thus, has perhaps a heightened interest, and for
a contrast, it will likely create a heightened interest in the
Democratic convention which will follow it immediately. The
Democrats, during their primary/caucus season, had their
own “mutiny” candidate, Bernie Sanders, but he fell short, and
the liberal party will nominate a long-time and well-known
political figure, Hillary Clinton.

Already, the conservative party convention is breaking
traditional rules, and that is the direct reflection of their
nominee Mr. Trump. While not an experienced politician,
Mr. Trump knows public relations, entertainment and
audiences. The convention in Cleveland shows his imprint.

Most pundits and commentators, while having differing
political views, are used to traditional conventions, and
many, both liberal and conservative, have clearly been taken
aback by Trump innovations and regarded them negatively.
Complicating the response have been a few glaring fumbles,
most notably the convention speech by Mr. Trump’s wife.
Melania, who normally has not given speeches before large
audiences. She nevertheless made graceful remarks that
were well-received by most until it was noticed that a few
passages of what she said were uncannily similar to remarks
Mrs. Obama had made in 2008. Clumsily, the Trump staff
denied the gaffe, and the story became about the Trump staff
and not the speech. Two days later, a Trump speechwriter
admitted she had caused the problem by not checking Mrs.
Obama’s speeches for duplication. Apologizing, she offered to
resign, but Mr. Trump rejected her resignation. If this had
been done the day before, the story would have gone away.
On the other hand, two of the Trump children spoke effectively
on the second day in Cleveland, and GOP effort seemed to have
mostly recovered The convention, and the television audience,
of course, awaits Mr. Trump’s own remarks on the final day,
and then, three day later, the Democratic convention will begin
in Philadelphia.

The Hillary Clinton campaign is expected to conduct a more
traditional, and tightly run convention. Just as the GOP event
has made a strong focus on criticizing Mrs. Clinton’s record and
qualifications to be president, the Democratic nominee and
her convention program will likely make a similar focus on
Mr. Trump who has a far smaller political resume than she has.
Again, the emphasis will be twofold, that is, to inspire the
convention attendees while reaching out to the national
television audience.

Although the mainstream print and network TV media have a
noticeable liberal bias that usually favors liberal candidates
and policies, there are several large-audience radio talk show
hosts, opinion journalists, and the Fox News Network which
usually favor conservative candidates and policies. In 2016, the
broadcast coverage by the media seems to have tried to
include spokespersons and analysts from both sides, but the
media, from left to right, only gradually seems to be realizing
how different the 2016 campaign has been and is likely yet to be.

Much lies ahead. Mrs. Clinton will name a running mate, and
lead her own convention in Philadelphia. Domestic economic
and international political surprises, almost always more
numerous during a U.S. presidential campaign, will occur.
There will be innumerable polls, many of them contradictory
and, as I have previously argued, likely to be misleading or
inaccurate will be published.

The mutiny of the masses, however, will continue to make
any predictions about the outcome in November premature.

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





















Friday, July 15, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Trump's Choice

There will now be endless second-guessing about Donald
Trump’s choice for his running mate. Indiana Governor
Mike Pence is being described as a “safe choice” and a
“reassurance to social conservatives.” In fact, he was the
clear favorite of the important pro-life constituency.

My preference was for another reported “finalist,” but as
I have frequently written recently, second-guessing the
presumptive New York Republican nominee for president
is very risky business for any pundit or so-called political
expert.

Attention will now shift to presumptive Democratic
nominee Hillary Clinton’s choice for running mate. She,
like Mr. Trump, has a number of possible choices.  Again,
I make no predictions, although I have written that Virginia
Senator Tim Kaine would be a good choice.

Over the next two weeks, the carefully-choreographed
major party conventions will unfold both inside and outside
the convention halls in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Inside
those halls, the narrative will be deliberate and controlled.
I suspect that the two conventions will try to tell a very
different story.

As almost always happens, the summer of a presidential
campaign year is filled with domestic and international
drama. If anything, the 2016 cycle is even more volatile and
unpredictable than the cycles of the recent past. The account
of this cycle so far is that U.S. voters, as well as voters in many
democratic states in Europe, South America and Asia, are
deeply unsettled and anxious about the present and future.
This “mutiny of the masses” on the right, left and even the
center is being expressed again and again in the voting in
2016.

I don’t know if the summer of 2016 is going to be hot, but it
will be long.

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Be Who You Are

I was having dinner with a friend the other evening, a
friend who happens to be a solid liberal Democrat who
is thoughtful and experienced in politics. He began
complaining about Hillary Clinton, whom I am sure he
will vote for in November. His complaint was not about
her policies, but about the way she talks in public. She
becomes unpleasant and not credible when she tries to be
"oratorical,"  he said in so many words. “She should just
speak like the person she really is,” he said exactly.

I have had similar conversations with Republican friends
in recent months as they complained about the mannerisms
of conservative candidates they otherwise liked, but whom
they felt were speaking in an exaggerated or inauthentic way.

I’ve thought about this before, in years past when I covered
mostly Minnesota politics and dealt with the successful
and colorful political personalities of Republican Senator
Rudy Boschwitz, Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, and
Independent Governor Jesse Ventura. None of them fit the
stereotype of the usual Gopher State politician, nor did any
of them hold political views that were necessarily shared by
most Minnesotans. But each of them was generally perceived
as being who they really were and advocating what they truly
believed. It is true that Mr. Wellstone later defeated Mr.
Boschwitz, but only under extraordinary circumstances in
which one was seen temporarily as being more authentic than
the other. They each were unusual personalities who broke the
political rules at a time when the Minnesota voting public was
tired or frustrated with politics as usual.

There can be a lot of smoke and mirrors in political speaking.
The complaint about Mrs. Clinton is not that she does not
hold serious views, but that she does not communicate her
views effectively. The same could be said about many (but not
all) of the Republican presidential candidates who lost in 2016.

It cannot be fairly said that this was a problem for Donald Trump.
Unlike his opponents, he spoke directly and successfully to his
party’s voters. Many criticize him for being crude, politically
incorrect or ill-informed, but the bottom line is that he persuaded
more grass roots Republicans to vote for him than for any of his
rivals.

A lot of establishment conservatives, none of whom supported Mr.
Trump, now want him to sound more “presidential,” more
dignified --- in effect, more establishment. But Mr. Trump did not
turn politics upside down in 2016 by being conventional, so why
will he do so now?

I did not see the Trump upset coming; he was far from being one
of my favorite candidates in 2016. I find some of what he says
either factually wrong or inappropriate. But so far, many voters do
not agree with me. They seem to like the persona he presents, a
persona, I might add, that is consistent with his entire adult life.
Donald Trump is not suddenly putting on new airs.

We seem to be in a political moment when the best asset in political
communication is to try to be who you are, and not as someone you
 think you should be.

My Democratic and Republican friends who sense this, too, are not
being disloyal. They will still likely vote for their party’s nominee,
But they also share the widespread distaste for political huffery and
puffery.

This is just another sign of what a rare and complicated political
year this is.

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

Monday, July 11, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: News Update 19

THERESA MAY NEW BRITISH
PRIME MINISTER

British Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom, one of two
remaining candidates to replace retiring Prime Minister
David Cameron, has withdrawn from the contest, leaving
Home Secretary Theresa May as the only aspirant for
the post. Mr Cameron has just announced that he will
resign on Wednesday instead of in October, and will meet
with Queen Elizabeth II on that day to formally retire and
recommend Mrs. May as his replacement. Mrs. May will
become only the second woman to hold the office of British
first minister (Margaret Thatcher was the first). Although
Mrs. May was a low-profile opponent of the the recent Brexit
referendum, she has pledged firmly to honor the majority
decision of the voters of the United Kingdom to withdraw
within the next two years (or before) from its membership in
the European Union (EU). Mrs. Leadsom had been a leading
and outspoken supporter of Brexit, but she trailed significantly
in the first two ballots by fellow members of parliament.
A nine-week campaign between Mrs. May and Mrs. Leadsom
had just got underway when the energy secretary
unexpectedly withdrew.

EVAN BAYH LAST-MINUTE
INDIANA SENATE CANDIDATE

Former Indiana Governor and Senator Evan Bayh will replace
the presumptive Democratic nominee Baron Hill for the U.S.
senate in the Hoosier State, numerous sources report.  Mr.
Bayh last ran for office in Indiana in 2004. In 2010, he surprised
local Democrats by announcing his retirement from the seat
now being contested in 2016. In 2010, the seat was won by
Dan Coats who had, in fact, preceded Mr. Bayh in the office.
Congressman Hill had been expected to lose the seat this
November to GOP nominee Congressman Todd Young, so
the announced switch has given Democrats new hope of
picking a senate seat, and possibly regaining control of the
U.S. senate. The surprise announcement also reveals the
serious maneuvering by both parties for senate control.
Earlier, GOP Senator Marco Rubio of Florida reversed
himself about retiring in 2016 (after his unsuccessful
presidential bid), and the presumptive GOP senate candidate
withdrew in Mr. Rubio’s favor. The hitherto open Florida
seat had been rated a likely Democratic pick-up, but now Mr.
Rubio is favored to win. In Indiana, Mr. Bayh reportedly has
a previously unused $10 million campaign war chest available,
but Congressman Young remains a formidable opponent.
Mr. Bayh had previously been on Hillary Clinton’s short list
of vice presidential running mates.

GENERAL MICHAEL FLYNN’S
VEEP TRIAL BALLOON LOSES AIR

After reportedly being vetted to be Donald Trump’s possible
running mate, retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, appointed
by President Obama to be director of the defense intelligence
agency, said in a national TV interview that he is strongly
pro-choice on the issue of abortion. A registered Democrat
and a supporter of other progressive social issues, General
Flynn’s candidacy was immediately denounced by
conservative and pro-life leaders who vowed to block his
nomination at the Republican convention. A much-medaled
and experienced veteran officer, General Flynn is known to be
remarkably outspoken, and says he was forced to retire early
by the Obama administration for his hard-line views on the
war on terror. Like many non-political civilian figures before
him, Mr. Trump has been reportedly interested in having a
general as a running mate, but the passionate opposition to
General Flynn by the pro-life community would make his
nomination a presumptive non-starter. The national
Republican Party and its grass roots voters are
overwhelmingly pro-life.

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

Friday, July 8, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Both Veep Choices Matter This Time

I have already written, during this election cycle and during
earlier ones, how exaggerated are the vice presidential
selections as usually treated in the media, and by voters
when they cast their ballots. There are obviously exceptions
to this commonplace, although they are few and historically
far between.

The most important exception happened 72 years ago when
President Franklin Roosevelt was pressured by Democratic
Party leaders to replace Vice President Henry Wallace on his
1944 ticket. For all his government and business experience,
Mr. Wallace was politically naive and weak. What only Mr.
Roosevelt’s physicians knew and only a few others suspected,
was that the president was dying, and unlikely to finish his
term. In fact, FDR only survived his fourth inaugural by less
three months, and the momentous decisions to drop the
atomic bomb on Japan and to create a post-war world fell on
a most unlikely politician, Harry Truman, who had been
hand-picked at the last minute by Roosevelt to replace Mr.
Wallace.

Mr. Truman did not have a college degree (he attended a
business college for one semester), had briefly co-owned a
failed haberdashery in Missouri, and had been associated
with one of most corrupt political machines in the nation.
But Mr. Truman had much personal integrity, intelligence,
courage, and was an avid reader of history. Although many of
FDR’s actions are lauded now by historians (and some now
severely criticized), his choice of Harry Truman might be one
his greatest decisions, and one that produced the greatest
lasting significance.

Our arguably greatest president (other than George
Washington) was Abraham Lincoln, and he, too, was faced
with a crucial choice for picking a new vice president for his
re-election. The Civil War was not going well for the North
in early 1864, and Lincoln’s Democratic opponent was to be
a controversial general he had earlier replaced. Republican
Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln decided, needed
to be replaced by a Democrat for the problematic re-election.
Lincoln settled on an erratic and alcoholic Andrew Johnson.
Although he himself thought he would lose, it turned out
that Mr. Lincoln won with relative ease after several
important Union victories just before the election, but as in
the case of FDR, Lincoln survived only about a month before
he died in office. Now president, Mr. Johnson was
ill-prepared for the post-Civil War period, and probably many
reconciliation opportunities were lost, setting up civil rights
strife that lasted well into the next century.

Those are perhaps the extremes, although President Nixon’s
choice of the corrupt Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew for
his vice president led eventually to Agnew’s resignation just
before Nixon’s own resignation in 1974, was also an
extraordinary disaster. Fortunately, a constitutional
amendment had provided for a sitting president to appoint a
vice president who had prematurely left office, and Nixon’s
choice was Gerald Ford, an honorable and decent man who
filled out Nixon’s second term.

Both the presumptive major party nominees in 2016 are about
70 years old. Mrs. Clinton has just narrowly avoided
indictment for her actions when secretary of state. Mr. Trump
has virtually no government experience. Both appear healthy,
but there are very few jobs in the world with more stress than
being president of the United States.

I very recently wrote a column stating that, all other
considerations aside, the number one qualification for vice
president is being able, on a moment’s notice, to assume the
presidency.

We are days, perhaps even only hours, away from Mrs.
Clinton and Mr. Trump announcing their running mates.
There are only a limited number of truly qualified persons
in both parties to serve as vice president beginning in
January, 2017.

Let us all hope that, the strife of the nomination campaigns
behind them, each nominee makes a truly good choice.

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Who Is Theresa May?

We Yanks might need to get used to the name of
Theresa May.

The Oxford-educated British home secretary is likely
to be chosen as the next UK prime minister to succeed
David Cameron in October. As one of the few women
ever to occupy one of the four top jobs in the British
cabinet, and with a tough law-and-order reputation, she
will be likened by many to Margaret Thatcher, the “iron
lady” of UK politics, but she might be better described
as an English Angela Merkel.

The job of home secretary is one of the most challenging
in the cabinet because this is the office which oversees
civil disturbances, immigration controversies and overall
UK homeland security. Mrs. May has been in her present
post since 2010, and a member of parliament since 1997.
She has therefore been at the center of some of the most
contentious issues in the UK, and it is a testament to her
official performance and public image that she led by a
large margin on the first ballot of Conservative (Tory)
Party M.P.s following Mr, Cameron’s resignation. She is
also the clear favorite in most UK public opinion polls.
She is expected to win the premiership outright in a final
ballot, although one rival, Energy Minister Andrea
Leadsom, remains in the race after a second ballot. Mrs.
Leadsom was an outspoken proponent of Brexit, and has
the support of prominent euroskeptics. (No matter who
wins, the next UK prime minister will be a woman.)

All the more remarkable, perhaps, was that May opposed
the Brexit vote, allying herself with the prime minster and
most of the cabinet. She has stated emphatically, however,
that the British voters have voted clearly to withdraw from
the European Union (EU), and there is no going back.  She
is committed to the formal break within two years, as the
EU treaty specifies.

Like Mrs. Thatcher, Theresa May is no Tory aristocrat. She
is 59, the daughter of a local Anglican vicar in Sussex, and
until entering Oxford did not attend the private schools of
the British elite, as have so many British prime ministers in
the past (including Mr. Cameron). She is married to a lawyer.
They have no children. She won her seat to parliament after
losing twice, and has been re-elected easily ever since. Before
being named home secretary, she served in several “shadow”
cabinets under a number of Tory leaders when her party was
not in power. In 2002, she was named the first woman to be
chair of the Conservative Party, and served for one year.

British politics are often confusing to Americans, especially
because of the British parliamentary system. Under President
Obama, the U.S. relationship with our oldest ally (and former
colonial master) has been up and down. Mr. Obama formally
declared his opposition to Brexit. The next British prime
minister will be perhaps all the more important to Americans
as the next U.S. president navigates not only a post-Brexit
world, but also the extraordinary challenges in a quickly
changing global economy, as well as the increasing
dangers from threats from throughout the entire planet.

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

Monday, July 4, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Veep Choices, 2016

We are now only days away from the announcements by the
major party presidential nominees of their choices of vice
presidential running mates.

We pundits usually go overboard in anticipation of these
announcements with over-the-top speculation that puts our
commentary usually, in the end, under water.

We always need to recall, however, some simple political
truisms about this ritual moment in the presidential
campaign season.

First, the vice presidential choice very rarely makes a
difference in the election. Most voters are understandably
preoccupied with the office of president, and who they will
have to listen to, and look at, from the “bully pulpit” every
day for the next four years. The stereotypical exception was
John Kennedy’s choice of Lyndon Johnson who brought the
ticket the key electoral votes of Texas in 1960.

The office of vice president is legally a necessary footnote in
the U.S. constitution, and for most of U.S. history has been
merely and primarily waiting for an unplanned vacancy in
the Oval Office. In that sense, the office can be quite
important, as history has shown. It was fortunate that
Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman were vice presidents
when tragedy struck, but not so fortunate when Andrew
Johnson, John Tyler and Chester Alan Arthur were required
to take over from fallen presidents.

The work of the vice president is almost entirely ceremonial
unless the president specifically assigns him or her increased
duties. This is only a recent development in the institution of
the executive branch. Jimmy Carter gave Walter Mondale a
greater role, as did George W. Bush with Dick Cheney. Carter
and Bush had little Washington, DC experience, and it made
sense to employ Mondale and Cheney (each who did) in a
greater role.

Every cycle, of course, has its own characteristics, as does
each presidential nominee. In 2016, there is a singular contrast
between the nominees and their vice presidential needs.
Hillary Clinton is the consummate Washington insider, having
been first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state. Like her
presumptive Republican opponent, she provokes strong
positive and negative feelings among voters, but Mrs. Clinton,
unlike her opponent, will likely consider demographics and
“balance” in her choice of running mate. She almost certainly
is doing extensive polling on this matter. Conventional
speculation is mostly about her need to placate the left wing
of her party, the Bernie Sanders wing. This might suggest
Senator Elizabeth Warren as her choice, but having two
controversial women on one ticket would be an enormous
risk. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota would be a
savvier choice if the strategy is for an all-woman ticket, but
the Minnesota senator has little appeal to the left. Mrs.
Clinton also has a contrasting need to appeal to the political
center, and Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia might be a wise
choice if this were the strategy. An Hispanic-American
running mate has also been suggested for Mrs. Clinton. 
A surprise is quite possible.

Donald Trump does not really need a demographically
balanced ticket. In November, voters will either be for him or
against him. What Mr. Trump needs, and he has said this is
what he wants, is an experienced Washington figure who will
be invaluable to him should he win the presidency, and who
would be reassuring to many voters now on the electoral
fence. Two governors with congressional experience, Mike
Pence of Indiana and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma have recently
been mentioned, as has Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.
But perhaps the most substantive choice would be former
Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who has the most
experience and the knowledge of domestic, military and
international affairs to be instantly credible and invaluable
as a running mate, and as a vice president. Mr. Gingrich,
on the other hand (and like Mr. Christie) has a powerful
political personality, and Mr. Trump might worry about
being upstaged. Both of these men have quite strongly
supported Mr. Trump (although Mr. Christie ran against him
for the nomination). Donald Trump, in the end, is going to
make up his own mind; no one is going to tell him what’s
best for him (other than perhaps his innermost circle of
advisers that includes his family). Mr. Trump’s choice,
however, will tell us much about what kind of administration
he would lead if elected.

(In full disclosure, I have known personally both Senator
Klobuchar and Speaker Gingrich for many years.]

As is always the case, the most important consideration about
presidential nominees’ choices for vice president is whether
or not they are ready to be president on a moment’s notice.

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