Monday, October 17, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Robert Zimmerman, Laureate

Robert Zimmerman was born in Duluth and then raised in
the remote northern Minnesota town of Hibbing seventy-five 
years ago. He has now won the 2016 Nobel Prize for
literature. Along with the prize medal, he will receive more
than a million dollars. He doesn’t need it; he’ll probably give
it to charity.

He doesn’t need the money because he’s made a fortune over
the years, and he doesn’t need the recognition of the prize
because he’s one of the most famous persons in the world
where he is known as Bob Dylan, folksinger and songwriter.

I suppose the award will be a bit controversial since Dylan is
not formally a poet, a fiction writer or a dramatist --- the usual
categories for the recipients of the prize. The Nobel committee
has given him the prize for his lifetime of songwriting and lyrics,
a music form of poetry. Since the origins of poetry are generally
believed to have arisen from early music and song, I don’t think
even “purists” about what is literature, and what is not, have a
case against this laureate. Considering his enduring body of
work, which he has refined over half a century, and the impact
of it on American and world culture, I don’t think there is a
reasonable argument that he should not be so honored.

I share a few things with Robert Zimmerman, including
perhaps most strikingly, the same birthday (although he is older
than I am). We also share a similar background, and for many
decades I have lived in the Twin Cities where he made his early
foray into a musical life. Years ago, I dated a young woman whose
mother had been Zimmerman’s religious school teacher in
Hibbing, and she told me a few stories about when he came over
to their house. Decades after that, I settled in Minneapolis to
publish a newspaper in the neighborhoods of the West Bank and
East Bank where young Bob had come in the late 1950a as a
scraggly teenager with a guitar. One of my advertisers, now
deceased, was a West Bank bar owner who had operated an East
Bank coffeehouse a few years before, and he related to me his
first-hand account of young Zimmerman coming into his Ten
O’Clock Scholar one Friday afternoon, looking to play and
sing. My bar owner friend told Zimmerman that he could
perform that evening --- which he did. At some point in the
evening, while the Hibbing teenager was playing, the bar
owner’s wife came in and asked who was playing. After he told
her the name, she reportedly said, “He’s terrible. Fire him!’
And so ended, Bob Dylan’s first professional singing gig, as it
was told to me. (He had earlier played the piano for two nights
for Bobby V’s band). The bar owner also told me he ran into
Dylan years later in Manhattan, and Dylan had remembered
him and treated him graciously. Local folks have also reported
to me seeing young Zimmerman sitting on the sidewalk in that
East Bank neighborhood called Dinkytown, and performing
for passers-by, something which folksingers still do there
today. The area was, in fact, a place where many well-known
folksingers and musicians got started, including “Spider John”
Koerner, Dave Ray, Tony Glover, John Beach, Peter Ostroushko,
Butch Thompson, Willie and the Bees, and performers from the
legendary West Bank School of Music.

I published my newspaper for fourteen years in those
neighborhoods, and lived there for many years more. From
time to time, I would hear stories about Bob Dylan coming
back to the West Bank and the Twin Cities anonymously to
see family members and to hear some of his old musician
friends perform. I did not ever see him myself, nor have I ever
met him. I probably won’t either.

Although I make a living as a journalist and writer about
history, I am first an American poet. I attended the Iowa
Writers Workshop, got a degree there, and my work has
appeared in some of the leading U.S. literary magazines.
Books of my poetry and short fiction have been published.
I guess that makes me more formally a person of “literature.”
Some of my fellow writers and others, as I mentioned earlier,
might object to Bob Dylan receiving the Nobel Prize for
literature. In fact, the Nobel committee has been quite erratic
in the recent past, awarding the prize on occasion more for
political “correctness” than for true merit, in my opinion.
On the other hand, a few years ago, the prize went to the
Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer who, in spite of being
almost unknown outside a few literary circles, was perhaps
then the greatest living poet in any language. That was an
inspired choice to be Nobel literary laureate that year --- just
as I think it was an appropriate choice to give the prize in
2016 to a Jewish kid from northern Minnesota who grew up
to sing to, and to inspire, so many around the world.

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

Monday, October 10, 2016


What we are now witnessing in the 2016 U.S. presidential
election is an unprecedented media coup d’etat as many of
the combined media forces (but not all of its members) are
attempting to determine the next president before the voting
takes place.

I want to make clear that I have not endorsed either Hillary
Clinton or Donald Trump, and that I have criticized each of
them on occasions when I thought it was fair and appropriate.
I found Mr. Trump’s  recently released video tape comments
to be crude and unacceptable, and I found some of Mrs.
Clinton’s comments in the release of texts from her speeches
to be inappropriate and seriously wrong-headed.

Those are only my opinions, and I know they are not shared
in many cases by partisans of each candidate. Nonetheless,
I don’t feel it is my job or prerogative to tell my readers how
to vote in this election.

Unfortunately, many newspapers, magazines, major and cable
TV and radio networks are  choosing to take part in an attempt
to influence the outcome of the election way beyond what I
think are the acceptable standards of the media’s role in a
presidential election. To be fair, it is not only the liberal media,
but some in the conservative media as well who have joined
into this endeavor.

This has taken the forms of days and weeks of one-sided
press coverage (I distinguish that from editorial opinion), hours
of relentless and repetitious broadcasts of the most salacious
material about Mr. Trump while downplaying equally serious
material from Mrs, Clinton’s hitherto unpublished speeches
and e-mails, obviously biased moderators of the TV debates
so far, and generally one-sided coverage of the campaign itself
once the primary/caucus season was concluded, Before that,
the media clearly overplayed its coverage of Mr. Trump, and
did so mostly uncritically, giving him an unfair advantage
against his Republican nomination opponents.

I make a distinction between opinion writing and reporting
journalism. It is understood that some are writing with a
partisan point of view. My attention here is directed to those
who presume to be addressing their readers and audiences
without unfair bias.

Media bias is nothing new. Polling of reporters show that an
overwhelming majority of them are liberals and Democrats.
(Decades ago, it should be noted, most in the media were
conservatives and Republicans.) Balanced coverage is perhaps
an unrealistic expectation, but the behavior of so many media
institutions in 2016 goes beyond mere bias. The front page is
not the editorial page.
No wonder all polls of public attitudes
show trust in the media to be so low.

It is understandable that much of Donald Trump’s manner, and
many of his words, turn off media and establishment elites in
both parties. It is fair to criticize him for his lapses. But Hillary
Clinton also speaks controversially and has made egregious
mistakes. To try to pretend that she does not have equally low
credibility is unjustifiable.

Fortunately, the final say in an election rests with the voters.
Donald Trump might well lose on November 8 because he was
not able to persuade enough voters that he should be president.
Perhaps he will make a comeback. It is not up to the media,
however, to try to predetermine that result by bullying the public
into their own way of thinking.

For whatever reason history has presented the American
electorate with two such flawed nominees, it is up to the voters
to sort this dilemma out on their own.

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


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Friday, October 7, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: On Writing About Food And Restaurants

Although I am a literary (poetry and fiction) writer who makes
his living writing about history and politics, I have throughout
my writing life devoted part of it to an ongoing conversation
about food and dining out. But I’m certain that if any of my
writing lasts for any time, it will not likely be my food

We theoretically spend one-third of our lives asleep. Unless you
are a medical doctor, physiologist or psychiatrist, there is not
much to write about this huge block  of time in our daily lives.
I calculate, however, that most of us spend 3-6 hours a day in the
purchase, preparation and consumption of food. Of course, if
you are in the food/restaurant business, that daily time is much
more. It is, therefore, not a superficial or unimportant part of
virtually everyone’s daily life.

I became a professional journalist by editing and publishing two
small newspapers. I had not intended to do this. Instead, after
getting a degree from the Iowa Writers Workshop, I went to New
York City to work as a literary editor and poet. Soon enough,
however, my lack of funds brought me to Minnesota and a plan
to create a literary publishing house, and when that proved
economically unrealistic, I began to publish two community
newspapers, one in the suburbs and one in the heart of urban
Minneapolis. What made my newspapers distinctive perhaps
was that I was a literary writer and not a trained journalist.

In those days, the early 1970s, the extraordinary food culture
renaissance we are now enjoying was in its relative infancy. High
cuisine, fine wines, specialty coffees and teas, and farm-to-table
produce had been available to the very affluent for decades, but
an incipient food culture now began to be shared by many middle
class Americans. This was often led by those from Mediterranean
backgrounds, including the Spanish, French, Italian, Balkan,
Greek and Middle Eastern. Those who originated from more
northern European cultures often came later to this culinary

I had come from a family which prized good food --- although until
I was in my teens, I had little contact with most ethnic food
cultures except my own plus the standard Chinese and Italian fare
from local restaurants in my small city. My grandmother was a
legendary cook, but the range of her menu was small. Her daughters
were all excellent cooks, but except for my childless Aunt Reta, the
food choices were limited. Aunt Reta once invited me over to her
house (when I was twelve) to make crepes Suzette from scratch, and
it was a thrill. The only problem was that it didn’t take much liqueur
to get me tipsy, and when my mother came to pick me up, she was

Trips to New York City and south Florida in my teens made me
gradually aware of more and more food cultures, and by the time
I got to Minnesota in my late 20s, I presumed I knew something
about food.

In fact, my food education had only begun.

I began writing regularly about food after being invited to be the
food critic of one of the state’s largest daily newspapers. The pay
was tiny, and I had my own newspaper, so I declined the offer and
began writing restaurant reviews for my own publication. This was
at the time when general interest in dining out was beginning to
boom. My anonymous reviews became my newspaper’s most popular
and best revenue-generating feature.

I have always tried to be very careful writing about food matters
I don’t know much about. I’m not a chef, nor am I a farmer,
nutritionist or restaurateur. I do have a wide-ranging palate, love
to eat, and am willing to explore for food adventures. I also took
the time to befriend talented young chefs and imaginative
restaurateurs. I soon became immersed in the local food culture,
and on frequent trips across the country, I went out of my way to
go to celebrated restaurants. A few years later, I began to lecture
(about politics) on transatlantic and other cruise ships where an
extraordinary range of fine dining was available. In my travels
abroad, especially in Europe, I aggressively sought out local
dining experiences.

I am still not truly an “expert” about food, although I have
acquired some knowledge about preparing food, running
restaurants, the difference between fresh and not-so fresh
produce, the experience of the world’s wines and craft beers,
and the cameraderie of sharing tables with other food lovers.

I also have noted the excesses of food snobbery, the artificial
preciousness of some food writing and descriptions, and the
all-too-frequent lack of good value in food pricing in grocery
stores, markets and restaurant menus.

But it is a special delight to be introduced to a new vegetable
or fruit, encounter a superb new recipe, enjoy well-prepared
foods, have a great restaurant experience, and be poured or
brewed an extraordinary wine, coffee or tea.

Being a storyteller, my approach is to try to put my food or
dining experience, good or bad, into the context of an
anecdotal account that might interest a reader. I constantly
look for not only new foods and recipes, but also the many
wonderful characters in the food culture who make it possible,
that is the chefs, the restaurateurs, the baristas, the sommeliers,
the waiters and waitresses, and of course those who grow and
produce the food we eat.

What I have learned most is that there is poetry, mystery,
philosophy and music in the food we eat and drink. It’s not
something you can learn in a school, or even acquire by reading
a cookbook. Thanks to our new food culture, it isn’t even
necessary to spend a lot of money (although some do).

For me, food writing is about paying homage more to what we
spend our time doing. Eating and drinking is something each of
us does every day --- in fact it takes about a sixth of every day of
our lives.

That this inevitable daily act can also include so many of
the insights and pleasures of our conscious life makes writing
about food perhaps as incomparable and revelatory as some
other subjects we usually take more seriously.

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


As readers of this site know, I both predicted and supported
Hillary Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine to be her vice
presidential running mate. Moderate in his record, genial
and likable, I thought it was a very good match.

The public response to Mr. Kaine’s performance in last night’s
only televised vice presidential debate in Virginia indicates
that Mr. Kaine and his advisers made a serious mistake in his
debate manner, that is, his constant and usually annoying
interruptions of his opponent Mike Pence.

I also thought Mr. Pence was a good choice by Donald Trump
as his running mate, and the Indiana governor fulfilled that
with a steady and calm demeanor in the debate.

Reasonable arguments can be made that each of the vice
presidential nominees had good arguments on the issues that
strengthened them with their respective political bases, but a
national TV debate, especially when there is only one, is mostly
about visceral impression. The overwhelming consensus, even
among many liberal media commentators, was that Mr. Pence
won the evening.

What Mr. Kaine had most to offer supporters of Mrs. Clinton
was that, in addition to competency for the job, he was likable,
something his running mate was not. After last night’s debate,
the Democrats now have a ticket with two persons who could
be perceived as less than likable. Mr. Trump is also perceived
negatively by many voters, but now he could be perceived as
someone with not only a competent, but a likable running mate.

This will not have a huge impact on the final vote. The second
person on a national ticket rarely does. But it does give Mr.
Trump a boost at a time when he really needs it, and gives him
an instructive model for his own approach to his upcoming
second debate with Mrs. Clinton.

In their first debate, both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton
frequently interrupted each other, and I think that such a tactic
dos not appeal to most undecided voters --- the voters who
now count the most to who wins on November 8.

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

Monday, October 3, 2016


With the slow, but increasing, realization that we, the human
race, are on the verge of replacing ourselves with machines,
it is perhaps of special interest to go back to the earliest
moments when this profound insight first appeared in our

Perhaps the most notable of these took place just after World
War I when a young Czech playwright/novelist named Karel
Capek wrote a play titled mysteriously “R.U.R.” that
premiered in a Prague theater, and quickly became a
worldwide sensation.

A bit of history: Czechoslovakia had long been part of the
Austro-Hungarian empire in Europe, but had its own historic
culture and language. After World War I, it finally received its
own independence as a combination of Bohemia and
Slovakia, two ancient European small states which had
emerged from the Dark Ages. The George Washington of
Czechoslovakia was Tomas Masaryk, a brilliant democratic
and humanist figure who was the small nation’s first president.
Incredibly rich in folklore and culture, but small in population
(less than 10 million), the Republic of Czechoslovakia
continued as a center of art and innovation on the newly
liberated European landscape. Composers such as Antonin
Dvorak, Bedrich Smetana and Leos Janacek; writers such as
Rainer Maria Rilke and Franz Kafka remain giants today in
world culture. The word “bohemian” has become a word in
English because it captured so aptly the subculture of Western
artistic life of the 19th and 20th centuries.

However, Czechoslovakia and its writer Karel Capek also
added a new word to English (and virtually all other world
languages) which applies importantly to the 21st century.
The play title “R.U.R.” stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots.
In Czech, “rossum” means “reason,” and “robot” means
“drudgery.” The word robot has its origins in the Czech word
for “slave.” Capek’s play is the very first appearance anywhere
of the word robot (the playwright gave credit to the actual
invention of the word to his writer brother Josef.)

Today, “robotics” has become a central term in the evolution
of human activity. The word robot now stands for virtually all
machines created to do the work of humans. In the 1920’s,
robots were concepts of the future. Today, they are being devised
and put to work everywhere in virtually all human activities as
they replace human workers.

Since the early 1920’s, science fiction writers and films have
portrayed increasingly sympathetic or threatening versions of
robots. The apotheosis of the former were lovable characters in
Star Wars. More ominous robots, however, have appeared in
books and films as a force that brutally takes over the human
race and eliminates or enslaves it.

An even newer and related technology is artificial intelligence or
AI. This has presented itself less physically as robotic machines
and more as hyper-thinking entities. Curiously, Capek’s robots
in 1920 were more a premonition of AI than of robotics. In his
play, the robots are actually artificially created thinking beings,
more like “cyborgs” or “androids.” Capek presciently also
foresees the robotic revolution producing more goods at much
lower prices, as well as its disrupting human society.

Karel Capek was one of the world’s great futurists. A thinker
and philosopher, as well as a playwright and novelist, he was
during his short life on the cutting edge of what was then
anticipated as the future of humanity. His play “R.U.R.” is rarely
performed today, and science fiction writers such as Isaac
Asimov have criticized it as a bad play because it ends on an
optimistic note (the last surviving human being in the play turns
over the world to two robots, calling them “Adam” and “Eve”).

But we need to remember that tragic time. Czechoslovakia, it
turned out, would only exist for 20 years. Its allies, Britain and
France, turned it over to Hitler without a fight at Munich in a
notorious betrayal. Capek himself, only 48, died from pneumonia
on Christmas Day, 1938 --- only weeks after his beloved republic
was sold out by Neville Chamberlain and his cohorts. Many
believe he actually died from his broken heart sensing the
holocaust that was to come. (His brother Josef, the man who
actually invented the word “robot,” perished in a concentration
camp shortly afterwards.)

After World War II, Czechoslovakia traded the beast of Hitlerian
fascism for the beast of Soviet communism. Only in 1990, as the
Soviet Union was crumbling, was an independent, democratic
Czechoslovakia revived. It soon was divided into two separate
nations, The Czech Republic and Slovakia. Prague today is an
exciting cultural center of the new Europe.

In that extraordinary time and in that extraordinary place,
Karel Capek had a remarkable vision of the future, and he chose
to see it with hope and promise. Only about a decade after
putting robots into the human vocabulary, he was faced with one
of the most unspeakable depravities human beings ever created,
a depravity made solely by human evil with no assistance from

Today, with robots and AI about to replace a major part of all
human work, and change forever how we live, the future is
also threatened by new and malign human frailties. Who can
fault the futurist Karel Capek for his timeless statement of hope
and survival?

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

Saturday, October 1, 2016


The Republican majority has grown large enough, most
would agree, that there are very few seats the GOP could
pick up in 2016, and even should Republicans win the
presidential election, they are unlikely to make net gains
in either house of the next Congress.

There are some exceptions to this, and one of the most
notable could take place in the remote northern Minnesota
border district known popularly as “The Range.”

That is the Minnesota 8th congressional district, and the
race is a re-run of the one in 2014  between incumbent
Democrat (in Minnesota called the Democratic-Farmer-
Labor Party or DFL) Rick Nolan, 72, and businessman
Stewart Mills. 44.

In 2014, the contest was very close, with incumbent Nolan
narrowly winning only by about 3000 votes (about 1%)
over his first-time challenger. The political circumstances
in MN-8 in 2016 are quite different, however, and could
produce an upset in November.

The Iron Range is historically an ethnic working class
district in northeastern Minnesota. Central European and
Scandinavian early settlers supplied the backbone of the
historic iron mining industry which sent the valuable ore
by ship and rail to refining and smelting centers to the
east. Early Finnish immigrants were perhaps the most
radical, and populism remains part of the 8th district’s
political character, but this political personality is changing.

After World War II, the Minnesota 8th district elected and
re-elected DFLer John Blatnik to Congress for 14 terms, and
when he retired, his former chief aide James Oberstar took
the seat. In these post-war years, the 8th district supplied the
state Democratic Party (DFL) with large and reliable
majorities which, added with those in the increasingly liberal
“Twin Cities” of St. Paul and Minneapolis, supplied enough
votes to overcome Republican majorities in the suburbs and
outstate. One of those who had created the DFL in 1944 was
Hubert Humphrey who first became mayor of Minneapolis
and then in 1948 a U.S. senator. With several former aides who
themselves ran for elected office, including Walter Mondale,
Mr. Humphrey presided over several decades of liberal
hegemony in the state.

That political dominance ended in 1978 when Republicans
swept the top state wide races in upset wins for governor and
two U.S. senate seats (the rare occasion of two senate seats in
the same cycle was precipitated by Mr. Mondale’s election to
the vice presidency and Mr. Humphrey’s death). In spite of this
“Minnesota massacre” as it became known, the 8th district
and the two Twin City districts remained reliably DFL.

While the Twin City metro area was seeing significant growth,
however, environmental issues and foreign competition had
decimated the iron mining area, and the Range suffered
steady and dramatic population loss. The district’s largest city,
the Lake Superior port of Duluth, maintained its urban
liberalism, but some of the blue collar, Catholic, pro-life
and conservative voters on the Range found themselves at
increasing political distance from the significantly more
liberal and pro-choice DFL voters in the rest of the state.

In 2010, 18-term, aging incumbent Oberstar was defeated by 
GOP challenger Chip Cravaack in a stunning upset, but the
DFL won the seat back in the 2012 presidential year with former
Congressman Rick Nolan, a native of the district who had
moved to southern Minnesota, and won a seat there for three
terms from 1975 to 1981. At that point, Mr. Nolan retired, and
went into private business. In a rare example of a political
career revival, he then emerged in 2012 after 30 years in
private life, to resume a seat in Congress.

Minnesota’s 8th district is one of those traditional Democratic
areas which is more socially conservative and traditionalist
than most liberal urban districts throughout the U.S.  Like
similar districts along the Great Lakes “rust belt,” it is a region
altered by departing manufacturing and mining industries,
rapidly changing demographics, and recent redistricting

(In fact, this might be one of the last elections in the 8th district.
The state is likely to lose one congressional seat in the 2020
census, and this would probably redraw northern Minnesota
into one district, combining much of what are now the 7th and
8th districts.)

Mr. Nolan had several advantages in his first re-election in
He was the incumbent, the district was still rated D+3,
Mr. Mills had not run for office previously, and the DFLer
had a superior GOTV effort, supported by incumbent DFL
gubernatorial and U.S. senate candidates running statewide
against relatively weak Republican opponents. Mr. Nolan also
had the resource of liberal national PACs which poured in
massive funds for advertising into the race at the very end.

This cycle Congressman Nolan remains the incumbent, but
his opponent has a hard-fought previous campaign under his
belt. Unlike 2014, when Mr. Mills depended primarily on the
state party for his GOTV, the challenger has his own major
effort underway. There are no DFL statewide candidates
running in 2016, and the Democratic presidential nominee,
usually a major asset in this race, trails Donald Trump in the
8th district. Mr. Mills family business was sold in the past year,
and he has access to virtually unlimited personal campaign
funds. Conservative PACs seem likely to match liberal PAC
funding this cycle in this race, and at least one private poll
reportedly now rates the district R+1. In any event, the
Republican candidate will not likely be caught by surprise by
any last-minute push by his DFL opponent as he was in 2014.

Mr. Nolan does have the new advantage this cycle, however, of
having no third party candidate on the ballot to drain votes
from his candidacy. In an interview at the annual state DFL
convention in Minneapolis, Mr. Nolan expressed his relief
that no Green Party candidate was running in 2016. In 2014,
the Green Party candidate, running against the incumbent’s
environmental record, received more than 11,000 votes or 4%
of the total cast. Prior to the Democratic national convention,
Mr. Nolan endorsed and supported the presidential candidacy
of Bernie Sanders (who is much more popular in the area
among DFLers than Hillary Clinton).

Environmental issues highlight one of the challenges that face
Mr. Nolan in the district. Attempts to revive the mining industry,
and thus re-employ many out-of-work miners on the Range,
bring environmentalists and labor unions into open conflict in
this part of the state. Normally, these two groups form part of
the liberal party’s base, but in this northeastern district, they
are at odds. Mr. Nolan has tried very hard to walk the fine line
between them, but as has happened in coal country in
southeastern Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania,
once large Democratic majorities now vote heavily Republican.

Another handicap for Mr. Nolan is his “F” rating from the
National Rifle Association (NRA). Mr. Mills has been endorsed by
the NRA, and is an enthusiastic hunter. Mr. Nolan also is a hunter,
and has been running TV ads proclaiming this, but his long-time
opposition to many NRA issues cuts into his support in the rural
part of the district.

One of first-time candidate Mills’ novelties last cycle was that he
was a conservative with long hair. This year, the Republican has
cut his hair, and the change seems to be working to his advantage.
A member of prominent business family in the district, Mills has
emerged as a folksy campaigner, and an articulate critic of the
Obama administration economic policies, including his strong
opposition to Obamacare (which as a businessman first drew
him into the congressional race two years ago). Mr. Mills also has
been a vocal critic of the Obama Iran deal which Mr. Nolan
voted for, and of the administration’s reduction of the military
and its foreign policy in the Middle East.

Rick Nolan will likely receive more votes in the 8th district than
Hillary Clinton, and while there are no DFL statewide candidates
to help him, the liberal party’s GOTV organization, a legacy of
the late DFL Senator Paul Wellstone, remains one of the most
effective in the nation. Mr. Nolan is an experienced campaigner,
but he faces a much tougher race this cycle than in the past two.

Having once demonstrated that a second political life is
possible in Minnesota, Rick Nolan, however, could discover in
2016  that even political re-runs, unlike TV re-runs, do not play
indefinitely, and can run out of time.

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

Thursday, September 29, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A First Override Of An Obama Veto

The first successful override of a veto by President Obama
has occurred, and is much more than a footnote.

For Democrats, it is an alarum to the prospect of their party
failing to win back control of the U.S. senate. This would be
equally a warning whether or not their nominee, Hillary
Clinton, wins the presidency in November. If she does win,
but does not control the senate, she is likely to face stalemate
her entire term, because so many more incumbent liberal
senate seats than conservative seats will be up for re-election
(thus favoring GOP control of that body) in 2018. If she does
not win against Donald Trump, the period of 2017-19 would
likely resemble 2009-2011 when the Democrats had regained the
White House and controlled both houses of Congress (resulting
in, among other matters, the passage of Obamacare). Only this
time, the conservatives would be in charge.

For Republicans, the override is a trumpet call to protect their
majorities and Congress, and means that the GOP leadership
is now emboldened to block more of the policies of the Obama
administration they oppose. Many conservatives have attacked
Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for
failing to do just this, but now (just before the election) the
Republican congressional leadership can point to a success.

The specific issue arising from the legislation is of less
immediate consequence than the unprecedented override itself.
For once, the GOP leadership put their Democratic colleagues
in a bind --- they simply could not be seen as preventing 9/11
families from seeking legal redress from Saudi Arabia. It would
have been a PR disaster for the liberal party in the final days of
the 2016 campaign. Since there are legitimate controversies in
the bill, President Obama might have avoided the override by
working with the GOP leadership before the legislation passed,
but he has become so accustomed to congressional Democrats 
doing his bidding in the past, and he is so politically isolated,
that he forgot or chose to ignore that the first rule in politics is
survival. Having to choose between a lame duck president or
defeat in November, it was not a difficult choice for most
Democrats. And now, the override genie is out of the political

If you are Democrat rooting for Hillary Clinton or a Republican
rooting for Donald Trump or an independent worried about
stalemate, the override of the president’s veto is equally, but for
different reasons, a wake-up call that beginning in 2017 it won’t
likely to be political business as usual.

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