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.

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.

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

Sunday, March 10, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: An Uncivil War Coming?

We are in the “in or out” political season, as certain ambitious political
individuals decide if they are going to run for president or not in the
2020 cycle.

The latest count has 14 “name” candidates formally in the race for
the Democratic nomination for president --- with up to a dozen
more possibly getting into the contest. Also declaring their
decision NOT to run were about a half dozen prominent Democrats,
the most well-known of whom were Hillary Clinton and former New
York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Running for president, and qualifying for the party TV debates, is very
tempting to an ambitious but nationally-unknown politician, but it
requires money and campaign staff, and not just self-confidence and at
least something of a credible political resume.

Long before Donald Trump appeared, it was an established fact that
publicity was a key element for any political figure to emerge from the
gelatinous gray mass of daily media coverage. Most of the candidates,
those already announced and those likely yet to announce, face the
challenge of how to successfully promote their candidacy and stand out
from the overlarge crowd. A few others, including Joe Biden, Bernie
Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are already well-known,but maintaining
their current relatively high poll numbers remains a constant challenge.

There were about 16 “name” Republican presidential candidates in
2016, and Donald Trump was not among the favorites until the TV
debates. His strategy was pooh-poohed by most political “experts” and
media commentators, but as Barack Obama did in 2008, he was able
to defy conventional wisdom, and prevail against better-known rivals.

Joe Biden and Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, one already a frontrunner and
the other a media favorite from his unsuccessful 2018 Texas senate
campaign, have yet to announce. When and if they do, they are likely
to be immediately significant factors --- as would New York Governor
Andrew Cuomo, who is reportedly considering a candidacy.  But there
are a notable number of lesser-known figures, in and not-yet-in, who
might suddenly, or after the debates begin in June, come to the forefront.

What is very unlikely to happen is what happened in 1896 when the
keynote speaker at the Democratic convention --- not a candidate for
the nomination --- so electrified the delegates that he was nominated.
(Although he lost the general election that year, William Jennings Bryan
went on to be the Democratic nominee two more times.)

The Democrats have established a number of conditions, procedures
and rules, some of them new, which make an early winner unlikely.
Chief among them is removing the large number of superdelegates
from voting on the first ballot at the national convention, the prohibition
of winner-take-all in a given state’s primary or caucus, the new
early frontloading of major state primaries, the DNC decision
apparently to put all candidates who qualify on the same stage at the
same time (this might yet be changed), and, of course, the sheer
number of candidates.

The proportional allotment of delegates based on popular vote,
undercuts the traditional favorite son or daughter advantage of those
from larger states.  A case in point is Kamala Harris of California who
has been lining up endorsements by many of her state’s leading
Democrats, but who will have to share the huge bounty of her state’s
delegates with her major competitors. The same will be true of other
large states with native sons or daughters who are running for

At some point, some in the large field will go beyond the common
Democratic theme of attacking President Trump,and begin attacking
each other. Party decorum and unity advocates abhor this strategy,
but it is inevitable in a political environment when  a first-term
congresswoman feels at ease in attacking most of her party’s
leadership, past and present, including former President Obama.

This is certainly not a cycle, in either major party, for candidates who
are verbally squeamish.  The voters are likely in for an “Uncivil War”
throughout the campaign   The allegations, namecalling, pillorying,
churlishness, and other incivility of the past two years are likely to
have been only a practice run.

Into this political miasma, step the candidates for president of the
United States. It could well be the kind of cycle when some of the
“ins” --- in retrospect --- will wish they had stayed ‘out.”

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

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Presidential Medical Secrets

President Donald Trump recently had his annual medical check up,
and his physician reported he is very fit. Considering his robust daily
schedule, there is no reason to doubt the report, but the president will
be over 70 when he runs for re-election next year, and many of his most
serious potential Democratic opponents will also be over 70, and even
older than he will be.

In the past, presidential medical condition reporting has often kept
important information from the public, beginning perhaps with the
case in 1893 when President Grover Cleveland, shortly after beginning
his second term in office, was diagnosed with a mouth tumor, requiring
immediate surgery. The public was told that Cleveland was going on a
fishing trip to Cape Cod on a private yacht.

In fact, the yacht “Oneids” secretly anchored off Long Island, and with
six of the nation’s top surgeons aboard, the tumor was removed. The
president’s trademark bushy moustache subsequently hid the evidence
of the surgery in the weeks hat followed after Cleveland reappeared in
public. The incident was only revealed years later, after the president
died, by one of the surgeons.

A quarter of a century later, President Wilson suffered a debilitating
stroke while in office, and the information was kept secret from the
public for the remainder of his term --- as his wife assumed de facto
control of the White House, and the government.

Two decades after that, the news that President Franklin Roosevelt
was dying was kept secret by his physicians during his fourth election
campaign. He died shortly after his inauguration in 1945 after he chose
Harry Truman to be his vice presidential running mate in 1944,
replacing the incumbent Vice President Henry Wallace who was an
open admirer of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy ran for president and won, although he and
his physicians knew he had then-fatal Addison’s (kidney) Disease.
Today, this disease is treatable, but then it was fatal, and if he had not
been assassinated in 1963 and had run for re-election 1964, he might
well have not lived out his second term. Kennedy was also heavily
drugged to alleviate his pain from the disease throughout his short
presidency, a fact also kept from the public.

During his time in office, President Ronald Reagan had cancer surgery,
but it was not revealed as such in public.

Wilson’s, Franklin Roosevelt’s, and John Kennedy’s ailments clearly
affected their performances as president.

With so many senior men and women running for president in 2020,
and the extraordinary daily physical demands made by this job, it
would seem important to have  an objective assessment of each
candidate’s physical condition before the election season begins in

In 1893, President Cleveland and his advisors worried that news of his
illness might negatively affect the stock market. Today, and going
forward, such a physical disability in the White House would likely
affect much more than that.

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


There are not a few skeptics about the political spectacle we are all
about to witness as an historic number of candidates compete to
become the Democratic nominee for president.

On one hand, there are those who think the political process ahead
will be instructive, substantive and useful in the eventual choice of
the Democratic nominee. On the other hand, there are the skeptics
who think most of the campaign will be little more than a bizarre
unreality show pitting publicity and other self-promotion gambits
against each other in an outpouring of sloganeering, manipulative
propaganda, and cynical deceptions.

The latter, the skeptics, also point to the excessive media bias on
both the left and the right as proof that only a minimum of authentic
information will be made available to the voting public, especially
before the first candidate debates in May and June.

So what can a voter do to avoid a spectacle of campaign duplicities
which might lie ahead?

I think a few key matters to look for when attempting to assess the
numerous candidates this cycle include personality, originality,
excessive promising (especially of new entitlements), experience,
and communication skills.

Let me detail each of these with some specifics.

Personality is always important. Not every candidate will have what
is called “charisma,” but a successful winner of a presidential
nomination almost always has an attractive and distinctive manner
and appearance.

Inevitably, the winning nominee brings some original aspect to his or
her campaign, either in strategy, fundraising, communications, or
choice of issues.

Politicians invariably make promises --- most of which are not kept.
Democrats, who usually favor increased government activity, often
promise more or new entitlements without credibly explaining how
they will be paid for or sustained. Free college education, Medicare
for All, and the Green New Deal each have huge price tags. Voters
need to hold candidates accountable for how they will pay for what
they promise.

Although it is clear that many Democratic voters are looking for new
faces, successful political management experience remains a
valuable trait for serving as president. Critics of both Barack Obama
and Donald Trump cite each of them for lack of such prior experience.
This is not about the age of a candidate. An older candidate might lack
experience, and a younger candidate might have a excellent resume.

A president has many roles, including initiator of domestic policy,
director of foreign policy, commander in chief of armed forces, and
spokesperson of the nation. Each of these require good if not
exceptional communication skills if a president is going to inspire
confidence and persuade citizens to follow his or her lead. Abraham
Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan
excelled in communicating their successful presidencies, although each
were very different. Harry Truman was effectively plain spoken, and
John Kennedy was eloquent. Unsuccessful presidents often
communicate unsuccessfully.

These are just some suggestions for how to navigate the turbulent
nomination contests ahead, especially for Democrats who must
choose from such a large number of candidates. There yet might be
a contest for Republicans --- who would need to apply no less scrutiny
of their choices.

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


He was America’s first public philanthropist. He made the first steam locomotive.
He invented Jell-o. He was one of the handful of men who was responsible for
the first transatlantic cable.  He put the first elevator shaft in a building, and did it
before the elevator was invented. He was the nation’s early equivalent of a
billionaire, who was an ardent abolitionist and also promoted the cause of Native
Americans.  At 85, he ran for president of the United States. He still is the oldest
person ever nominated by a notable political party. He lost (but probably affected
the outcome of one of the closest elections in U.S. history).

Yet few, outside his home town, remember his name.

Peter Cooper was born in New York in 1791. (George Washington was in his
first term as president.) He died in 1883. He was one of the greatest American
capitalists of the 19th century, and an historically important innovator, but what
made him a true visionary was his original and compassionate notion that,
having made a fortune, he needed to give much of it back to the community in
which he lived. Born in modest means, he routinely gave his money to
institutions and causes for the poor and for political reform. In 1876, at the
age of 85, he ran for president of the United States as the nominee of the
National Independent (Greenback) Party, He received only 1% of the vote, but
many of his then radical ideas later became normal standards of public policy

His most enduring and visible contribution was a building, the Cooper Union,
which was completed in 1858. It was then, and is now, a school of architecture,
engineering and fine arts. It was intended for the poor of New York who
otherwise could not attend classes. Then, as now, no one paid to attend the
school’s classes. The only requirement was superior intelligence. Men and
women could attend, as could the young and old. It also provided the only
public library in the city of its kind, open to all. Since the day it opened,
there has not ever been a vacancy in its classes. It lists great artists and
architects, famous engineers and a Nobel prize winner among its graduates.
Over the years, its faculty and students became more and more
distinguished. Today, with 600 students, it is one of the finest schools of its
kind in the nation.

But Peter Cooper had a second purpose in mind with his Cooper Union. In
the building’s basement, he constructed a Great Hall, then holding 1100
persons, that was to be a forum for new and exciting ideas.

The most famous speech given there was, of course, Abraham Lincoln’s
two-hour address on the evening of February 27, 1860. Lincoln, at that
moment, was the darkest of dark horses for the Republican nomination
for president in 1860. The new party which had replaced the Whig Party
in 1856, now had a chance to elect a president, because the crisis of the
slavery issue had split the Democratic Party into a northern faction and a
southern faction. New York Republicans, however, thought that their
governor, William Seward, then the frontrunner for the GOP nomination,
could not win the general election. They planned a series of speeches, to
be given by prominent Midwestern Republicans, to find a candidate who
could win. Among those they invited, was Lincoln,  a successful railroad
attorney who had served one term in Congress, but had lost an 1858 senate
race in Illinois to Stephen Douglas (who by 1860 was the almost certain
Democratic nominee for president). Lincoln, however, could not come to
New York for the scheduled autumn, 1859 speeches at the New York
YMCA, but was able to come in February, 1860. By that time, the
organizers had moved the venue to the larger Cooper Union, opened only
a year before.

Lincoln’s speech is arguably the most important political speech in
American history. Not as poetic as the more famous Gettysburg Address
or his Second Inaugural, his bold Cooper Union speech destroyed the
pretense of the intellectual argument for slavery, and electrified his
Cooper Union audience. Lincoln had also cagily arranged for copies of
his speech to be distributed to the press, and within a few days, he was a
political sensation in the North and among Republicans. This speech
almost certainly made him the eventual nominee and president.

Cooper Union continued to be a forum for important American speeches
and ideas throughout the 19th century, the early 20th century, and to the
present time. After Lincoln’s speech, Susan B. Anthony, Horace Greeley,
Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert Ingersoll, Victoria Woodhull and
Thomas Huxley spoke there, In recent years, Bill Clinton has spoken there.

When I got out of graduate school and moved to New York in the early 1
970’s, I lived for a while in the lower east side, and passed Cooper Union
to and from work every day.  I did not ever go inside, although I knew it
was an historic building still in use. Later, I learned about Lincoln’s
speech there, but I still did not know until much later the full story of the
school and its remarkable founder, Peter Cooper --- a man who changed
history in so many ways.

Copyright (c) 2007 and 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 15, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Twenty-Four Years Ago.....

Twenty-four years ago, I was the part-time executive director of a
non-profit, non-partisan foundation that had two main functions --- first,
holding periodic national conferences on timely public policy issues,
and second, hosting and escorting foreign public figures in the U.S.,
primarily those who were part of the United States Information Agency
(USIA), and later U.S. State Department, international visitor program.
I had co-founded the foundation in 1989 with my friend, the late Julius
Smith, a prominent attorney and local public figure.

Our first project was a  national symposium on low-income housing in
1990 with the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack
Kemp as the main speaker. I had gotten to know him in my full-time
job as a journalist who covered national and presidential politics, and
he graciously agreed to come to Minneapolis for our event. We also
invited prominent local and national Democrats, as well as non-partisan
low income housing activists and developers. The symposium was
about a then somewhat controversial subject, and running it was quite a
learning experience. We did not get much media notice outside

For the next five years, the foundation’s primary activities were with
international visitors. Over the years, we hosted locally or escorted
around the U.S. more than 500 foreign elected officers, public officials,
businesspersons, journalists and cultural figures from almost 100
nations.  It was an eye-opening experience, but a story for another time.

Early in 1995, I felt it was time for another symposium. As an opinion
journalist and reporter about national politics, I had formed some views
about the importance of the so-called “political center” in
American public life.  I sensed that a national symposium discussing
“Locating the new political center in America” might be useful and
timely. Once again, using contacts I had made as a journalist, I invited
some prominent centrist U.S. figures to participate, including members
of President Bill Clinton’s administration, leaders of major centrist
organizations, including the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a
centrist think tank from where Mr. Clinton had emerged earlier,
prominent Republicans including then Speaker of the U.S. House
Newt Gingrich, and well-known independent and third party figures.

Although my roster of invited speakers was perhaps initially ambitious,
some surprise events propelled the symposium into unexpected
national prominence as its mid-December date approached.

First, it was the third year of President Clinton’ first term, and it was a
problematic time for his administration. A year before, Newt Gingrich
had engineered an historic realigning mid-term election, and
Republicans took control of the U.S. house for the first time in four
decades. Gingrich’s policy initiatives (many of them centrist) had put
Clinton on the defensive, and there was talk of some challenging the
president’s upcoming 1996 renomination or running as a third party

Perhaps the most prominent of these potential revolts came from a
group known as the “Secret Seven” that included prominent centrist
Democrats former Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, New Jersey
Senator Bill Bradley, former Governor Richard Lamm of Colorado,
former Congressman Tim Penny of Minnesota, and former Senator
(and 1984 presidential candidate) Gary Hart, as well as former 1980
independent presidential candidate John Anderson and independent
Maine Governor Angus King.  Former Republican Connecticut
Governor Lowell Weicker was later listed in the group (causing it to
have a new media name, “the Gang of Eight”). Each of them were
self-described centrists unhappy with the leadership of both parties.
It was also rumored that Bradley and Weicker might run for president
in 1996.

When I asked Tim Penny to participate in the symposium, he quickly
realized that the event could be an ideal way to formally launch the
“Secret Seven” plan to push the major parties toward the political
center. I agreed to let members of his group headline the symposium
dinner, The luncheon keynote speaker was to be Speaker Gingrich
who I had gotten to know years before when he was a relatively
unknown congressman.

Although only three of the Secret Seven spoke at our symposium in
Minneapolis, it was major national news. Suddenly, our efforts to gain
a bit of publicity for the symposium exploded into front-page headlines
across the nation and in nightly network news stories. Some of our
invited guests who had been reluctant to commit to coming to frigid
Minnesota in December now virtually begged me to participate.

The second unexpected event, older readers will recall, was that our
symposium date ended up in the middle of a contentious government
shutdown pitting President Clinton against Speaker Gingrich. As the
the event approached, my staff and my friends all advised me we were
going to lose Gingrich as our keynoter. When I contacted him with
foreboding, I was pleased to learn that he fully expected to appear,
provided we could arrange for his live televised remarks by satellite
from a studio in Washington, DC to our event.  We scrambled to do
so, and some of generous  sponsors came up with the extra funds to
make it happen. Needless to say, Speaker Gingrich’s live remarks at
our symposium drew a standing-room-only crowd and national media.

Steve Scully of C-SPAN had grown up in Erie, PA, as had Tom Ridge
(then governor of Pennsylvania and a speaker at several of our
symposia), and as I did. I don’t think Steve and his colleagues needed
much persuading to televise our event. Usually, C-SPAN broadcasts a
program such as ours only once, but because of the government
shutdown, they lacked timely material --- so sessions of our
symposium were broadcast repeatedly for several weeks. 

(I realized C-SPAN’s impact when I made my next visit to Washington,
DC a few months later, and I was actually stopped in the streets several
times by persons who had seen me speak at the symposium!)

Al From and Will Marshall, the leaders of the DLC came and spoke, as
did Elaine Kamarck representing the president and Vice President Al
Gore. My friend Mike McCurry, the presidential press secretary (whom
I had met in 1988 when he was press secretary to Bruce Babbitt, then
running for president), graciously arranged for representatives of
President Clinton, including former Governor George Sinner of North
Dakota, to hold a press conference responding for the White House to
Speaker Gingrich’s remarks at the symposium.. Ross Perot’s 1992
campaign manager Orson Swindle participated as did Michael Lewan,
former chief of staff for Senator Joe Lieberman (later Democratic vice
presidential nominee), policy guru Grover Norquist, former President
George H.W. Bush senior staffer Jim Pinkerton, Ross Perot’s pollster
Gordon Black, several other DLC staffers, and many national and local
figures. Over the next decade, we held a number of successful national
conferences, but thanks to our outstanding 1995 participants, an
excellent symposium staff, and a huge attendee turnout, this one was a
high point of the foundation’s symposium history.

National pundits, including David Broder, Michael Barone, Tony Snow,
Jack Germond and Jules Witcover, weighed in, as did most of the nation’s
major newspapers, Also Time Magazine (which had  broken the initial
“Secret Seven” story), U.S. News & World Report, The Weekly Standard
and so many others, I stopped counting. The TV networks --- ABC, CBS,
NBC, PBS, CNN, UPN, CONUS --- showed up in force,, as did many
national and local radio programs. Participant and presidential scholar
David Kozak wrote a long piece about the symposium in Presidential 
Studies Quarterly. Virtually overnight we had become a big national story.

Why have I imposed on the reader with this little account of a
now-forgotten symposium that occurred twenty-four years ago?

We have just endured a government shutdown that matched a
controversial first-term president and a powerful speaker of the house.
Elements of both major parties are alleged too extreme, and after a
period of passivity, the political center and its issues appear to be
reasserting themselves. In 2019, many specific issues are different from
those in 1995, but many broader issues of taxes, spending, accountability,
transparency, and bureaucracy remain in the forefront.

After 1995, Bill Clinton moved decidedly to the center, and soon
compromised with and adopted several of Newt  Gingrich’s policies.
Budgets were balanced. There is no “Secret Seven” today, but there
are major figures in both parties, and independents, who speak out to
refute extreme views,  unsustainable policies, political correctness, and
just plain bad ideas.

In 1995, virtually the entire national media embraced the news story of
a potential political revolt from the center, and did it mostly fairly..
In 2019, a similar story is being treated by many (but, to be fair, not all)
in the media as almost a threat to national security

The political center is like the earth’s magnetic pole --- it keeps moving
according to forces in the core of public opinion --- just as the magnetic
pole is moved by forces from the earth's core.

Where is the U.S. political center today?

The answer might tell us more about 2020 than any poll numbers.

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