Sunday, May 29, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Throw The Bums In!

The cliche phrase “Throw the bums out!” is less than a
hundred years old in modern usage, but it became a sort
of rallying cry in recent U.S. elections.

Until now.

This year, the voters seem to be telling the political
establishments a contrary message, “Throw the bums in!”

Of course, it all turns on what you mean by “bums.” For
the major party establishments, the bums are Bernie Sanders
and Donald Trump, the two outsider figures who have turned
presidential politics upside down in 2016. The decisive
Democratic and Republican primary/caucus voters, however,
see the bums as their champions. In Mr. Trump’s case, they
have awarded him the first prize of the GOP presidential
nomination. In Mr. Sanders’ case, the final outcome is not yet
entirely clear, but at the least, he now controls the Democratic
Party agenda for the time being.

The original phrase was used to suggest a barroom situation
in which ostensibly inappropriate and raucous persons are
removed by a “bouncer.” The contrarian phrase, ironically,
suggest that inappropriate and raucous political figures are
just what the public wants, that is, figures who will challenge
and upend the status quo of American politics.

If American voters have decided that it is time for they
themselves to assume the role of political “bouncer,” we
might be in for a political brawl in 2016.

On March 4, 1797, the first American president left office to
an openly elected new president, another of the founding
fathers, following the first truly competitive U.S. presidential
election. After the swearing in of John Adams, George
Washington said to him, “Now I’m fairly out, and you’re
fairly in.” From that time on, American elections have
been fierce contests, pitting powerful personalities and
interests against each other.

This year will be no different.

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

Friday, May 27, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: How Settled Is The Democratic Nomination?

At any other time in the modern history of presidential
nomination contests, the major party races could be safely now
said to be concluded. In fact, Donald Trump has just exceeded
the majority of committed delegates to his Republican
convention in Cleveland, and has no announced opponent left
in what was an historically crowded field of 17 candidates.
He will be nominated on the first ballot, albeit with lingering
doubt among many traditional conservatives and GOP stalwarts.

The Democratic contest, however, remains unsettled because
frontrunner Hilary Clinton’s only remaining opponent, Bernie
Sanders, refuses to concede the nomination in spite of Mrs.
Clinton apparent mathematical lock on it. Moreover, Mr. Sanders
has been winning almost all the later primaries, and is possibly
poised in a few days to upset Mrs. Clinton in the final major
primary in California. Should that upset happen, Mr. Sanders
would still be short of Mrs. Clinton’s elected delegate total, but
because about 500 unelected delegates (most of whom are
currently committed to Mrs. Clinton) will attend the convention
in Philadelphia, there would be an air of uncertainly surrounding
the first ballot. Technically, these non-elected “super-delegates”
could change their minds before the first ballot.

There is no true precedent for this ambiguous spectacle in
presidential politics. Pundits, myself included, have searched
the dusty shelves of past elections for precedents, but there are
none. The old ethnic, religious and gender demographic models
do not seem to work usefully, and the opinion polling techniques,
relatively reliable in the past, seem no longer instructive or
accurate.

The Democratic Party initially faced serious obstacles in 2016,
primarily because it had held the White House for two terms
and U.S. voters recently have demonstrated a certain fatigue with
both major parties after eight years of their administrations.
But mainstream expectations were turned on their heads in both
parties when both Democratic and Republican primary/caucus
voters staged historic mutinies, producing both Bernie Sanders
and Donald Trump. When it became apparent that Mr. Trump
would actually win his party’s nomination, Democrats were
understandably heartened by the divisions in the conservative
ranks, and by what they felt were their improved prospects not
only in the presidential race, but down-ballot in U.S. house and
senate races as well. In senate races, particularly, liberal hopes
to regain control of that body were buoyed by GOP senate
candidates caught in the middle of apparent voter disdain for
Mr. Trump and their own mainstream campaign prospects.

Then the presumptive Democratic nominee, Mrs. Clinton, ran
into the unexpected and amazing surge of Bernie Sanders,
complicated by persistent several legal and ethical controversies
surrounding her.

Recent polling (for whatever it’s worth) indicates that a
November race between Mrs Clinton and Mr. Trump would be
close. Mr. Trump has signaled that he would not sit idly by while
Democrats attack him (as Mitt Romney ignored attacks in 2012).
More and more Republicans are accepting the Trump candidacy
(even as the candidate himself unaccountably continues to make
unforced errors by attacking Republican governors who have not
yet endorsed him).

Just as there is some talk by some anti-Trump Republicans for
running a third party candidate against their own nominee,
there is now talk by some Democrats of dumping Mrs. Clinton
before her convention, and inserting Vice President Joe Biden
(with Elizabeth Warren as his running mate) as their nominee
in Philadelphia. But this scenario fails to explain what the
Democrats would do with Bernie Sanders and his millions of
supporters. Denied the liberal party nomination in Philadelphia,
Mr. Sanders, as some have suggested, could then become the
Green Party candidate and siphon off millions of votes from the
Democratic ticket, thus producing a landslide for Donald Trump.

There has been nothing like this election cycle in American
politics. The source of the disruption is the American voter who,
after years of stalemate, empty rhetoric from politicians of both
parties, and their legitimate anxieties about the economy,
national security and America’s role in the world, are saying they
want something else.

I continue to eschew predictions, but I do suggest that keeping
watch on the motions and maneuvers of the politicians and the
political parties is less instructive than observing the emerging
new models of behavior by the voters themselves.

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


Monday, May 23, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Does California Matter?

California has been for some time our largest state. It has also
seemed be in some ways almost another country whose
capital was Hollywood, and its leading city was San Francisco.
With its geologic faults and frequent small earthquakes, it is
always rumored to be on the brink of “the big one” which
thankfully has not yet come. It has heat, Hispanic legacy, and
glamor in the south which borders on Mexico, and snow and
rugged terrain in the north which borders on Oregon. It has the
continent’s greatest vineyards, and grows much of the rest of
the nation’s fresh produce. It sends the  most members to the U.S.
house of representatives, but like every other state has only two
senators. Its population exceeds that of most sovereign nations
in the world, and its economy alone  is among the planet’s largest.

By tradition, it holds its presidential primaries at the very end of
the political campaign season, and for this reason, it has not had
any appreciable influence on the choice of nominees of either
major political party for decades in spite of providing by far the
largest number of delegates to both national conventions. In the
post-World War II past, the nominees were usually determined
earlier  in the process.   

With no incumbent president running in 2016, it was thought
possible that California might play an important part in this
cycle in at least one of the contests. There were five announced
Democrats and seventeen announced Republicans. In the former
race, it quickly narrowed to two, Hillary Clinton (the long-time
favorite) and Bernie Sanders, the surprise challenger. In the GOP
race, the surprise candidate, Donald Trump. actually took an early
lead which he did not give up. His sixteen rivals narrowed to two,
and then there were none. Mrs. Clinton, with the critical help of
non-elected “super-delegates” has likewise virtually clinched her
party’s nomination.

So once again, California (already suffering from a great drought)
has been hung out to dry in the electoral process.

Or has it?

It is obvious that both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump will have at
least the minimum number of committed delegates before the
June 7 California primary. Mr. Trump no longer has any formal
opposition, so the results there likely will not make much
difference.

But what if Bernie Sanders, who has been winning almost all of
recent primaries, wins California?

The 400-plus Clinton super-delegates are only publicly committed
to her, but technically can vote for anyone they choose on the first
ballot in Philadelphia. Without most of them, Mrs. Clinton cannot
be nominated. Mr. Sanders, minus the super-delegates, is only
relatively few votes behind Mrs. Clinton.

Notwithstanding this hypothetical, Mrs. Clinton currently leads
in California, according to polls, by several points. She has the
endorsement of most California officials, and Mr. Sanders,
hitherto swimming in small donor contributions, now has much
more limited resources, a huge disadvantage in this big state.
Almost the entire Democratic party establishment is now pushing
for Mr. Sanders to withdraw.

Unlikely as it now seems, a Sanders win in California would be an
enormous upset, even in this season of upsets.

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



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Mutiny Of The Masses

As my long-time readers know, I hold the Spanish philosopher
Jose Ortega y Gasset in very high esteem, although his one-time
global popularity has declined in recent decades.

Sr. Ortega wrote many brilliant books before his death in 1955,
but one book endures most almost a century after it was written
in 1928. Its title was The Revolt of the Masses, and it chronicled
in elegant Spanish prose (which translates well into English) a
long-term pattern in human behavior beginning with the
Renaissance in Europe and culminating in post-World War I
western civilization --- namely the gradual and unrelenting
coming-to-power of the masses as they overthrew the
institutions of feudal and imperial rule.

What made The Revolt of the Masses so remarkable, of course,
was its prophetic account of the rise of totalitarian fascism and
communism; its specific prediction in 1928 of Hitlerian nazism
and Stalinist communism, and their consequences, well before
these totalitarian upheavals murdered tens of millions of
persons and violently disrupted the lives of hundreds of
millions more.

Sr. Ortega, for all his prophetic brilliance, had his intellectual
shortcomings, and they have led to his decline as a universally
acclaimed figure in modern thought. He was, for example, a man
of aristocratic bent with many 19th century prejudices about
women and the mass of humanity (paradoxically, the very group
whose rise he predicted). In today’s politically-correct world,
some of his commentary would seem archaic and tone deaf.
He was also very much a Europhile who somehow (even as late
as 1928) did not perceive the United States as the imminent world
power and civilizing force it would soon become.

Ortega y Gasset argued, in short, that the masses of humanity,
long ruled over by feudal lords, kings, emperors and dictators,
were assuming real power in the world as they gradually
overthrew authoritarian institutions. He further argued that
this “revolt” was taking two forms. The first was “indirect”
power in the form of representative democracy. The second
was “direct” power in which societies acted through
totalitarian action, often by violence, without law, without
legislation and discourse, and without accountability. It was
his prophetic notice of the latter then making their first
appearances in Germany, Italy and  Soviet Russia that
worried him. In the decade following the publication of
The Revolt of the Masses, his anxieties would come all too
terribly and unspeakably true.

Sr. Ortega’s insights did not stop with the end of World War II,
or with his death. The historical process of the “revolt” has
continued with its two aspects in full force. As I pointed out,
he greatly underestimated the role of the U.S. in world affairs,
and of the endurance of its “liberal” or representative
democracy.

Nevertheless, the phenomenon of mass “disturbance” has
apparently come to America in 2016, not in the pathological
form of any “direct action” movement, but in the form of
“indirect action” mutinies against the establishments of both
major political parties.

The liberal media and political establishments thought for a
while that this mutiny was limited to the other side, the
conservative side, when “outsider” Donald Trump suddenly
appeared and presumably has won the Republican nomination
for president, demolishing “political correctness” and
establishment power in the process. But this Liberal
smugness has now been replaced by the Democrat’s own
mutiny in the form of “outsider” Bernie Sanders and his
wave of populism.

Whereas Mr. Trump’s GOP opponents retired from the field
in the wake of his upset victories in the cycle’s primaries and
caucuses, Mr. Sanders has refused to withdraw, even in the
face of the enormous mathematical odds against his
nomination. Not only has he failed to retire, he has won an
impressive string of primary victories after the race was
“declared over” by the media and the political class, including
most recently, a win in Oregon and a virtual tie in Kentucky.

His actions, designed to move the Democratic Party far to the
left, apparently will be played out at the Democratic national
convention in Philadelphia two months from now. Before that,
the California primary will occur in June. This primary will
send a huge number of delegates to the convention.

Mr. Trump’s opponents have not been entirely inactive either,
but their efforts, almost certainly too late, will not likely change
the outcome at the GOP convention in Cleveland.

The 2016 U.S. election is both a fulfillment of Ortega’s insight
into the long-term rise of the masses, and a rebuke to his anxiety
about the strength and persistence of representative democracy.

After it occurs, history is easy to explain, But before it happens,
it almost always produces surprises.

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Down-Ballot Races

The 2016 national elections not only feature the quadrennial
presidential race, but also include the contests for control of
the U.S. house and senate. There are also the individual state
contests for governor and control of state legislatures.

The now probable nomination of Donald Trump as the
Republican candidate for president has disrupted the
traditional course of the down-ballot races in 2016, as has
the probable nomination of Hillary Clinton as the
Democratic nominee.

Let us review these down-ballot environments.

Overall, it was anticipated to be nationally a favorable
GOP cycle this year because of the "voter fatigue" with a
two-term (and not very popular) Democratic president and
his administration. At the state level, on the other hand, with
Republicans holding most of the governorships and control
of state legislatures, it was the conservative party that seemed
most vulnerable

A Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump race, however, could upset
traditional expectations.

On paper, the Democrats have a distinct advantage in the
critical electoral college map. Also on paper, the Republicans
have the advantage to control the U.S. house of representatives.
As for the U.S. senate and state governorships, their political
landscapes are muddled by the fact that only some of these
posts are up for election this year.

Although the GOP holds 31 of the 50 governorships, it stands to
pick up one or two more this year because more held by
Democrats than by Republican are up in 2016.

It appears likely that Democrats will pick up a net number of
U.S. house seats this cycle, but liberal control is problematic
(yet not impossible) because of the large conservative lead in
that body. A current survey of competitive and open house seats
shows a possible net gain for the Democrats of 6-12 seats.

The U.S. senate, however, is quite a different story. Democrats
are poised to make gains in this body, perhaps enough to wrest
control from the GOP. Most vulnerable are the GOP incumbents
in Wisconsin and Illinois, as well as the open seat in Florida
now held by retiring Marco Rubio. Senator Ayotte in New
Hampshire is being challenged by a popular Democratic
incumbent governor, and even long-time Senator McCain in
Arizona is now considered to have a close race. Only in Nevada,
where Harry Reid is retiring, are there bright prospects for a
GOP senate pick-up.

So a very big question at this point is about how much the
presidential race will affect these down-ballot races. There are
various theories about this. A conventional analysis favors the
Democrats who traditionally turn out heavily in a presidential
cycle. This analysis points to the election of Mrs. Clinton,
liberal control of the U.S. senate, and big gains in the U.S. house.
This analysis cites the electoral college advantage of the large
“blue” states of New York, California, Illinois, as well as a
number northeastern and midwestern states with their black,
Hispanic and Jewish voters, most of whom traditionally vote
Democratic. In fact, these voters, according to 2016 exit polls,
continue to favor liberal candidates. Since many more GOP
than Democratic incumbents in the senate are up this year, this
also favors the liberal party.

A contrarian analysis, however, cites the notable number of new
voters so far in the 2016 cycle for a different outcome. These
“new” voters have appeared in both parties, including white blue
collar voters for Mr. Trump; and young and populist voters for
Bernie Sanders. Only Mr. Trump will appear on the ballot in
November. So the questions are: Will Mr. Trump’s new (and
former Democratic voters) show up in November; and will Mr.
Sanders’ young and populist voters show up for Mrs. Clinton?

The unarguable facts are that more Republicans turned out to
vote in the 2016 primary/caucus season than did Democrats.
Mrs. Clinton’s percentages of black and Hispanic voters did hold,
but the turnout was well behind 2008. Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr.
Trump have, as presumptive nominees, historically high
negatives among voters, and each of them faces desertion from
some of their voter base.

At this point in the national election cycle, there is always some
suspense about the November outcomes. I suggest this is
especially true in 2016 when so much in the election season has
been unorthodox, unexpected, and even perhaps, bizarre.

Pundits are particularly on the spot. They have to rely on
traditional patterns and measurements (polls). It is possible, of
course, that the post-convention campaign will revert to the old
models. So far, however, these models have been “disrupted”
(if not broken).

The voters to date have been in a mutinous mood, unsatisfied
with both party establishments in the nation’s capital.

I suggest we don’t yet really have a credible sense of how 2016
is going to turn out. I contend that the polls tell us little yet of
how voters are going to make their decisions this year.

It’s going to be an election for the books, and no doubt many
books will be written in pure hindsight.

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





Friday, May 13, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: It's A Free Country

I consider myself blessed with having such a varied
group of subscribers/readers, persons who range from
left to right, including many in the political center. My
readers also include those who have supported most of the
presidential candidates in both parties. I am not a political
reporter who is supposed to be objective; instead I am an
opinion journalist who expresses his views on a variety of
subjects. Nevertheless, I try to be as fair and accurate and
respectful as possible. I cannot remember a political cycle
when these standards were more scarce.

I am always amazed at, and grateful for, the tolerance of my
readers who often disagree with me perhaps on some
particular viewpoints I express, but who remain loyal and
supportive of this website and its author.

My most basic political value is my belief that in our republic,
a representative democracy, the ultimate decision makers are
the nation’s citizens who assert their authority by voting in the
various local, state and national elections. Some call this a
Jeffersonian view, a Lincolnian view, or  a (Theodore)
Rooseveltian view, but by whatever label, it is a pragmatic
and idealistic value in our enduring, evolving and (so far)
successful experiment in self-government.

As I have previous admitted, I did not see either the Donald
Trump or Bernie Sanders phenomena coming in advance.

Nevertheless, they are the biggest personal political stories
of this cycle so far. One of them is almost certainly going to
be his party’s presidential nominee, and the other, while
falling short of the nomination, has seemingly profoundly
changed his party’s public policy views.

I have endorsed no one, and I am so far making no predictions
about the outcome in November. The only persons who I
take strong issue with are those who presume that those
who does not hold his or her political view are somehow
“ignorant,” ‘dumb,” “political traitors or “quislings.” This
applies to reporters, opinion journalists, campaigns and
candidates. Alas, this has occurred not only in the media, but
has been practiced by most of the presidential candidates in
both parties.

When it comes to holding political views in our nation, we
have to remember that it's still a free country.

The frustration of the American voter, ranging from right to left,
is the real story of the 2016 election cycle, as are the changing
demographics, especially generational ones, among the
nation’s voters. I did not see the significance of this change as
much at the outset of this cycle as I see it now --- although I have
been writing about the causes of the changes for many years now.

As my readers know, I often write about U.S. and world history,
including notable events and precedents. I don’t think history is
always repeated, but I do think it usually instructs us.

There are also instances of momentous political change when
our old models no longer apply. This year is one of those moments,
and I caution anyone who tries to make a credible prediction at
this early time, two months before the major political
conventions and five months before the general election.

I particularly caution about the dependence of the political class
on old models of ethnic, religious, racial, gender and economic
groups and how they behave at the ballot box. I also caution
about the past dependency of public opinion polls. Even “exit”
polls need often to be taken skeptically.

When “disruption” takes place in the political arena, the old
models break down. Old models and traditional polling make
political conversation simple and predictable.

But there is very little so far in 2016 that is simple or predictable.

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Some Little-Noticed Foreign Developments

While most Americans are understandably pre-occupied
with the U.S. presidential election, there are some
interesting international developments worth noting at
least, and perhaps keeping an eye on, including:

NEW HARD-LINE SOCIALIST ANTI-U.S. PRESIDENT
    OF THE THE PHILIPPINES ELECTED.

CONSERVATIVE AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER 
    CALLS FOR NEW ELECTIONS IN JULY. RESULTS
    EXPECTED TO BE CLOSE.

U.S. NAVY SAILS CLOSE TO ISLAND DISPUTED BY
    CHINA, AND CHALLENGES CHINESE SEA CLAIMS
    IN AREA.

CHINESE ECONOMY PROBLEMS HAVING
    DEVASTATING EFFECT ON ECONOMY OF REPUBLIC
    OF MONGOLIA.

AUSTRIAN PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS IN FACE OF
    POPULAR UNREST.

TURKISH PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS AFTER
    CONFRONTATION WITH AUTHORITARIAN TURKISH
    PRESIDENT

BRITISH VOTE ON STAYING IN EUROPEAN UNION
    (KNOWN AS “BREXIT”) IS VERY CLOSE AS VOTE
    LOOMS ON JUNE 23.

NEW SPANISH PARLIAMENTARY VOTE SET AFTER
     MONTHS OF STALEMATE. NO CLEAR RUSULT IN
     SIGHT.

BRAZILIAN SENATE SET TO MAKE PRELIMINARY
    VOTE ON IMPEACHMENT OF PRESIDENT.

    UPDATE: BRAZILIAN SENATE VOTES TO PUT
    PRESIDENT ROUSSEFF ON TRIAL; SHE IS SUSPENDED
    FROM OFFICE.
 

VENEZUELAN ECONOMY IN NEAR-TOTAL
      COLLAPSE.

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