Tuesday, September 27, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "Ronald" Trump Vs. Hillary "Mondale"

To understand why Donald Trump probably won the first TV
debate, it is necessary to revisit comments I made several
days ago about the existence of two American English
languages and those who speak them.

I contended that one of those languages is spoken by an
American “establishment” that includes well-educated and
self-styled “sophisticated” men and women with political
views across the board, left, center and right. This is a social
aristocracy that is, as it is very American, not inherited by
money or class, but its culturally transmitted by education,
occupation and personal preference. The other language,
which employs the same vocabulary and syntax, is spoken by
a large number of men and women usually with less education,
often (but not always) lower-paying work, and their own set of
cultural preferences.

Each group is aware of the other, but there is relatively little
interaction between them other than when they must transact
perfunctory business, services and other daily contact with each
other.

Hillary Clinton is the 2016 representative of the former, although
those who are conservative and others who are more radical do
not necessarily like her or plan to vote for her. Donald Trump is
the representative of the latter, although those who are liberal or
very conservative do not necessarily like him or plan to vote for
him. Moreover, while Mrs. Clinton was born in her group, Mr.
Trump was not.

Donald Trump was born into wealth, privilege, private education
and high culture. But his business life which has absorbed him
most of his adult life has brought him into constant and close
contact with those who worked for him in the construction
business. According to those who know him best, Mr. Trump was
not a distant uninvolved boss, but like so many who are very
successful, was one who mixed freely with his workers and, very
importantly, listened to what they told him. As a result, he learned
not only their language, but also gained an understanding of what
was important to them.

It is their language he has been speaking in the 2016 campaign, and
their concerns he has tried to address --- and that is why, in my
opinion, the so-called educated and cultured class, even those who
are traditionally Republican and conservative, have failed to
understand his success in the 2016 primary/caucus nomination
campaign. They are, in the savvy words of a woman I know, tone deaf
to the language of those who speak the “other” American English.

In the first debate, Hillary Clinton looked and spoke well. I thought
she outperformed expectations, and most of those, including
Republicans, who speak the first kind of English thought she won the
debate. They also found Donald Trump, as they almost always have,
to be crude, ill-informed and inappropriate.

Yet almost all of the post-debate polls (unscientific, but reflecting
their audiences or readership) found that the majority favored Mr.
Trump as the winner. When you consider that these polls include
such liberal and very pro-Clinton publications as Slate, MSNBC
and Time, this is a surprise. Those who write for these and many
other liberal media outlets are predictably saying that Mrs. Clinton
won the debate --- but how does one account for these contrary poll
results, even conceding their unscientific basis? (Conservatives
rarely if ever go to liberal sites.)

I thought Mr Trump’s debate performance was uneven, restrained,
occasionally bombastic, but mostly on a substantive message of
hopeful change --- and he spoke in the language of
non-establishment Americans. I thought Mrs. Clinton’s debate
performance was well-prepared, self-assured and aggressive (all
positives) --- but she spoke in the language of the establishment.

Ronald Reagan was a movie star governor who spoke in a
non-establishment language. Not only Democrats, but many
Republicans did not take him seriously. Walter Mondale was a
career politician who was smart, witty and well-informed, and
he spoke the establishment language with almost perfect pitch.
He seemed clearly to out-debate Mr. Reagan in their first debate,
and he openly declared that he was going to raise taxes and
increase the role of government if he became president. Large
numbers of working class Democrats then voted for Mr. Reagan
who won in an historic landslide.

I might be wrong about this, but I think the hard evidence of the
2016 campaign so far supports my argument. We will know for
sure in just about a month from now, and extraordinary events,
domestic or international, could intervene to change the course
of this campaign. There are also two more debates ahead.

Of the campaign messages, which is the most hopeful and
appealing: “Make America Great Again,” “I’m With Her” or
“Vote For Neither”?

This presidential race continues to surprise and confound.
Only the voters can bring it to closure.

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

Saturday, September 24, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Debate Dependency?

Conventional wisdom has it that the imminent series of three
TV debates between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary
Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump will likely be
pivotal in the election contest that will conclude a month later.

As a chronic contrarian, I suspect that expectations on both
sides are exaggerated.

The most important element in a televised presidential debate
is visual, not verbal.

That is why John Kennedy in 1960 in the first TV presidential
debate ever defeated Richard Nixon. Most who heard that
debate only n the radio thought that Nixon had won. But Nixon’s
appearance and visual manner enabled the glamorous Kennedy
to be the winner for those who watched the debate on TV.

Three famous “blunders” in TV debates in later years were
momentarily sensational, but were not electorally fatal. Gerald
Ford mischaracterized the communist Eastern European bloc in
his debate with Jimmy Carter, but his poll numbers kept rising
after the debate. His eventual loss was primarily assigned to his
pardon of his predecessor Richard Nixon. In his first debate with
Walter Mondale, Ronald Reagan appeared uncertain and
confused, but he recovered sufficiently in the next debate to
defeat Mondale in a landslide. Mitt Romney, by all accounts,
clearly outperformed Barack Obama in their first TV debate,
but did not win the election.

Conventional wisdom also has it that Mrs. Clinton will outperform
Mr. Trump in their upcoming debates. That expectation is based on
the fact that she has much more public policy experience and
factual knowledge than he does. If the debates were to be decided
on solely that verbal basis, it might be a fair anticipation. But
Donald Trump faced 16 primary/caucus opponents who not only
had much more public policy “knowledge” than he did (and some
of them were also exceedingly good debaters), and yet he won the
nomination with relative ease.

Some observers suggest that while Trump was effective in debate
against multiple opponents, it will be a different story when he
has only one opponent facing him. Perhaps that is so, but perhaps
more likely will be that having only one opponent who is Hillary
Clinton will work to his advantage, particularly if the Hillary
Clinton who appears on the TV screen is the person she has been
perceived as in recent weeks on the campaign trail.

Newt Gingrich has publicly asserted that Donald Trump is the
best political debater today. Since he is a Trump partisan, this
assertion needs to be taken with caution, but Mr. Gingrich is the
reigning expert on the subject, partisanship aside. In my opinion,
the former speaker is the best political debater I have seen, and
I cite his performance in his own presidential run in 2012 as
evidence. Mr. Gingrich contends that Donald Trump’s debate
skill is unconventional, almost entirely intuitive, and inevitably
uncanny. If this is so, a lot of expectations will be upset in the
first Clinton-Trump debate.

Mrs. Clinton, unlike Mr. Trump, will be carefully prepared for
her debates with her opponent. She will have gone through weeks
of rehearsals with stand-ins against her. She will have “gotcha”
ripostes ready, and pre-planned provocations to unnerve the
first-time candidate running against her. (Mr. Trump, as we all
know by now, is quite capable of saying something outlandish.)
She will be superbly ready for a conventional debate, and if it
turns out to be one, she could come away with renewed
enthusiasm and momentum from the voters.

“Where’s the beef?” is perhaps the most famous line to come from
a televised presidential nomination debate. It was considered,
especially by the “sophisticated” media of its time, a mortal blow
to the opponent (Gary Hart) of the man (Walter Mondale) who spoke
it. In fact, Mr. Mondale went on to win his party’s nomination. In
November, however, after openly declaring he would raise taxes,
he suffered the worst presidential election defeat in modern history.

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


Thursday, September 22, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is Trump Ahead?

The polls, for whatever they are worth to the discussion of the
state of the presidential election, are beginning to signal that
Republican nominee Donald Trump is pulling ahead of his
Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

As I have suggested consistently, the polls are not very accurate
this cycle, and will remain so until just before the election.
That observation holds no matter who is ahead in the polls,
but might be especially so if what  I and others contend is true,
that is, that most polls underestimate Mr. Trump’s likely (new)
voters (LNVs).

One of the most confirming signs of Mr. Trump’s remarkable
rise in the polls over the past 3-4 weeks is the commentary of
Nate Silver, the respected liberal pollster who so accurately
forecast the 2012 presidential election. He is, of course,
hedging his bets with seven weeks to go (during which time
every pundit and pollster would concede is long enough for any
momentum to be reversed), but he is warning that the race is
not tightening in Mrs. Clinton’s favor (as some in the media
have very recently alleged.

Much expectation now turns to the imminent first debate.
I think it is fair to say that most Democrats and even many
Republican do not anticipate that Mr. Trump will do well in
this debate against Mrs. Clinton (who has many more years of
public policy experience than her opponent). Lower expectations
might help Mr. Trump a bit, but if he blunders, it could turn the
momentum back to his opponent.

On the other hand, an unexpected poor performance by Mrs.
Clinton might be a very serious blow to her prospects.

History cautions us about debates, however. Gerald Ford’s
“Eastern Europe” blunder in 1976 did not halt his comeback
momentum (which did fall short), and Mitt Romney’s clear
triumph in his first debate with President Obama in 2012 gave
him a short-term rise in the polls, but did not take him to
victory.

Most of the old model indicators, in fact, seem suspended this
political cycle. We are passing through one of the most
unorthodox national elections in modern history.

Time is beginning to run out, and in the closing days of a
national campaign, it seems to go more and more quickly.
History has a momentum of its own.

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: DJT Or HRC?

It is a relatively recent American journalistic tradition to
make the initials of the U.S. president a shorthand form in
mentioning the chief executive.

Teddy Roosevelt (TR) was perhaps among the earlier examples,
followed by his cousin Franklin (FDR), Harry Truman (HST),
Dwight Eisenhower (DDE), John Kennedy (JFK), Lyndon
Johnson (LBJ), and George Bush, the son (W). Not all recent
presidents received this treatment, including Calvin Coolidge,
Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon (although RMN occasionally
appeared), Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan

(sometimes RR) , Bill Clinton, and now Barack Obama. George
Bush, the father (HW), received the treatment after his
presidency to distinguish him from his son.

In 2017, with a new president, it appears that the practice will
be revived, no matter who wins. Already, Hillary Clinton (HRC)
is in common use, and I think, should he win, Donald Trump
will often be named as DJT, although a more unprecedented
(non-initialed) shorthand (“The Donald”) has been more in use
until now.

We take these shorthand devices for granted because we have
read or heard them so often, but it is curious how suddenly they
appear and come into widespread use.

This is one of the least substantive aspects of a presidential
campaign. No public policy issues are involved. No partisan
matters are at stake. But it is interesting how the initials,
serving as acronyms, often last long beyond the careers and
lifetimes of the persons they are meant to describe.

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

Saturday, September 17, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekend Update 23

POLLS SAY PRESIDENTIAL RACE IS TIED
Virtually every national poll is now showing dramatic gains
for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Several
show him leading Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by a
few points, others show the race is tied, and a few show Clinton
leading but by a significantly smaller margin than she held only
two weeks before. These polls reflect the anticipated popular
vote for president. Many observers, however, contend that the
liberal candidate still has an advantage in the all-important
electoral college composed of 538  electors, chosen by each state,
and who actually elect the president in a formal vote in
mid-December in Washington, DC. A new Reuters poll, however,
indicates that Mr. Trump is now tied with Mrs. Clinton in the
electoral college. Other pollsters have acknowledged the race is
notably tightening in most of the so-called battleground states,
that is, those states where the outcome remains to be uncertain.
Some observers, including The Prairie Editor, have suggested
that no matter the numbers in most polls they are
under-measuring a large (but unspecified) number of likely new
voters (LNVs) of all ages who previously have not voted, but
are motivated this cycle to cast a vote for president. These
“mutineers” or LNVs, The Prairie Editor further suggests, are
angry and frustrated with the political establishments, and
might tend to vote for Mr. Trump in November. In any case,
with less than two months to go, the contest outcome is as
unpredictable as ever. Lest conservatives become too giddy with
these poll numbers, The Prairie Editor cautions that another
swing or two in favor of one of the nominees is probably likely.

WHO WILL CONTROL THE U.S. SENATE?
With the U.S. presidential race tightening, political observers and
party leaders are asking how the presidential campaign will affect
down-ballot races, including particularly U.S. house and senate
contests. Historically, landslide elections have helped down-ballot
candidates of the winning party, but the results have seemed
more to reflect local political conditions and the relative quality
of the local candidates. Further, there has long existed a pattern
of incumbents winning re-election. Race-by-race polls in 2016
support this pattern, particularly in the U.S. house. Republicans
currently control that body by a wide margin and, although
expected to see a small net loss, are not expected to see their
majority overturned. The U.S. senate races, on the other hand,
give the Democrats a serious opportunity to take control back.
More than twice as many GOP-held than Democratic-held seats
are up for re-election in 2016. Virtually all liberal incumbents and
most conservative incumbents seem likely to return to the next
Congress, but some GOP senators are in competitive races, There
are also a number of open seats this cycle, and one of them,
Nevada, is the best opportunity for a Republican pick-up. On the
other hand, currently-held GOP seats in Illinois, Wisconsin, New
Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Missouri, current
polls indicate, could be lost. Three races, in Ohio, Florida and
Arizona now seem clearly favor their conservative candidates.
One Democratic seat, in Colorado, was originally thought to be
vulnerable, but so far this has not materialized in poll surveys.

Something to remember, however, is that congressional races,
especially senate ones, occasionally change dramatically in the
closing weeks of a campaign. There always seems to be one or
more surprises on election night.

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Polls Are Still Wrong

Almost all published public opinion polls have shown
significant improvement for Republican nominee Donald
Trump in the past ten days or so. Does this mean that
these polls are now accurate?

Not at all. I have argued that most, if not all, public polls
are flawed this cycle not only because of technical
deficiencies and some pollster pollster bias, but also because
there is a “mutiny of the masses” this particular year which
is aimed at, among other targets, polling. I think there is quite
a bit of evidence that during the primary/caucus campaign
many voters who favored Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump
decided that they were not going to be successfully polled.

With a potentially significant number of disaffected voters
on both the left and the right, there is some probability that
most public polls are still not giving us a true picture of voter
sentiment.

This could change. Most polls become much more accurate
just before election day (when there are much fewer
“undecided” voters --- and when pollsters take extra steps
not to be embarrassed a few days later when the votes are
counted).

But the basic problem remains. If some pollsters get it right
this cycle while many others get it wrong, we will want to
know what it was they did to reach the mutineers and measure
what they were going to do.

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Grover Cleveland Has Disappeared.....

President Grover Cleveland has been mostly forgotten by
history, but he did do a few things as president that had not
been done before.

His major footnote in U.S. history is that he is the only person
who was elected president, lost re-election, and came back to
be re-elected four years later.

He was a Democrat during a half century era when most U.S.
presidents were Republican. In fact, between 1860 and 1912 he
was the only Democrat to be elected to the Oval Office.

But there was at least one other noteworthy distinction about
Grover Cleveland when he was president.

Soon after he took office for the second time in 1893, Mr.
Cleveland noticed a bump on the roof of his mouth that was
getting larger and larger. He was, as is well-known, a heavy
cigar smoker. Seeking medical advice, he was informed that he
had a tumor that had to be removed as soon as possible.
Worrying that news of his diagnosis would shock the nation
and the stock market, he arranged to take a “fishing trip” on
the private yacht “Oneida” for four days, with an itinerary of
New York City to Cape Cod.

The yacht, with six of the top surgeons of the day, actually
anchored off Long Island, and using anaesthetic, the surgeons
performed risky and, for that time, fairly unprecedented
techniques for removal of the tumor. Mr. Cleveland had a
trademark bushy moustache, and the surgeons were able to
preserve it during the operation. Afterwards, the moustache
successfully hid any visible evidence of the cancer surgery.

It turned out to be the first presidential medical cover-up in
modern history. The Cleveland White House denied all rumors
and even countered a published story about the cancer by
smearing the reputation of the enterprising reporter who had
uncovered it. That reporter’s reputation was only restored
almost 20 years later, after Mr. Cleveland had died, when one
of the surgeons came forward with the true story.

A quarter of a century later, President Woodrow Wilson
suffered a stroke that permanently incapacitated him, but it was
kept a secret while Mrs.Wilson, in effect, ran the government.
Twenty years later, White House physicians kept the news that
President Franklin Roosevelt was dying from the public, and
only the timing of his death just after his fourth inauguration
kept the previous vice president, Henry Wallace, an admirer of
Russian dictator Joseph Stalin, from taking power.

Fifteen years later, John Kennedy became president although
he knew he had Addison’s Disease, a then-fatal condition that
would soon take his life. Like so many matters in the Kennedy
administration, it was kept a secret. Twenty-five years later,
President Reagan had an operation for cancer while in office,
but the condition was not named.

These stories of secrecy about presidential medical conditions
are especially relevant this year when the two major party
nominees are about 70 years old, and one of them is showing
chronic signs of physical distress.

As the son of a physician, however, I think the current news
preoccupation with Hillary Clinton’s health is more sensational
than disqualifying. Her doctors now concede that she has
“walking” pneumonia, a serious but not life-threatening
condition. Her fainting at a New York City event recently is
most disturbing for the fact that her attending physicians
allowed her in public when she should have been resting. In the
case of any senior citizen over 60, even mild pneumonia can
become much more serious if not properly cared for --- and that
means lots of rest in addition to medication.

To be fair to Mrs. Clinton, she is a major party nominee for
president of the United States, and it is understandable that she
wants to appear in public, especially since her opponents are
making her health an issue. Her physicians and her staff,
however, have an obligation to protect her just as much as the
Secret Service does. No reasonable person could object to her
taking several days off to recuperate.

Her opponents are not to be blamed for raising the issue. They
have been encouraged to do so by that long-standing political
temptation for secrecy being indulged by the Clinton campaign,
something that goes back to that “fishing trip” on a yacht in 1893
(anchored, ironically, not that far from Mrs. Clinton’s current
home in Chappaqua, NY).

President Cleveland got away with avoiding transparency, as did
several presidents who succeeded him, because there was no
internet, social media and search engines. Those days are over.

If the Clinton campaign decides now to be transparent, the
voters can turn to the most pressing issues of the presidential
contest. Otherwise, she will give her opponents an irretrievable
gift, and perhaps, as well, the election.

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