Monday, April 22, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Potholes 2020

The so-called “road to the White House” is strewn with potholes this
cycle, and no one is getting there at full speed with their gas pedal
down all the way.

Both parties have road crews out this spring trying to repair the road,
but so far it’s difficult to stay ahead of new potholes appearing to
disrupt the political traffic.

Since the Republican nomination is so far firmly held by incumbent
President Donald Trump --- and his assumption of vindication
following the issue and publication of the redacted Mueller report,
and since he already occupies the White House, the road’s potholes
are primarily an obstacle for the historically very large field of
Democratic challengers. (But Mr. Trump has his own set of
potholes ahead.)

Early assumptions made in late 2018 and early 2019 have mostly
been upended already, and the Democratic Party itself seems to
have decided the potholed road isn’t worth the trouble --- and
seem ready to take a detour to the house on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Their problem is that there is no known map to guide them on
such a detour, and they risk ending up in a political cul-de-sac with
no timely exit.

The surprise election of Donald Trump in 2016 has seemed to usher
in a suspension of many political rules and cliches both in the U.S.
and across the world.

A Jewish TV sitcom comedian (with no political experience) has
just been elected president by a landslide in historically anti-semitic
Ukraine. Upsets from the left and right have recently taken place in
Brazil, Italy, Austria, Mexico and elsewhere in Europe and South
America. Hitherto popular leaders in France, Canada, Spain,
Germany and Turkey are seeing grass roots uprisings challenging
their power. Citizen everywhere seem to be upset, impatient and
politically impertinent.

I think it is time to recognize that the U.S. presidential political
rule book will be of little use this cycle. A new strain of political
microbes seem on the move globally, and there is not yet a way for
political establishments to thwart them.

Even the re-election of Israeli Prime Minster Bibi Netanyahu’s
government recently reflects voter agitation with conventional
political wisdom. Accused of wrongdoing, challenged by a united
group of respected generals in a new party, considered by many
older voters to have been in office too long, Netanyahu was written
off by hostile U.S. and Israeli media as a sure loser. And indeed,
many older Israeli voters who had supported him in the past did not
vote for him. But unexpectedly, young voters did vote for him, and
his party not only gained seats, but won more than any other party
--- which was unpredicted.

The first U.S. presidential TV debates, less than two months away,
will clarify some voter attitudes toward the large number of
Democratic candidates, but even that won’t stop the surprises.

The 2020 political road is likely to be bumpy all the way.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 12, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What's Already Different About 2020

The 2020 presidential election cycle has recently begun in earnest,
and already there are visible differences between this unfolding
campaign cycle and 2016, as well as earlier cycles.

Some of these differences are obvious. Except for Donald Trump
and Bernie  Sanders, the other major candidates did not run in
2016 --- although some of the Democratic hopefuls had
considered running, or did run, in earlier cycles.

In 2016, the largest field was on the Republican side which initially
included 17 major candidates. In 2020, it is the Democrats who have
the large field --- in fact, it already has 18 formally-announced major
candidates, with 3-5 more expected to enter,

In recent decades, primaries and caucus have become increasingly
important, replacing smoke-filled rooms, favorite sons, and political
deals. Even the winner-take-all of a state’s delegates is no more.

In those recent decades, a tradition of Iowa being the first caucus,
and New Hampshire holding the first primary was observed by both
parties. This appears to be continued in 2020, but moving up of large
state primaries, most notably California, from later in the cycle,
might de facto replace them as some individual campaigns ignore
Iowa and New Hampshire for the larger treasure of delegates to be
won in California and Texas which will vote soon after.

State presidential caucuses have smaller voter participation, often
dramatically and undemocratically so, and for the 2020 cycle, two
states, Minnesota and Washington, have already abandoned their
caucuses for primaries. This trend might well continue.

Absentee balloting for cause has long been practiced, but many
states have adopted early or mail-in voting, or absentee voting
without cause. Same-day voting registration is taking place in more
states. These changes are causing election night results, as many
were in 2018, to be inconclusive until the following day. A reprise
of Bush vs. Gore 2000 could happen again.

The 2020 cycle could be one where third party candidates might
affect the outcome. There will be Green, Libertarian and Socialist
candidates as usual next year, but at least one notable independent
candidate, business executive Howard Schultz, has said he will run.
If many voters are unsatisfied with both major party nominees,
third party and non-voter totals could be significant.

Super-delegates, especially in the Democratic Party, played a very
significant role in 2016, but a new rule bars these delegates from
voting on the first ballot at the national convention, They will be
able to vote on the second and subsequent ballots. It is unclear
how his reform will play out.

In an attempt to force President Trump to release his tax returns,
a few states are trying to require candidates to make their tax
returns public in order to be on the November ballot. This
controversial move will almost certainly go before the U.S. supreme
court before taking effect.

At the outset of 2015, Jeb Bush was  an early favorite, and Chris
Christie the candidate with lots of charisma.  Neither got very far
once the debates and voting began. This cycle, Joe Biden (not yet
formally announced) leads in most polls, and Beto O’Rourke was
pegged as the charisma candidate. Already, Bernie Sanders is
challenging Biden in the early polls, and Pete Buttigieg is proving
so far to be a challenge to O’Rourke’s appeal. Once the debates
begin, other candidates could catch on.

Campaign funds, as always, play a role early in presidential
campaigns, but the ease with which most of the Democratic
candidates have initially raised $5 million or more, and the large
number of candidates, might diminish the psychological impact of
fundraising. In 2016, Donald Trump had the personal resources to
self-fund, and won. 2020 candidates who can do the same also can
lessen the impact of early fundraising of those candidates who
don’t have big personal resources.

Both parties face defections from their traditional voter bases in
2020. A preview of this occurred in 2018 when many suburban
women voted Democratic and many Hispanics voted Republican.
Next year could see further GOP erosion in the suburbs, and further
switching of Hispanic, Jewish and black voters to the GOP.

In the 2020 cycle, there is much incentive to garner media attention
early, especially in 2019. This is likely to tempt presidential
campaigns to take chances and make bold moves and statements.
Some will be successful, and some will backfire. All of them increase
the element of surprise and unpredictability into the campaign cycle.

So far, President Trump does not have even a remotely serious
challenger to his nomination. Barring the unforeseen, he will be on
the ballot in November, 2020. His proven ability to provoke, anger,
shock or please various groups of voters is perhaps the primary
carryover from the last presidential election.

Otherwise, 2020 goes into much new political territory.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 5, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Our Era Of Unrelenting Contempt

In the name of tolerance, a great deal of intolerance is being dished
out to the American public, most of it via media venues which profit
in various ways by its relentless agitation and incessant noisy racket.

Nowhere perhaps is this phenomenon more audible and visible than
its presence in the 2020 presidential campaign cycle already well
underway. At first, it might have been supposed that the verbal,
physical and legal confrontational rancor would be mostly between
the two major political parities and their nominees --- with a
continuing emphasis on attacking the incumbent president.

An apparently record number of nominally serious candidates for the
challenging party’s presidential nomination, however, has quickly
produced efforts to attack certain candidates and push them, or keep
them, out of contention --- from forces within that party itself.

A lament, has subsequently been heard about about the lack of civility,
fairness and clarity in the rhetoric and tactics of the political combat
now taking place.

The truth is, it is time to say, that politics in America has just in fact
returned to its bare knuckle origins. We tend to forget that at the very
beginning of the republic the discourse of U.S. politics was personal,
defamatory, often slanderous, and usually contemptuous.  No one was
spared --- not even George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Abraham
Lincoln. As the nation grew in size, population, and economic and
military power  in the 19th and early 20th centuries, its political
discourse became only slightly less contemptuous --- that is, until
mass communications in radio and television began to moderate its
tone when identified speakers voices and faces were seen and heard.

With the sudden advent of the internet and social media, anonymity
returned and so did the contempt. As with other forms of public
violence, mass attention could also be obtained by many of those
who eschewed anonymity for public displays of revenge, ugly
put-downs and sensational ex post facto political allegations.

The laments about this state of public affairs do not hinder it in
any way --- and so it not only continues, but grows louder, more
vicious, and more uncivil. Furthermore, it now appears to know few
if any allegiances, alliances or restraints.

It is not going away any time soon. In fact, it will now grow louder,
especially as the 2020 political cycle now underway. proceeds toward
election day eighteen months ahead. Even when that election
determines winners and losers, it will not fade away, as the precedent
of the 2016 aftermath has established.

One profound consequence of all of this is, and will continue to be,
that some of the most qualified and talented men and women in our
nation will simply and understandably avoid or pass on contributing
to public life, elected or appointed.

Nothing, of course, is permanent in human affairs, but the politics of
contempt will not go away until it so exhausts voters that public opinion
finally reasserts itself and declares, like a parent to a spoiled child, a
firm and unchallengeable “NO!”

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Latest Political Developments

MUELLER PROBE CONCLUSION
Special prosecutor Robert Mueller, after 22 months, has filed a lengthy
report to U.S Attorney General William Barr, and found no evidence of
crime or collusion on the part of President Trump, his family, or top
staff in regard to alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election
---  according to the attorney general’s own public summary of the report.
Although numerous Democrats, many in the mainstream media, and a
few remaining “never-Trumpers” in he GOP have decried the report, it
has been widely received initally as vindication of the president and
those closest to him. Details of the report have yet to be released.

UNEXPECTED 2020 SENATE RETIREMENT
Two-term Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Udall of New Mexico
has announced he will not run for another term in 2020. His seat had
been considered a safe one in the next cycle. Two long-time Republican
incumbents, Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Pat Roberts
of Kansas had previously announced their 2020 retirements, but unlike
Tennessee and Kansas, New Mexico is a considered more of a
battleground state between the two major parties. Nevertheless, lacking
any announced candidates for the now open seat, Democrats would be
favored to retain it. All current New Mexico members of Congress are
Democrats, although current state GOP chair Steve Pearce was, until
2018, a Republican congressman from this state.

VETO OVERRIDE FAILS
The U.S. House of Representatives, voting almost identically as they
had to oppose President Donald Trump’s recent declaration of a
national emergency on the U.S.-Mexican border, failed to reach the
required number of votes necessary to override the president’s veto
of their action. It was Mr. Trump’s first veto since taking office in 2017,
and his executive order remains in force.

UK/EU BREXIT STALEMATE CONTINUES
The finalization of the departure (popularly known as Brexit) of the
United Kingdom (UK) from its membership in the European Union
(EU) has run into bureaucratic, political and procedural delays that
threaten fulfillment of the earlier British voters’ decision to leave the
continental alliance. UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative
Party is divided over the issue, and the House of Commons has
repeatedly rejected her negotiated arrangements with EU member
nations for the departure. The biggest, but not the only, obstacle to
parliamentary approval is the relationship of Northern Ireland, a
part of the UK, with the Republic of Ireland and other remaining EU
member states.  Mrs. May has obtained a delay of the formal April
separation on the condition that parliament agrees to it, but she has
already conceded that she lacks the votes even for that. At the same
time, parliament has voted that the British cannot leave the E.U.
without a negotiated plan for separation. This “no exit” scenario
threatens not only to provoke the prime minister’s resignation, but
even might precipitate, Brexit opponents claim, a new national vote
on Brexit itself.

INDIANA SMALL CITY MAYOR RISING?
Mayor Peter Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, a hitherto unknown
seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. president, reportedly is
drawing some crowds and attention as he travels across the country
to introduce himself to voters. At 37, he would be the youngest person
elected president if he won, the first openly gay president, and the
first sitting mayor elected. (Presidents Cleveland and Coolidge served
as mayors early in their careers, as did presidential nominee Hubert
Humphrey.) A former Rhodes Scholar, he was deployed by the navy in
Afghanistan, and is currently a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve,
He received earlier notice when he unsuccessfully ran for DNC chair
in 2017.  Buttigieg graduated with honors from both Harvard and
Oxford Universities. A polyglot, he is reportedly fluent in Italian,
Spanish, French, Arabic, Maltese, Norwegian and Dari.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All fights reserved.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Surprise Coming In Democratic Nomination?

With well-known names of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders holding big
leads in early polls, and massive media publicity being given to Robert
(“Beto”) O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, is it even
possible that the eventual Democratic nominee will be someone else,
perhaps a virtual unknown now in early 2019?

There will be at least 20 nominally credible Democratic candidates
trying to oust President Trump in November, 2020, even more than
the 16 who competed for the Republican nomination in 2016 when the
“impossible” happened, and Mr. Trump won an historic upset.

Recent history suggests that a surprise is quite possible, albeit very
difficult to predict with the names we now know.

There are now two relatively distinct themes within the Democratic
contest. One is the continuation of the more radical views of Senator
Bernie Sanders in his confrontation with Hillary Clinton in 2016. She
had represented a more pragmatic and traditional liberal policy
view, and had narrowly prevailed after a bitter primary/caucus
campaign cycle. Sanders had been a career-long socialist, but almost
took over the Democratic Party’s policy agenda.

The second theme so far in 2020 is really a continuation of the more
gently progressive agenda of the Clinton wing of the party, but this
cycle is voiced by former Vice President Joe Biden (who has yet to
formally announce his candidacy).

All of the other candidate represent so far variations of these two
contrasting themes --- although most of them lean to favor the more
radical issues of Medicare for All, open borders, abolition of the
electoral college, free college tuition, and the Green New Deal that
grew out of Sanders‘ 2016 presidential campaign.  The Biden wing
of the party stresses environmental, gun control, pro choice, regulatory
and traditional entitlement issues that contrast with the conservative
Republican agenda. All sides in the Democratic nomination race seem
truly united on only one subject --- their visceral opposition to Donald
Trump.

As in 2016, there are important secondary and personal issues that
differentiate the candidates. Mrs. Clinton would have been the first
woman president, but had various controversies arising from the time
she was First Lady and, later, Secretary of State. Sanders, a socialist,
then 75, had only briefly been a Democrat. In 2020, with so many
more candidates, the secondary and personal issues are even more
numerous and complicated. Actual age, or generational age, could be
an issue for Sanders, Biden and Warren in the senior range, and  for
O’Rourke, Peter Buttigieg, and Tulso Gabbard in the youthful range.
Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson have no elective experience.
Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Karen Gillibrand, Julian Castro, Jay
Inslee, are unknown outside their states.  Harris, Klobuchar, Terry
McAuliffe (not yet announced) and Andrew Cuomo (also not yet
announced) have controversies arising from their political past. And
most of the remaining hopefuls are virtually unknown.

Yet Barack Obama and Donald Trump, only a short time before their
first presidential races were unthinkable as nominees, much less as
presidents. Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Wendell
Willkie, and Harry Truman emerged suddenly as serious presidential
contestants. The recent record for early frontrunners is very mixed,
to say the least.

The debates, as they have been for over half a century, are often key
to a presidential nomination and election. Little is likely to be
resolved until they are underway.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.

Monday, March 18, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Joe On The Brink Again

Thirty-four years ago, in 1985, I made a prediction in a community
newspaper I edited and published in Minneapolis. Although the
publication featured local news and city politics, from time to time I
wrote about and editorialized about national politics. Three years
earlier, in 1982, I had predicted that a then-unknown Colorado
senator, Gary Hart, might emerge in 1984. Although he didn’t win,
he did emerge. By 1985, I thought I would try again for the next
election in 1988.

Another young and unknown senator had caught my attention. His
name was Joe Biden. First elected to the U.S. senate in 1972 when
he was only 29 (he could take office only because his 30th birthday
was before the day he was to be sworn in), he almost didn’t serve
because his wife and daughter were tragically killed in an auto
accident just after the election. (He once told me that his grief
made him decide to resign before being sworn in, but that
Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey at a December meeting for
incoming new senators persuaded him to take office.

Two of his young sons survived the accident, and eventually he
remarried, had another daughter, and settled in as a senator from
Delaware. I had read some about him, and he seemed to be a fresh
face and voice in his party.

So I wrote a front-page editorial about Biden, and predicted he could
emerge as a serious contender for the 1988 Democratic nomination,
and might even be elected president. At some point, Biden came to
Minnesota for a speech, and I met him for the first time. It turned out
he had already been thinking about 1988, and soon announced his
candidacy, emerging as the most serious opponent to Democratic
frontrunner Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. But fate once
again intervened, and Biden was diagnosed with a serious double
aneurism that forced him to leave the race in 1987.

Biden recovered, and once again settled into a leading role in the
U.S. senate where he first became chairman of the judiciary
committee (where he led the effort to block Robert Bork’s
appointment to the U.S supreme court), and later chairman of the
foreign relations committee. In 2006, a newly-elected senator from
Illinois sought now senior Senator Biden’s counsel on senate
matters --- and Biden then served as a mentor. The new senator’s
name was Barack Obama.

In 2008, Democratic nominee Obama chose Biden to be his vice
presidential running mate.

In 2016, after two terms as vice president, Joe Biden was inevitably
one of the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination along with
Hillary Clinton. But once again, tragedy stepped in as Biden’s eldest
son Beau, the Delaware attorney general with a bright political future
of his own, died of cancer.  Overwhelmed with grief, Biden chose
not to run.

Now 76, Biden leads in numerous public opinion polls for the 2020
Democratic nomination. With many younger Democratic hopefuls
moving to the left, he maintains the premier reputation as a liberal
moderate or centrist. His years campaigning across the nation for
Democratic candidates has made him numerous friends among party
activists, and no other Democratic candidate can match his foreign
policy experience. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
another major moderate figure, said he would not run if Biden does,
and now has withdrawn.

There is now widespread belief that Biden will announce his
presidential candidacy sometime in April. If he does, he will almost
certainly be a frontrunner along with Vermont Senator Bernie
Sanders, the runner-up for the 2016 Democratic nomination.

Sanders was then an early voice for the drift leftward in the liberal
party, and that is where most of the many lesser-known Democratic
hopefuls are clustered, months before the first TV debates in June.
A few candidates have cautiously floated their more moderate
credentials, but with Bloomberg out of the race, Biden would likely
attract voters in the party’s still very large older liberal base.

Biden’s age is not the only issue of his candidacy. Four decades of
elected public service are also in play in what is almost certainly
going to be an epic battle to be the candidate against Donald Trump.
This time, I’m making no predictions, but I am nonetheless aware
that some predictions (perhaps even those thirty-four years old) can
come true when you least expect them to do so.

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

Thursday, March 14, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: How "Uncle Sam" Invented Our P.R. Culture

Those who read and study history know that much of the distinctive
political and cultural phenomena of today had  their origins in an
often-forgotten past. That past might have lacked modern technologies,      
but in U.S. history particularly, with its revolutionary political
and economic systems that were fashioned in the 18th century and
grew in the 19th century, a very rich soil for innovation existed. 

The early 19th century was especially notable for invention of all kinds
as the Industrial Revolution took hold in Europe and the U.S. and
reshaped and reformed human civilization. The invention of steam
engine for ships and the locomotive almost overnight expanded mass
mobility and transportation. The invention of photography, the telegraph,
motion pictures, typewriter and the telephone made “mass”
communications possible for the first time.

It was inevitable that extraordinary personalities would emerge as
inventors, entrepreneurs and innovators in such an environment, and
they did. Some are vaguely remembered today, such as Thomas Edison
and Alexander Graham Bell, but most are forgotten. I recently wrote
about Peter Cooper as an example of this historic memory loss.

One of the most remarkable characters of the 19th century in the U.S.
is now mostly remembered in the symbolic American figure known as
“Uncle Sam” for which he was the model at the height of his fame in
the early 1870s.

Dan Rice had been born Daniel Maclaren in New York City in 1823. 
After a series of entertainment jobs, he created the first American
circus. He is now considered not only the father of the American
circus, but also of vaudeville, a format he pioneered. Prior to the Civil
War, he was probably the mot well-known person in the country. He
created “the greatest show on earth” before his late rival, P.T. Barnum
got in the circus business. He is generally considered the physical
model for the iconic figure of Uncle Sam.  (Photographs of Rice show
him to be the spitting image of the early Uncle Sam cartoons.)
Mark Twain and Walt Whitman were among his biggest fans. By
1867, he was so famous, he ran for president. His good friend,
Horace Greeley, was the Democratic nominee for president in 1872.

Dan Rice was the first U.S. pop culture megastar.

In many ways, he invented modern American public relations. An
inveterate self-promoter, his public persona reached deeply into early
American life. He popularized “French cuffs” in the U.S. He was a
famed circus impresario, actor, director, animal trainer, professional
dancer and songwriter. He originated several idiomatic phrases
which are still in use, including “one horse show,” Hey, Rube!”
and the political term “getting on the bandwagon” (the latter
from his invitation to 1848 presidential candidate Zachary Taylor
to appear on one of his circus wagons).

Rice eventually became involved in politics, announcing his
candidacies for U.S. congress, senate, and president --- although
he withdrew from each of these races before the voting began.

The end of his story, sadly, is similar to many of those who have
achieved great fame and celebrity a century later. By the late 1870s,
changes in the traveling circus, led by Barnum and others, caused a
decline in Rice’s fortune and popularity. He had to close his circus
and its winter headquarters in a suburb of Erie, PA. He stopped
performing and retired. He died in New Jersey in 1900, virtually
penniless and forgotten.

Perhaps Dan Rice is the first cautionary tale of modern American
public relations, an industry he did so much to create, but his story
of brilliant talent, innovation, singular celebrity, and ultimate
decline remains one of the extraordinary and most American
narratives in our history. It should not be forgotten.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.