Thursday, January 22, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Ten Best Twin Cities Food Experiences For Visitors To Minnesota

Many visitors come to the Twin Cities of St. Paul and
Minneapolis in the course of a year. Most of them come
for business purposes, and don’t stay very long. Others
come in the spring, summer and autumn as tourists to
see the Twins baseball team play, to shop at the Mall of
America, to visit the famed State Fair in August, or to
attend a play at the Guthrie Theater, among many other
cultural and professional sports events throughout the year.

Of course, whether in the Twin Cities for business or
pleasure, one has to eat, and that means to eat out. As a
large metropolitan center, the Twin Cities have innumerable
restaurants of all kinds, quality and prices, as do all other
large metropolitan centers in the U.S., but the questions
remains: what are the best of the most unique dining
experiences in Minneapolis and St. Paul, experiences unlike
what a visitor might encounter at home or elsewhere?

As the dean of the Twin City food critics (I have been
writing about the restaurant scene here since 1973), I have
come up with ten best suggestions for where to go or what to
try for something very special, something that visitors probably
don’t have wherever they’re from, or if they do, not as good.

1.  COSSETTA’S PASTICCERIA & DELI (St. Paul)
       This spectacular emporium of Italian food specialties
       in downtown St. Paul features on the first floor a popular
       southern Italian cafeteria (with tables on the second floor)
       and on the third floor is an upscale Italian steak house
       dining room. All this is the product of the restless vision
       of St. Paul restaurateur Dave Cossetta. Also on the first
       floor is a breathtaking Italian pasticceria/gelateria and
       adjoining Italian deli featuring the best imported cured
       meats, cheeses, olive oils, condiments, baked-on-the-
       premises breads, and authentically-prepared Italian
       specialties for take-out.

 2.  CREMA CAFE/SONNY’S ICE CREAM (Minneapolis)
       Famous for its nationally-known superb ice creams,
       sorbets and gelati of the highest quality and original
       flavors, the Cafe also serves excellent brunches and
       dinners, hard-to-find bottles of outstanding wines, and
       rich desserts in one of the Twin Cities most charming
       and intimate dining spaces, including a magical outdoor
       patio during the warm weather.

 3.  TILIA (Minneapolis)
        This outstanding Linden Hills neighborhood bistro
        serves some of the best food in the Twin Cities with a large
        and original menu, excellent service, and one of the few
        area fine dining restaurants that is kid-friendly. The
        kitchen’s changing specialties are invariably delicious,
        and it is clearly a dining room where everyone, staff
        included, is having a good time.

 4.   B.T. MCELRATH’S CHOCOLATES (St. Paul)
        One of the nation’s top artisan chocolatiers, Brian
        McElrath and his devoted crew produce a large variety
        of award-winning chocolates. Although they have no retail
        outlet of their own, they do hold twice-a-year special sales
        at their factory location, and their chocolates are available
        at most of the top grocery and fine food outlets in the Twin
        Cities.
      
5.    GHORKA PALACE (Minneapolis)
        A terrific Himalayan restaurant with two women
        Nepalese chefs who create masterpieces of unusual
        flavors with Asian herbs and spices and all-natural,
        organic top quality meats and vegetables. Lunch and
        dinner, and the best buffet lunch in the Twin Cities, and
        by far the outstanding local restaurant for this cuisine.

6.    KRAMARCZUK (Minneapolis)
        This Slavic deli, meat market and cafeteria is a popular
        destination for made-in-house and preservative-free
        sausages and eastern European specialties. The popular
        cafeteria offers hearty goulashes, stuffed cabbage, pierogi,
        and plates of bratwurst and caraway sauerkraut. Some
        were surprised when this location recently won a James
        Beard Award, but it is a distinctive Minneapolis dining spot
        and deserves its accolades.

7.    MANCINI’S (St. Paul)
        A classic old-time Italian steakhouse in downtown St. Paul
        with a neighborhood flavor and clientele.  Excellent steaks at  
        reasonable prices. Still family-run, the legendary
        paterfamilias of the Mancini clan is gone, but his sons and 
        grandchildren are on the premises every night in the kitchen
        or to greet the regulars and first-timers with warm
        Mediterranean charm. A true St. Paul  experience.
   
 8.   BLACK SHEEP CAFE (South St. Paul)
        Probably the best coffeehouse in the state, this creation of
        barista (and now professional singing star) Peter Middlecamp
        sets the Minnesota standard for the finest coffee and espresso
        drinks, imported teas. There are excellent home made breakfast 
        and lunch specialties, too. A Clover coffeemaker and Dietrich
        roaster ensures the highest quality, and international-awarded
        barista/proprietor Middlecamp gives it a special touch.
        Food and pastries are prepared on the premises. A bit of a trek
        to South St. Paul, but worth it for coffee aficionados.

9.    MINNESOTA STATE FAIR (St. Paul)
        One of the largest state fairs in the nation, it runs from
        mid-August to Labor Day. Virtually a fifth of the whole
        state turns out for Minnesota specialties-on-a-stick, local
        dairy, meat and produce items, exhibits, a grand Midway,
        big-name music entertainment, and old-fashioned summer
        fun. For a taste and flavor of the state, not to be missed.

10.  TRAVAIL & ROOKERY (Robbinsdale)
        Perhaps the most original and provocative kitchens in the
        region, these two dining rooms, side-by-side under the same
        roof provide innovative prix fixe menus filled with the
        often-unexpected and delicious creations of the numerous
        chefs who also serve as waiters. There is always an element of
        fun and whimsy in the many small plates which compose the
        multi-course dinners. A unique Twin Cities culinary experience.

Monday, January 19, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: It's A Free Country, Isn't It?

This the time of presidential trial balloons. With a new
president certain to be elected in 2016, hopefuls and
aspirants in both major parties are testing the waters,
rounding up staff members, and appealing to major donors.
It is an old ritual with contemporary procedures and
techniques. It is big-time American politics on a grand
scale.

The establishments of both parties have a tendency to try
to control this process. In the case of the Democrats, they
have a frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, who is way out in front,
with no one yet in sight who can wrest the nomination
from her. She leads in all polls, not only against potential
Democratic rivals, but also against every Republican
opponent. The Democratic establishment therefore would
like to end this contest early, and prepare for the general
election. When Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren
began making competitive waves from Mrs. Clinton's left,
the liberal establishment got nervous, and started trying to
warn Mrs. Warren off the contest. Their nervousness was
increased by the fact that Mrs. Clintons initial campaign
roll-out has been notably less than successful. There are
several other Democratic wannabes, including Vice President
Joe Biden, former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer,
former Virginia Senator James Webb and Vermont Senator
Bernie Sanders. Should Mrs. Clinton falter or pull out, other
big names in the party could enter, including notably New
York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

On the Republican side, there is no true frontrunner, but there
is an establishment favorite, former Florida Governor Jeb
Bush. Another major candidate would be New Jersey Governor
Chris Christie. Also potentially serious candidates include
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Ohio Governor John Kasich,
Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Louisiana Governor Bobby
Jindal, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Texas Senator Ted Cruz,
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, former Arkansas
Governor Mike Huckabee, former Texas Governor Rick Perry
and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Less serious
now, there are a number of hopefuls who might take a crack at
the nomination. (Abraham Lincoln was at the bottom of the list
of nine GOP candidates as late as February, 1860, and look what
happened only six months later when he won his nomination.)

Then there is Mitt Romney. In 2008, he was runner-up to
John McCain in the GOP nominating contest, and in 2012,
he was the Republican presidential nominee. He lost to
Barack Obama that year by a relatively small margin, but
as it turns out, most of what he said on the campaign turned
out be right, or rather more right, than what Mr. Obama
said. Nevertheless, some in the GOP establishment do not want
Mitt Romney to run in 2016, and are saying so out loud. 

It so happens I agree with those who say Mitt Romney is not
likely to be the best Republican nominee in 2016, but I do
disagree that he should be told not to run. I don’t agree with
much that Elizabeth Warren has been saying, but I also don’t
think she should be told not to run.

After all, it’s a free country, isn’t it?

Some folks in both parties fear open contests with many
candidates. Republicans particularly point to the large field and
numerous debates in 2012 as having hurt their ticket in
November. I disagree with that strongly. There were perhaps
too many debates (27), but the process, in my opinion, made Mr.
Romney a better and stronger candidate. Newt Gingrich, for
example, was by far the best debater in 2012; Mr. Romney held
his own in the debates, but he had to face someone who was
formidable early in the process. Romney did not lose because of
the number of GOP rivals he had or the debates. He lost because
of the successful (and unanswered) personal attacks on him made
by the Democrats early and often, and because the Democrats
had a much superior get-out-the-vote effort. (That the GOP did
not have a better one, truth be told, was Mr. Romney’s
responsibility.)

The nation and its political process is best served, as I see it,
by open and competitive nomination contests. The number of
candidates does not really matter because the process is
designed to weed out those who cannot win very early.

So I say to Elizabeth Warren, Mitt Romney, and anyone else
who thinks they should and can be president: Feel free to run!

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 16, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Skin Of Our Knowledge

My title refers to one of the classics of American theater,
The Skin Of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder, whose title came
from the phrase in the biblical book of Job, “...I escaped
by the skin of my teeth...”
Wilder’s play, written in the
darkest days of World War II (the play opened in New York
in 1943) suggests a note of skeptical optimism in the face of
humanity’s seemingly perpetual depravities, weaknesses and
missteps.

During so-called good times in America, plays like this, and
Wilder’s other classic play Our Town, seem to be dated and
contrived period pieces. At the time of its premiere, some
critics suggested Wilder lifted his theme from James Joyce’s
unreadable and ultra-dense masterpiece Finnegan’s Wake
which celebrates the patterns of life by telling a story with
an invented language that purports to contain much of
language, knowledge and history. (I once attended a class
in school that spent an entire hour deciphering just one
paragraph of Joyce’s book. But who has time for this?)

My point is much simpler. Having spent much of my life
reading books, as well as having a life of experiences,
it has become clear to me that human knowledge is a
very large composition, much beyond one person’s efforts
to read about all of it, much less understand it. Writers
like Joyce, Dante, Shakespeare, and Cervantes are recognized
for the “depth” and/or “breadth” of their summary of
knowledge in their own time, and for the ability of their
insights to last long after their own time, but it seems true
that each of the generations in each of the world’s places
has to rediscover what has happened in the past.

Pessimists say, of course, that humanity does not learn from
its past, and invariably repeats its mistakes and follies. It is,
for example, very tempting in these first days of 2015, and
including the events of recent decades, to say humanity’s
memory of such recent catastrophes as World War I, World
War II and the Holocaust is in a state of amnesia. There are
persons still alive who experienced these disasters, and yet
the world community seems bent on repeating them.
Optimists say, of course, this is wrong because, as they
assert, look at the tremendous advances of human invention
and technology, its self-understanding in terms of physiology
and medicine, and the overall rise in the level of human life
in so short a time. The optimists hold the belief that all will
turn out well because it always has done so in the past.

I note that what I understand about history is that, while
humanity has been advancing by its use of “knowledge,”
it repeats not only its darkest traits, but for the first time in
history faces not only man-made universal annihilation
(by H-bomb-induced EMT, robotics, etc.), but an awareness
of annihilation beyond its control (from solar flares, comet
collision with the earth, untreatable virus pandemic, etc.).
Knowledge and luck seem to have got us out of our many
past scrapes with catastrophe, and it will have to do it again,
it seems, as we move through a century of turbulence ahead.

I always wondered what it was like for my parents and all
their friends in those darkest days of World War II, just before
I was born, when violence, terror and intolerance stalked the
whole planet as the grimmest of all threats and nightmares.
I grew up in the optimistic and exciting times that came later,
but I have wondered what it was like when hope seemed at best
provisional. Now I am beginning to think I know, even though
the circumstances have different characters, what it was like.

The prophet Job is one of the most singular figures of the Old
Testament, a book of course with many singular figures.
When we first read about him, he seems like an extreme type
of human being on whom disasters fall. It then takes part of a
lifetime to realize he is just one of us, a traveler through a
passage of time who escapes by the skin of his teeth.

We’re, each of us, just passengers in this new century of
renewed turbulences, of more human frailties, of steps
backward as we move hesitatingly forward. There is going
to be turbulence on the ground, not just in the air. It is, I
suspect, no time for mere pessimism and no time for mere
optimism. As in those dark days just before I was born,
there is only time for very hard work to be done.


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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Three Vladimirs

The Russian nation has had many prominent figures named
Vladimir, which means (from Old Slavic) “master of power.”
In modern times, two of its most prominent politicians,
Vladimir “Lenin” (born Ulyanov), the founder of the Soviet
Union, and Vladimir Putin, the current president of Russia,
are widely known outside this Slavic country. One of the
world’s greatest pianists, Vladimir Horowitz, was a Russian
Jew, and a world-famous novelist was the Russian-born
Vladimir Nabokov.

No tsar was named Vladimir, but numerous princes of Kiev
were (before Moscow and St. Petersberg were the Russian
capitals). In fact the thousand-year old city of Vladimir was
an early capital of Russia, and still serves as the capital of a
Russian oblast (state).

Not only Slavs and other Russians were named Vladimir.
The legendary Count Dracula was a real person, and his name
was Vlad. After the Russian revolution, Marxists all over the
world named their children Vladimir, especially in Spanish-
speaking countries.

There was also a third major Russian-born statesman named
Vladimir, but he is virtually forgotten in his native country and
in Europe where from 1900 to 1940 he was so widely-known.

There is one place he has not been forgotten. In the State of
Israel there are reportedly more streets, buildings and other
institutions named after him than anyone else --- more than
Chaim Weizmann, the first Israeli president; more than David
Ben Gurion, the first prime minister; and more than Golda Meir,
the great woman prime minister; more than Moshe Dayan
or Shimon Peres  more than Menachem Begin, and more than
either of the Netanyahu brothers.

His name was Vladimir Jabotinsky. He was born to a middle
class Jewish family in the city of Odessa in 1880. He was not
religious in the usual sense, and until about 1900, he was not a
Zionist. When the Viennese secular Jew and journalist Theodor
Herzl re-ignited Zionism at the end of the 19th century in
Europe and the U.S., it lit a political fire in what was then known
as the Pale of Settlement or what is now known as Poland,
Byelorussia, western Russia and Ukraine.

In those early days, before even the dream of a Jewish state
could be practically imagined, many Jews of the almost two
thousand-year old Diaspora, most of them suffering under
especially repressive persecution in Europe, began to think
about the restoration of the Jewish nation in its original Biblical
territory that was now called Palestine, and was then under
Turkish Ottoman rule. Thousands of Jews had over the previous
several hundred years had emigrated back to Palestine, but most
of them accepted Turkish rule, and most were not Zionists.

Zionists themselves were divided in how to proceed to create a
Jewish state in Palestine. Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish appointee
to the U.S. supreme court, was a leader of the American Zionists,
and he along with most of the leaders of the world Zionist
movement, believed in a slow and cautious process in dealing
with the ruling Turks until World War I, and with the British who
held the Mandate for Palestine following the war.

Increasingly involved in the Zionist movement after 1900,
Jabotinsky who spoke not only Russian and Yiddish, but French,
German, Italian and English, became a serious student of Hebrew,
then primarily the language of Jewish religious observance. A lawyer,
journalist, novelist  and orator of extraordinary power, he quickly
became one of the most outspoken proponents of political
Zionism throughout the Russian Pale before World War I, and in
the newly-formed nations of eastern Europe during and after the
Versailles Conference in 1919. Jabotinsky was also among the first
Zionists to understand that in order to protect themselves in
Europe and Palestine, the Jews needed to be armed.  He was among
the earliest proponents of Jewish self-defense forces in the ghettos
of tsarist Russia to protect against waves of pogroms. It was his
idea later to form a Jewish Legion in the British army during World
War I. After much effort, he succeeded, and himself was a lieutenant
who served in the Jewish unit in Palestine and faced combat. After
the war, Jabotinsky, pressed the British to follow through on the
1917 proclamation of the British Foreign Secretary Arthur
Balfour promising a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine.

The British, in their efforts to defeat the Ottoman Empire in the
Middle East (Turkey had joined with imperial Germany and
Austro-Hungary to form the Central Powers to fight against the
Allies of Great Britain, France, Russia, and later, the United
States in the “Great War,” had also made promises to the
Arab leaders in the region, especially in the now-formed Saudi
Arabia and the new kingdoms in Iraq, Syria and Trans-Jordan.
Facing hostility from both Arabs living in Palestine and Jewish
settlers, the British put off attempts to resolve the Palestine
question.

Jabotinsky, the creator of the Jewish Legion, and then a founder
of the Haganah (or Jewish self-defense forces in Palestine)
found himself increasingly at odds with the leaders of the world
Zionist leadership, and resigned from its board of directors.
With the rise of Hitlerism in Germany, Jabotinsky quickly
realized the imminent danger to the millions of Jews in eastern
Europe, and proposed the evacuation of the entire Jewish
population of Poland, then more than 3 million, before Hitler
invaded in 1939. He even got the Polish government to agree,
but the sheer magnitude of such a project, and the German
invasion, ended any hope of rescuing those millions before the
Holocaust. Jabotinsky, who advocated that the Haganah be the
official and public Jewish self-defense police force in Palestine,
also became frustrated by the opposition he faced, and became
the founder of the clandestine Irgun militant forces that opposed
the British occupation under the Mandate, often with
controversial violence.

Jabotinsky, who for 40 years had been one of the most outspoken,
prophetic, pragmatic, controversial and eloquent voices for the
Zionist movement, and the world Jewish community, did not live
to see the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, nor did he live
to see the horror of the Holocaust that his prophetic idea of the
evacuation of Jewish Poland would have partially prevented.
While living in New York City in 1940 he had a heart attack and
died at the age of 59.

Most of the world outside Israel do not know about this third
Russian Vladimir, including most American Jews and Christians
who sympathize with the Jewish state. Reading his remarkable
story, and of the singular imprint he made on the nation he did
not live to see, however, it is important to re-examine his
extraordinary life, if for no other reason, to understand better
this most complicated. rancorous, violent and divided part of
the world of today.

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Senate Next Time

The announcement of Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer
that she will retire from the senate in 2016 marks the
beginning of the contest for control of that congressional
body in the next cycle.

Although there will almost certainly be a heated contest
for her Democratic nomination this year and next, the seat
will likely remain on the liberal side of the aisle unless state
Republicans can come up with an exceptional candidate.

In 2016, 24 Republican-held seats will be up for re-election,
and only 10 Democratic-held seats. It was this kind of
advantage in reverse which enabled conservatives to gain
9 senate seats in 2014, and take control 54-46.

The conventional wisdom is understandably that  the GOP
will be hard-pressed to keep control of the senate in January,
2017. A closer look, however, indicates that conventional
wisdom might be wrong (as it often is).

The first matter to consider is potential retirements by the
most senior members. Three of the ten Democrats running
in 2016 could retire, including Harry Reid of Nevada,
Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Like Boxer’s seat in California, the seats in Maryland and
Vermont are not likely to change parties if the seats
become open. Only in Nevada is the Democratic incumbent
in serious trouble. Even if he runs in 2016, Harry Reid would
likely lose his re-election, especially if his opponent in
current GOP governor Brian Sandoval. Also complicating 
potential liberal gains is current Democratic Senator Joe
Manchin of West Virginia who is reportedly unhappy in the
senate, and considering running again for governor. A
Manchin vacancy almost certainly would be filled with a
Republican.

On the GOP side, three incumbents seem potential retirees,
including John McCain of Arizona, Chuck Grassley of Iowa,
and Dan Coats of Indiana. David Vitter of Lousiana would
have to retire if he is elected governor in 2015, but he would
then appoint his successor. If McCain, Grassley or Coats
retired, their seats would more likely than not be replaced
by Republicans.

So, of those running, who are vulnerable?

On the Democratic side, the aforementioned Reid and
Michael Bennett of Colorado.

On the Republican side, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin,
Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Senator Mark Kirk of
Illinois, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Senator Roy
Blunt of Missouri, and the aforementioned  Senator Coats.

Mathematically then, Democrats could pick up 6-7 seats if
they beat all vulnerable GOP senators plus win at least one
seat from a retiree. But that is complicated by the fact that
they could easily lose two seats (Nevada and Colorado), and
would likely lose a third if Manchin in West Virginia retires
prematurely to run for governor. Further complicating
Democratic ambitions is that, while vulnerable, Johnson,
Toomey, Kirk, Murkowski and Blunt are currently only
marginably vulnerable, and could yet win in 2016.

Complicating our picture of the 2016 races are not only
the decisions about retirement by incumbent senators of
both parties, but also for-now unknowable changes in the
status of other incumbent senators not running in 2016.
Furthermore, as we seem to learn in every cycle, some
senators considered now to be headed for “safe” re-election
become vulnerable as election day approaches. Intraparty
challengers could also diminish safe incumbents’ prospects,
as could slightly the impact of the 2016 presidential election,
especially in voter turnout.

The advantage enjoyed by senate Republicans in 2014 was
fully taken. A similar advantage for Democrats in 2016
might thus not produce the same results, primarily because
there were more vulnerable Democrats in the 2014 cycle than
seem likely among Republicans in the 2016 cycle. Those 2014
results also provided the conservatives a larger margin than
expected, and this allows them to take more net losses in the
senate, and still keep control.

In fact, barring dramatic new political developments, the
kind of huge “wave” which enabled massive GOP gains
across the board in 2014 does not appear very imminent in
2016. Republicans almost certainly will maintain control
of the U.S. house in the next cycle, and Democrats will have
a problematic challenge to hold the presidency.

One of the singular realities of the senate races in 2014
were the outstanding candidates the GOP recruited in
virtually every contest against Democratic incumbents.
This will be the great challenge for Democratic senate
strategists in 2016. Relying on the increased  liberal voter
turnout in a presidential year will not likely make much
difference in these races. But recruitment will.

Our attention will focus on these efforts in the next
several months, even as the new Republican majorities in
Congress, won in 2014, attempt to set their own stage for 2016.

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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.



Monday, January 5, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Muskie Memories

This is not a piece about my fishing memories of Lake Erie
as a child, nor of more recent angling memories in northern
Minnesota. I’m not referring to that kind of muskie.

Long, long ago, in 1972, I ran for the first and last time in a
public election. I was living in the new town of Jonathan,
now part of the exurban community of Chaska, about 45
miles from downtown Minneapolis. It was a presidential
year, and I had decided that my candidate for president was
Senator Ed Muskie of Maine. He had been Hubert
Humphrey’s vice presidential choice in 1968, and had made
a very positive impression on many Democrats. He had a
New England common sense eloquence which he displayed
in interviews again and again on national television following
the defeat of the Humphrey-Muskie ticket by Richard Nixon.

My immediate family tradition was for liberal Democratic
politics. In 1968, I was very young and had dabbled in the
Eugene McCarthy candidacy until it became evident he was
not going to win. I had no problem enthusiastically supporting
Humphrey after the Democratic convention, especially since his
opponent was Nixon (not a popular figure in conversations at
my family dinner table).

Senator Muskie soon became the heavily favored frontrunner
for the Democratic nomination. There were some other serious
liberal figures who were also thinking of competing against
him, but I, and apparently many others, concluded Muskie
was to be the one. I believe he led most polls. There was one
competitor for the nomination, however, who didn’t fit into
the Muskie Democratic establishment mode. His name was
George McGovern, then a senator from South Dakota.
McGovern, with his campaign manager (a young man named
Gary Hart) mobilized the continuing and still growing anti-Viet
Nam War sentiment voters in the Democratic Party. Nixon,
now president, was already into “dirty tricks” against his
likely opponent in 1972, and when someone became nasty
about Muskie’s wife, the senator of Maine became so emotional
in defending her that he cried on national TV. Just as Governor
George Romney had, on visiting Viet Nam several years before,
declared publicly he had been “brainwashed” about the war,
the media decided that now Muskie’s campaign was finished.
(Romney, father of Mitt Romney, had been the clear frontrunner
for the 1968 GOP nomination until his “gaffe.” )

I was elected a Muskie delegate early in 1972, but by the time the
state conventions came around, it was clear that an upset was in
the making. I had just begun my career in journalism, and I soon
decided I would rather write about politicians than try to be one.

That was then. Today, Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly makes
gaffes like Romney did just that once. Democratic New York
Senator Chuck Schumer recently publicly admitted Obamacare
was  a mistake. Today, a national male politician, following the
chronic example of president Bill Clinton in the 1990’s, is
supposed to be seen shedding tears in times of sad crisis.
Even the current speaker of the U.S. house of representatives today
sheds a tear or two routinely in emotional moments.

In any event, we do not speak today of the vigorous terms of
President Muskie. (Nor of the distinctive terms of President
McGovern.) Few expected McGovern to win, but Muskie was
another story. Witty, Lincolnesque, experienced, it seemed almost
inevitable that he would reside in the White House.  History,
however, is often rude about logic. The only reason the
Democratic Party recovered four years later was Watergate
and the humiliating resignation of Nixon.

As I have said, times do change. For the next cycle, we also have
an overwhelming frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
Former first lady, former U.S. senator, former U.S. secretary of
state, and potentially the first woman to be elected president,
how can Hillary Clinton lose?

Logic tells us she can’t lose. History tells us anything can happen.
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Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Cautionary Advisory

Here is a cautionary advisory from The Prairie Editor:

The discussion about 2016 presidential politics taking place
now will not, one year from now when the contest will have
begun in earnest, much resemble the discussion we will be
having then.

Today the pundits and potential candidates are spinning their
wheels in public. In private, of course, serious maneuvering
is already taking place, especially in the retention of consultants,
advisers and other campaign operatives, as well as initial contact
with major donors and the preliminary organization plans and
strategies.

First of all, we don’t know for sure who is running. Probably, we
know most of the candidates in both parties, but some of the
biggest names remain somewhat uncertain. Second, we don’t
know which candidates will have traction. Third, there are always
contenders who do much better than originally expected, and
those who do much worse. Fourth, surprises always happen
after the contest more formally begins, usually between Labor Day
the year before the election and New Year’s Day. Fifth, certain
late-breaking events, domestic and foreign, often can profoundly
shape the campaign season.

Only when the announced candidates are known, show their
political cards, begin their publicity campaigns, and appear in a
debate together, is the true chemistry of a presidential nomination
campaign visible. That is especially true since the 2012 cycle when
there were so many debates, as well as a number of late-entering
major candidates in the Republican contest. It has been said that
the two major parties will try to cut back the number of debates in
2016, but this will be easier said than done. This cycle, the contest
is open in both parties.

On the Democratic side, there is an early and seemingly
overwhelming favorite, Hillary Clinton, but she was similarly
dominant in 2007-08, before bring  upset by Barack Obama. In
2015, Senator Elizabeth Warren seems to be mounting a growing
campaign to replace Mrs. Clinton, and former Senator James
Webb has now appeared for some serious media attention. Should
Mrs. Clinton surprise everyone by deciding not to run, the bats
would be cleared from the liberal belfry, and a donnybrook would
likely result. Serious candidates such as Governor Andrew Cuomo
of New York could then possibly get in the race with former
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, California Governor Jerry
Brown, Vice President Joe Biden and a parade of other wannabes.

The Republican contest is now an open field. Perhaps as many as
a dozen or more conservative candidates could enter the race,
including a few bats from their conservative belfry, but the early
primaries and caucuses should narrow their number quickly to
much fewer contenders.

By December, 2015, we will have long known whether or not Mitt
Romney decided for another run, whether or not Jeb Bush’s
surname is a help or hindrance, whether or not the New Jersey
bridge incident still hurts Chris Christie, and whether or not Rand
Paul is more than niche candidate. We will also know much more
certainly whether or not there will be severe Obama “fatigue,”
especially among independent voters.

Even then, the real campaign will lie ahead. Who knew or forecast
in December, 2011, for example, that the lead in the polls for the
Republican nomination would shift back and forth over the next
few months between at least six candidates, that as late as the week
after the South Carolina primary, New Gingrich might win, or that
at the very end, Rick Santorum would be the last contestant left to
battle against Mitt Romney?

The discussion today about the 2016 presidential election might
bear little resemblance to the reality only a year from now, but
it does serve a purpose. It’s like batting practice and pitcher
warm-up before a baseball game. We watch for little signs and
revelations about the conditions and techniques of the players.
It’s also fun just to watch.

But it’s not the game itself when a lot more is at stake, and the
unplanned occurrences and the unpredicted chemistry of actual
competition come into play.

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Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.