Monday, December 27, 2010

Three Scenarios For The GOP Nomination

At this early point, with not a single GOP presidential candidacy formally announced, I see three general scenarios that will likely unfold over the next 18 months that will lead to a Republican presidential nominee.

All scenarios include current frontrunner Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. All scenarios also include most of the second and third tier candidates, including Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, John Thune, Rick Santorum, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Pence. (By the time of the Iowa GOP Straw Poll, or soon after it, those on this list who have announced they would run may no longer be in the race.)

Scenario Number 2 includes either Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin, but not the other, plus all or most of the above.

Scenario Number 3 includes both Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, plus all or most of the above.

A variation of all three of these scenarios includes a formidable candidate not on any list, but who emerges rather suddenly in the next few months. An example of this would be Jeb Bush who most observers now believe will not be a candidate for president before 2016. I note as a cautionary that very late-emerging candidacies (such as Wendell Willkie’s in 1940) are quite rare and even more unlikely in today’s TV-internet-blog new environment.

I suggest that each of the three scenarios has a specific and contrasting character. Both Mr. Huckabee and Mrs. Palin were major figures in the 2008 presidential campaign, although only Mr. Huckabee went through the primary season. Each of them registers very high on virtually all pre-campaign season polls, and each of them has national bases. With both of them in the race, the primary season is very crowded, and the outcome very much in doubt from the perspective of December, 2010.

If only one of them is in the race, the field is less crowded. but the other could play a role in selecting the nominee by throwing his or her support behind any of the other candidates.

If neither of them is in the race, the field takes a different shape after the Iowa straw poll and subsequent Iowa caucus, followed soon after by New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The nomination may not be settled by then, but is likely to be over after Super Tuesday. In this scenario, Mr. Romney, Mr. Gingrich and one of the “darker horses” (Pawlenty? Daniels?) will soon become the finalists.

In short, I think all early speculation about who will be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee needs to take into account these possible political permutations. Initially, the field could be very large (10-14 candidates), but history and experience tells us such a field will narrow very quickly.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A First Serious Look at the Presidential Election of 2012

The 2012 presidential election campaign will be somewhat shorter than the last one, but that may be one of the few aspects of it we might be grateful for in the next 23 months.

Media discussion of 2012, and endless polling about it is, of course, well underway, and many if not most of the candidates have already privately made their decisions about whether they will run or not. Instead of a flurry of announcements immediately following the 2010 mid-term elections, or waiting even until the early days of 2011, however, the major candidates appear to be holding back until March, April or May to declare their intentions publicly and formally organize their campaigns.

The overwhelming inclination, of course, is to try to rate the odds of the various potential contenders on the Republican side, and to assume that incumbent President Obama will be renominated. I will do neither here. To the latter assumption, I will point out what I have suggested in the months preceding the 2010 midterm elections, that is, Mr. Obama may not be chosen again by his party to lead its ticket in the next election. This would be historically quite a remarkable outcome for a first-term chief executive, but his performance so far has been notably unimpressive, and as we already saw at the end of the 2010 campaign, a number of his own party’s candidates openly criticized him and his policies, a phenomenon that continues as 2011 approaches. This would be mild compared to the mood of Democratic candidates in late 2011 and early 2012 if it appeared that the president has not righted his ship and achieved an economic turnaround. As happened in 1968, 1980 and in 1992, a first-term incumbent president in trouble will eventually be challenged for renomination.

A number of pundits, however, are assuming that within 18 months a clear economic recovery is virtually a certainty, and that in spite of present circumstances, Mr. Obama will be easily re-elected. They, of course, are assuming that this downturn, like downnturns in the past, will be normally cyclical and relatively short-lived. I would suggest, however, that historically presidents have acted in such a way as to help the natural cyclical forces put the economy back in order. Furthermore, previous recent recessions have occurred when the U.S. was the world’s clearly dominant economy and market. By exacerbating economic weakness with continued bailouts, federal deficit spending and proposed higher taxes, and particularly by undermining the huge health care sector with an unworkable program of healthcare reform legislation, I have been suggesting that President Obama and his administration are, in reality, prolonging the economic downturn and making a turnaround in employment, return of solid consumer confidence, and a general across-the-board increase in corporate earnings quite difficult if not improbable in the short-to- intermediate term (here defined at the next 18-23 months).

Yes, if by the spring of 2012, U.S. unemployment has dropped to 5-6%, if the stock market is soaring because corporate earnings are clearly up, and if we are back in a boom economy here and abroad, Barack Obama’s political fortunes will likewise recover and he would probably win re-election by a clear margin. But in order for that to happen, the economy’s natural and organic market forces need to be allowed to work. Higher taxes, larger deficits, and constant government interventions are no prescription for an economy to become healthy. I point out one more time that incumbent Democratic presidents Kennedy and Clinton in very recent times understood this, and acted with conservative principles in their economic policies. This is not, nor should it be a partisan ideological issue. It is an issue about how a modern democratic capitalist economy works.

Who the Republican nominee will be in 2012 may depend on whether Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee or not. If he is not the nominee, the whole contest is a different one. But let us, for the moment, assume that the economy, while not fully recovered, is at least arguably improved, and that, as the incumbent, Mr. Obama is able to prevail at his party’s convention in early autumn, 2012.

I said I would not handicap the potential Republican contenders, but it might be useful, even at this early moment in the campaign, to discuss the field.

Conventional wisdom has former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as the early frontrunner. Few would dispute this, but as most observers of national politics know, such a designation means little before the actual campaign takes place. More often than not, frontrunners do not make it to the finish line in presidential politics. Mr. Romney does have the advantage of being the runner-up in 2008, he has already run a full-scale campaign for the nomination, he has unlimited personal funds, he has a successful life experience to talk about, and Republicans already know who he is.

Two other major candidates from 2008 are also thought to be likely candidates for president in 2012. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee leads in many GOP polls. He won the Iowa caucus last time, and was a player throughout the campaign. Some think he may have waited too long to concede that year, but his subsequent career as a popular TV host and commentator have kept him in the public eye. Of the major four potential candidates, however, he is probably the one most likely not to choose to run, but his popularity in the polls should not be underestimated.

Former Alaska Governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is a political phenomenon often misunderstood in the media. The most polarizing major potential candidate, her rapport with the GOP base, especially its conservative populist base is powerful and growing. The one-sided treatment of her by many in the media during the 2008 campaign, and subsequently to the present time, has perhaps hurt her politically in the short-term, yet she shows a public resilience that should not be overlooked. In a knock-down and grueling GOP primary/caucus campaign, she could emerge the strongest of all. She may not run, but the signs are that she will.

Perhaps rated by many as the least likely major candidate to win the prize is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Generally agreed to be the “brains” of the GOP field, Mr. Gingrich is also generally believed to be “fatally” weighed down by his past “baggage” that includes issues involving his marriages and his term as speaker. The assessment of his mental capacities is correct, but the assessment of his “baggage” may not be. One of the few true “Lazaruses” in American politics, for the past 12 years, Mr. Gingrich has created a remarkable track record of speaking to and innovating in major public policy issues, writing popular books about American history, and in solidifying his personal life. Gingrich in 2009 was a well-known GOP figure registering low single digits in all the polls. Today he is usually in the top four, and some states, leads the field. He has carefully avoided criticizing his rivals, and it should not be overlooked that he is the most experienced strategist in the GOP field.

The next tier of candidates includes current and successful Republican governors. Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Governor Mitch Daniel of Indiana, Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey have each already demonstrated considerable executive skills. Mr. Barbour has the most experience of the four, and Mr. Christie the least, but both of them are genuinely charismatic. Mr. Pawlenty, without being charismatic, is nontheless a remarkably effective communicator, and has showed much grit in his two terms in Minnesota, not raising taxes or public spending, with a hostile legislature dominated by the other party pressuring him to do both. Mr. Daniels’ record in Indiana may be the most impressive of all, although so far he has not shown a memorable public personality. (Neither did another governor named Woodrow Wilson.) Any of these four men are seriously prepared to be president, and could emerge in a hard fought nominating campaign.

The other serious Republican potential presidential candidates include Senator John Thune of North Dakota, Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylania. Mr. Giuliani, of course, is the most well-known in this group, but any of them, in the right circumstances might become major candidates, although I doubt that any of them will be finalists in this contest.

Finally, there is always the possibility of a late entrant, not named here. Yes, but considering the field listed above, this is not very likely with less than two years to go. Senator-elect Marco Rubio is sometimes mentioned, and if he performs in his new office, he would clearly be a major player in presidential contests beyond 2012. So would former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is still weighed down by the family name.

Not all of the twelve listed above will run. Of those who do, the most serious contenders will emerge by the end of 2011, and then be tested in the early primary and caucus battles of 2012. So many circumstances and conditions will determine who the finalists will be. Not the least of which will be the interaction of their personalities with the GOP voters. Perhaps, as is often the case, “charisma” will be the difference. Or the seriousness of the times may make ideas and track records more important. As I suggested at the outset, the state of the economy, the state of the world and any now unpredicted circumstances will even more likely play the largest role in the selection of the person to run for this, the most important role of all in American public life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Big Picture?

There are many small pictures being painted now about the 2010 national mid-term elections, why they turned out as they did, and to where they lead in the next session of Congress and to the 2012 presidential election. Some of these pictures are crude, but others are finely fashioned, and yet, following the tough expressions of the voters in 2006, 2008 and 2010, small pictures do not seem adequate as we look forward to a provisional and disturbing period ahead.

But what is the big picture? To attempt to draw such a picture, however imperfect, requires a suspension of personal ideology, partisan “spinning” and pre-determined outcomes. I suggest we begin with as many “facts” as possible.

I think it is fair to say that most American voters are distressed not only about economic conditions and rivalries, and external threats, but also about the performance of elected officials and non-elected public bureaucrats, and about government behavior itself. It is not just that there is opposition to higher taxes, and an inexorable growth of government in every citizen’s life, There seems to be a growing doubt that the collective structure of government itself is not working well enough, fairly enough and honestly enough to serve the public needs of today.

This is no small matter. It is also not the fault of only one political party. In its current mood, the U.S. electorate is alternately cleaning the houses of both parties, and with a velocity which has no real precedent in American history.

The American republic was founded on some revolutionary (for its time) principles that attempted to create a workable system of balancing the rights of individuals and the needs of the society of individuals. In a very creative and far-thinking way, the founders of the republic created a constitutional document, since rightfully amended, to make a people’s government do its job, do it well, and enjoy public confidence.

Our national history has had more than few bumps. The original constitution was drastically limited in its civil rights and suffrage, It took a civil war to expiate some of the basic inconsistencies of our earliest governance. The nation, at its inception, had great size, and it grew larger over time, but the population was very small until waves of immigration bulked up American society in time for it to play an important and unique role in the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, and the Technology Revolution of the 20th century.

We are the third largest nation in population, but our total is only one-seventh that of China and India, each with more than one billion each, and eventually they will dominate the world economy. It took them some time to arrive at even where they are now because they were to slow to adopt the market structure of democratic capitalism. China persists in employing capitalism without the democratic process, and that will slow them down, but both the Chinese and the Indians have traditions that will, at some point, provide the largest economic markets in the world.

This new “reality” has only become evident in recent decades, and it has upended U.S. labor markets as well as our financial and product markets. In turn, this has provoked continued and growing unease among American workers who, in the current economic downturn, face chronic unemployment and lack of training and opportunity in the new and resulting American economic markets. Consumer confidence in these circumstances is shaken.

Government intervention in economic markets has, at best, a mixed history, and most Americans know that when government tries to run or manage traditionally private markets, it usually fails, and fails badly. That is because government management is not a free market, but instead is a state-run monopoly. We have historically permitted the state to manage certain aspects of the public sector, particularly domestic police and national military functions, but whenever we have allowed the government to go into free market situations, they fail to come close to the traditional success of private free market management. Why should we be surprised? We are, and have been, a free market nation for more than 200 years. Our society and its success have been based on those free markets.

Governments employ unpopular means when they interfere with free markets. They assess taxes and fees, and impose regulations and controls. Some of the latter are necessary to protect public health and safety. Large societies, by necessity, need to place some limits on free markets. Recently, some excesses of U.S. free markets, especially in financial institutions, have produced an economic crisis. Some may argue that past government interference, in the form of taxes, regulations and prohibitions, contributed to that crisis, but the fact remains we are in an economic downturn fueled by failures (described often as “bubbles”) in the private real estate, investment and technology sectors of the economy).

In the past, these economic downturns were soon replaced by economic upturns. This particular downturn seems to be persistent beyond the usual time frame, and some are arguing that the unprecedented government intervention in the markets is causing the problems to persist. Both Republicans and Democrats are complicit in this government intervention. Just as along U.S. participation in the Viet Nam War, with no success in sight, produced a voter reaction in 1968, the U.S. participation in the Middle East, produced a reaction in 2006. The mortgage banking crisis weeks before the 2008 presidential election effectively ended the campaign in favor of the Democrats, but when the Obama administration continued the “bailout” policies of the Bush administration, and compounded these with unprecedented federal intervention on the free market U.S. economy, voters again reacted by dramatically changing the make-up of both houses of Congress.

Does this mean that voters will refuse to re-elect President Obama in 2012? If he and his administration continue their current policies, and these policies continue to fail, we will have a new president on January 20, 2013. If the Republicans resist these policies, and come up with successful policies to replace the Obama program, the new president will be a Republican. The Democrats, as I suggested months ago, could also refuse to re-nominate Mr. Obama and then select someone who the electorate might have more confidence in residing in the White House, especially if the Republicans fail to nominate their most able candidate (whoever he or she might be).

The best candidate for each party will be the person who most ably diagnoses our current circumstances, and sees the biggest picture of where we are and where we need to go from here. The best candidate for each party will have the best understanding of the U.S. role in the world in the years ahead, and how we might navigate through the natural evolution of the world economy, as well as face down and thwart the malign threats the U.S. faces from totalitarian figures and regimes across the globe.

Let this conversation begin.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What Happened?

The first impulse of Tuesday’s national mid-term elections is to ask what it means, and then how it occurred. Believe it or not, I don’t think either of those questions are as important as one that is simpler: What happened?

What happened is that the balance of power shifted dramatically in the U.S. house of representatives from the Democrats to the Republicans. Furthermore, each party’s delegation in this body is now closer to its party base, that is, the Republican members are now more conservative than in the previous Congress, and the Democratic members are more liberal. A large number of moderate and establishment Democratic members were defeated for re-election. This will probably enable soon-to-be former speaker Nancy Pelosi, and current senate majority leader Harry Reid, both to the left side of their party, to win re-election for their leadership positions. Liberal initiatives for legislation are now finished, and conservative initiatives will take their place. As the branch of Congress which funds government and government programs, the house will now be in constant conflict with President Obama and his administration, and will act as a check on his policies.

A working majority in the U.S. senate on most important issues now is 60 members. The Democratic majority in the last Congress was usually able to muster that number to pass their legislation, but their majority is now significantly reduced. Senator-elect Joe Manchin, furthermore, is a very conservative Democrat who ran on the promise that he would oppose many of the liberal proposals passed in the last Congress, and advocated by President Obama. A popular governor, he must now go before West Virginia voters again in 2012 with his voting record since he was elected to fill the remainder of the late Robert Byrd’s term. Other, and surviving, centrist Democratic senators observed what happened to their like-minded colleagues in 2010 who went along with the very liberal leadership. With a presidential election now coming up, Mr. Obama’s ability to nominate liberals to government positions and to the judiciary is now restrained.

The conservative majority on the U.S. supreme court was not affected by the 2010 elections, although the impact of the voting is likely to affect any nominee the president might send to the senate for confirmation in the future.

A significant reversal in state governors now places the majority of state executives in Republican hands. Control of many state legislatures also changed hands in the Republicans favor. Combined with demographic changes that have been favoring Republicans over the past decade, these circumstances give the conservative party a decided advantage in the redistricting process that will occur in 2011, following the 2010 census.

In short, the prospects for conservatives and the Republican Party have been markedly improved, and those of liberals and the Democratic Party have been diminished.

The nation’s critical problems, however, remain, and the time remaining to resolve these problems is less, hour by hour, day by day, month by month.

No matter how it is “spun” or rationalized, the 2010 national mid-term elections was a nationwide rejection by the electorate of the first two years of the Obama administration. But it is not a judgment on the next two years. A national election is an organic act of the citizens. It is, in fact, their only collective way to express their opinion of the actions and behavior of their government.

By keeping the two most prominent faces and promulgators of the past two years in place, the Democrats are, in effect, thumbing their political noses to the American electorate. This is a very dangerous game for a political party in power to play, especially going into a presidential re-election. We still have a representative democracy, and in almost every case when a political party ignores or trespasses the will of an electorate, they are promptly and summarily removed from the temporary power given to them by that electorate.

2010 was a clear, unmistakeable warning. Mr. Obama, Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid can cling to any illusions they may have about this election, but you can count on 2012 making this year’s election seem mild if they do not change course.

Democratic elected officials at all levels of government, and who must go again before the voters in 2012, now must make some of the most difficult political decisions in American history, not only about their course, but who they want to lead them. No excuses will be allowed in the next election.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"Undecided" Races Are Still Very Undecided

There are always election races which remain undecided the morning after election day, They occur at every level of government, from the very local to statewide races with national implications.

Apparently, eleven U.S. house races have not yet been called. One U.S. senate race remains undecided, and at least one major governorship.

I will turn attention here to the senate races and the gubernatorial contest.

In Alaska, a three-way race in which the incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski had to run as a write-in candidate, the GOP nominee Joe Miller trails “Write-in” by thirteen thousand votes, but not all of the write-in votes are necessarily for Murkowski. In fact, there are more than 150 bona fide write-in candidates in this race, as allowed by Alaska election law. Furthermore, a sizable percentage of write-in votes (6-8%) are usually disallowed, and in this case, with election recount lawyers everywhere, that percentage is likely to be much higher. Many absentee ballots reportedly are also not yet counted. Write-ins, many of which were sent in before Murkowski announced her effort, are much more likely to provide a significant margin for Miller. This vote count could take weeks or months, especially since every write-in will be examined. If there is a recount after the final official vote, it could be many more months before a senator would be seated.

In Minnesota, Democrat (DFLer) Mark Dayton came out with a margin of less than one-half of one per cent in the raw count in his race against Republican Tom Emmer. If this margin holds or even grows a bit after an official canvas, there will be a mandatory recount according to state law. The canvas will go until the end of November. The recount almost certainly will go into next year. Because the DFL challenged the 2008 U.S. senate race when Incumbent GOP Senator Norm Coleman had a lead after the canvas, and the recount gave his opponent the seat in a bitter confrontation between campaign attorneys, it is almost certain that the GOP this time will do everything legal they can to reverse Dayton’s lead. They may not succeed, but if the recount goes into next year, they will have a win anyway. That is because, in a surprise upset, the GOP won both houses of the state legislature for the first time in 68 years. According to the state constitution, the retiring governor (in this case, GOP Governor Tim Pawlenty) remains in office until his successor takes the oath of office. Since the first session of the new legislature is scheduled only to last three months, the Republicans could theoretically enact their entire legislative program without fear of veto. Thus, if he won the recount, Governor Dayton might arrive in his office in St. Paul AFTER much of the legislation he would have vetoed was already irreversibly the law. Governor Pawlenty, who is running for president, has already announced that he is prepared to fulfill the constitution, and continue in office until the recount is resolved.

Recently, Brazil (which has a population of 200 million persons) held its national elections, and reportedly virtually all of its election returns were counted and reported only a few hours after polls closed. In the United States, even in races that are not close, election officials often do not count or report their totals until many hours after polls close or until even until the next day. Delayed returns routinely provoke charges of vote fraud in Chicago, Gary, IN, Philadelphia, St. Louis and in northern Minnesota (just to name a few). How is that a relatively new representative democracy with a huge population and a large land area (Brazil) can count its votes promptly and credibly report them, and the world’s oldest representative democracy (United States of America) cannot?

It is our national shame.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Goodbye To All That

The law of gravity, as was inevitable, prevailed on Tuesday, November 2. The truth is that government is not the World Series, Super Bowl or “Dancing with the Stars.” The “people’s business” is a serious matter with serious consequences. Both political parties have confused the “people’s business” with their own businesses and predilections, and have elevated gamesmanship over statesmanship. On election night, 2010, the voting citizens said “Goodbye to all that.”

We now enter a provisional period in which the institution of elected officials at all levels of government are given relatively short intervals in which to do the business “the people” require. Words are not deeds, and deeds will be the currency of public business in the era ahead.

The tendency may be to interpret the 2010 mid-term elections as a defeat of the Democratic Party, and a victory for the Republicans. In the technical sense, it was that, but simply to tally up the numbers is to miss the point of what the voters said and did.

I have, throughout my life of public affairs commentary, always argued that the very nature of the American republic is that most of its citizens occupy a great political center. The genius of the U.S. constitution is that from the very beginning, and in new and expanded ways as it was amended over time, it fostered that political center and enabled the course of American public life to be guided by the rule of law, and central principles balancing the individual and the government which serves them.

The conservative and liberal factions of the political center have been part of the nation’s public life since an unprecedented insurrection against the English monarchy put the British colony on the map as the United States of America. Over time, our governments at the state and national levels have alternated between the liberal and conservative factions, but almost always the political center prevailed.

Occasionally, leaders and movements that function beyond the political center arise in the U.S., but almost always the voters have rejected them. In 2008, the majority of voters elected Barack Obama, believing him to be in that long and inherent American tradition, and seeking change from the difficult economic conditions then unfolding. A man with almost no background or preparation for assuming the complex and immensely challenging U.S. presidency, Mr. Obama has allowed his administration to drift outside the political center, albeit the left center, and into areas which trespass the limits of which most Americans feel their government belongs.

John Boehner, soon to be the new speaker of the House of representatives, got it exactly right on Tuesday evening when he said that the American voters had told President Obama to “change course.”

These are times of extreme American vulnerability, facing dangers and threats of a magnitude not ever seen since a few citizens of Boston threw quantities of tea into Boston Harbor more than two centuries ago. President Obama acquired the always temporary right to hold the steering wheel of the American state for a term of office, but as we can only hope he learned on election night, 2010, the captains in our republic always report to the civilians.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

We Shall See...

These are the closing moments of the 2010 national mid-term elections. Only hours remain until the voting begins and the tallying takes place.

The dependence of the Old Media on conventional pollsters and polling may have undergone a critical test…..and possibly failed. Private polling (done for candidates’ use) remains in place, but public polling, so easily manipulated and corrupted, may have outlived its day in the communications sun. (Although it is not yet clear what would take its place.) As Sean Trende in Real Clear Politics has perceptively pointed out, so many polls depend on past voting as models for who will turn out this year, and anyone who uses 2006 or 2008 as their model is ignoring the overwhelming evidence that 2010 will create a new model. If polling reveals a widespread understatement of the Republican vote next Tuesday, his diagnosis will be proved correct.

If there is any real suspense this year, it is about the size of the vote to reject or rebuke President Obama and the policies/legislation of his administration with the Democratic congress. Almost 25% of the vote will have already been made by election day due to the new early voting procedures in most of the country.

President Obama, defying every common sense rule of politics, has said, “I’m not on the ballot, but my policies are.” His “Obamacare” legislation is perhaps the most unpopular in modern times (and growing more unpopular every day as medical insurance premium increases arrive in American households), but he has put this and his other policies on the line. He has campaigned energetically in the closing days of the campaign, but there is little evidence that his appearances and exhortations have helped his party’s cause. Democratic strategists say he helps with get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. We shall see.

Conventional wisdom has the GOP picking up 45-60 seats in the U.S. house and 6-8 U.S. senate seats as well as half a dozen governorships. Anything can happen, of course, but it is difficult to imagine any better result for the party in power. On the other hand, a few observers, including The Prairie Editor, have suggested that the actual results might be a greater rebuke of Obama/Pelosi/Reid, perhaps even an historical record for mid-term elections. We shall see.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Finish Line In Sight

There is only a bit more than one week to go before election day, 2010, and the last-minute hysteria has, not surprisingly, already begun. Voters everywhere, regardless of whom they intend to vote for, should remain calm in the face of this psychological onslaught. Allegations are everywhere. Some things do not ever change.

Democrats are taking some small encouragement from recent polls showing some movement their way in a few highly contested U.S. senate races. But a close examination of these polls, some of which are Democratic polls, does not reveal any fundamental change in the months-long trend of voters toward Republicans in general. Some Republican senatorial candidates are simply not up to the pressure and scrutiny of a statewide campaign, and they will likely fail. Delaware is the iconic example of this in 2010. An all-but-certain pick-up was transformed into an all-but-certain defeat. As former Congressman, Governor and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has said wisely many times, “Run to win, but win to govern.”

One of the signs that the polling ambiguities in senate races may not otherwise be indicating a true countertrend at the end of the campaign in 2010, is that the opposite is generally happening in U.S. house races, especially in contests with long-time Democratic incumbents who hold hitherto regarded “totally safe” seats. One by one, household names in the larger chamber of Congress are learning they are in trouble, or are already behind. Gubernatorial races likewise remain trending to significant GOP takeovers.

Although I have been consistently arguing the high end of overall Republican gains in this cycle, I have also expressed caution about unrealistic expectations that some Republicans may have. or that some Democrats may fear. The Democrats will still win many races, and almost certainly will win a few surprises. Control of the U.S. house very likely will switch, but control of the U.S. senate is problematic, especially since the GOP would have to win almost all the close races. It’s possible; in fact, the Democrats did this in 2006; but no one should consider it “a done deal.”

The laughable claims of desperate campaigns and candidates are now in high dudgeon. An incumbent 18-term Democratic congressman from northern Minnesota attacks his own voters during a debate, the Democratic nominee for U.S. senate in Illinois outrageously attacks his GOP opponent for “economic treason,” and the Republican nominee for U.S. senate in Delaware gets hung up in alleged witchcraftery.

Fortunately, the finish line is in sight. We will likely have a two-party government again after November 2. Both sides will need to evaluate these renewed circumstances. Tom Ridge’s advice will not ever be more pertinent as the winners figure out how to govern.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Is This Election About Consent?

So much has been written about the motivation of the voters BEFORE this year’s mid-term national elections. Some have contended that the primary phenomenon this year is the “anger” of the voters brought on by the widespread economic conditions in the U.S., including very high levels of unemployment. Others have argued that it is unhappiness with the Obama administration, including the Congress it controls, and their radical policies and legislation. Still others say that the voter dissatisfaction seen in the polls, and in special elections, is not much more than the usual reaction midway in a first presidential term, something which traditionally happens to many presidents, regardless of party.

I think we need to be careful about any final conclusions about voter motivation until we have counted the votes. There is no doubt at all that voters are unhappy, but we need to see the dimensions of their dissatisfaction before we can try to accurately diagnose what is on the mind of the American public.

If indeed this election brings historic or near-historic change only two years after President Obama was decisively elected president, and after two national elections (2006 and 2008) in which Democrats were given increasing majorities, then I think it is fair to say that the 2010 election will not have been merely a traditional off-year dip for the party in power. The losers, of course, will attempt to rationalize the results, putting blame on this or that component of the national circumstances, but a megadramatic election result would signal a very profound trespass of the American consensus.

I employ the word “consensus” carefully here because I am increasingly coming to believe that a very decisive rejection of Democratic incumbents in the Congress and in state elections across the nation would signal that voters individually and together feel they no longer consent in what their governments are doing. We can name the individual issues, i.e. rising taxes, larger government, bailouts and other interference in private business and conduct, radical and unpopular foreign policies, and so forth, but taken together, we might say that government in general, and Obama-Pelosi-Reid Democratic government specifically no longer has the “consent of the governed.”

There are legitimate arguments to defend or criticize the policies of any government, but it is a fundamental principle of the United States of America that any of its governments must have a consensus to hold power and to proceed with its agenda over time.

Since we have no votes yet counted in 2010, I am withholding any final judgments until they are tallied. All I can say at this point, with two weeks to go, is that I have not ever before seen the one-sided energy I have seen in this campaign season. Sometimes, however, appearances are not fulfilled in results. And sometimes, strong appearances are even exceeded when votes are counted.

If the morning of November 3 brings the latter, it would mean that those in charge are not merely wrong, but that they have crossed a fundamental line in our national body politic.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Interregnum Ahead

The votes have not yet been counted, and no one should take the American voter for granted. It is not a certainty that Republicans will win control of one or both the U.S. house and senate, but laws of gravity tell us that Democratic losses will be great and significant in any event.

Should the GOP win control of the house of representatives, there will be a most interesting interval between the first week of November, 2010, and the first week of january 2011, when the new Congress is sworn in. This interregnum allows for critical opportunities and very high risks for both parties. This interval will happen no matter what the election results are, but if there is a changeover in control of one or both houses, there will be extraordinary temptations laid before both winners and losers.

Some Democratic leaders and many in the media have speculated that there will be a “lame duck” session of Congress in November and December in which Democrats will try to enact radical legislation they could not pass before. Republicans should only be so lucky to have their opponents try to do this. The negative reaction in the country would be enormous, and the opportunity for the Democrats to recover by 2012 would be irretrievably lost. Not only that, the effort would fail because no sane surviving Democratic member of Congress would dare to vote for such an effort. It would be political suicide. As for the many losers, Speaker Pelosi no longer would have the power ot enforce her will, nor would such losing members risk such a vote if they have any desire to run again. So forget about a lame duck session.

The Democrats would be well advised to take the results to heart, and move back to the political center as fast as they can before 2012. New leadership in both houses of Congress would be in order, and a new approach from President Obama the only viable course.

But if victorious, Republicans would be well advised to take a deep breath, tone down any gloating or promise of revenge in the new session, and put the onus on President Obama to work with them in the new year and session. After all, the voters will be sending a message, and it is the obligation of any American elected official to pay attention to the voter. Barack Obama will still be president in January, 2011, and no one is predicting that, even if a landslide in November for the GOP, that either house would be able to override his veto.

It will be a tricky chess game, then, in the period after the mid-term election, and both sides will need their best players in the game. It’s not too soon for either side to think out and plan for this possibly historic interregnum ahead.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Food Stamps vs. A Paycheck?

Newt Gingrich was in Minneapolis yesterday to campaign for the Republican candidate for governor, and to try out his new slogan for the 2010 mid-term national elections, “Food Stamps Or A Paycheck.”

Actually, he had formally introduced the slogan in his national e-mail newsletter a day earlier, and it had already provoked a response from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who accused Gingrich of going after the poor. Judging by her response, and that of local Minnesota Democratic (DFL) politicians after Gingrich’s remarks received wide TV and radio coverage in the local evening news, the slogan is working as the former Republican house speaker intended.

Pundits Stu Rothenberg and Michael Barone were in the Twin Cities the past week to tell their audiences that the 2010 elections are going very badly for President Obama and the Democrats. As readers of this page know, The Prairie Editor has been broadcasting a similar message early and often. The election of 1994 is often cited as the precedent for 2010, but there are significant differences between that year and this one, including the important fact that the party in power has been amply forewarned they are in trouble. On the other hand, as Barone points out, the economic statistics are much worse this year. Barone suggests that 2010 may be more like 1894 than 1994. That was the year the turnover in the U.S. house was well over 100 seats, and more than one-third of number of house members at that time.

It isn’t very complicated. Unemployment is high, the value of most Americans’ net worth is way down, the international situation is rife with danger, insecurity and threats. The Obama administration has created a radical and very unpopular healthcare program that will exacerbate most of our other problems.

When Mrs. Pelosi and other Democrats attack the “Food Stamps Or A Paycheck” slogan as an attack on the poor, they actually play into their opponents hands. Mr. Gingrich is not saying that there should not be food stamps, but he is saying that getting a paycheck is better than depending on food stamps. Virtually every American voter knows that, and when a political party seems more interested in defending welfare than in finding a way to create more jobs and to get the nation out of its economic doldrums, they are in more trouble than they realize.

This year’s election is not yet over, although most observers are saying to themselves “This pie is baked.” What everyone is expecting now is that the Democrats will lost lots of seats, and perhaps control of one house. That is the new conventional wisdom. What few are expecting, however, is an utter rout of the dimensions of 1894.

If Mr. Gingrich’s “Food Stamps vs. A Paycheck” get to the nub of the voters’ concerns, as I think it does, the conventional wisdom will prove wrong one more time on election day.

Now The Polls Are Really Bouncing

The most accurate polls in an election are those which are published just before election day. That makes common sense. Before that time, the most reliable polls are the internal polls which candidates pay dearly for from pollsters, and which are rarely published. Their purpose is to inform campaigns how they are doing and where their weaknesses are. Occasionally, campaigns reveal internal polls if the news is exceptionally good, and publication can help fundraising and media attention. This is particularly true of campaigns where the challenger is believed to be far behind and has no chance of winning.

An example of this is the just-revealed internal poll of GOP nominee and challenger Chip Cravaack who is running against one of the icons of U.S. house, the powerful 18-term Democratic incumbent Jim Oberstar in the Minnesota 8th district. According to this poll, Mr. Cravaack is only 3 points behind Mr. Oberstar (45-42), and within the margin of error. The pollster, Public Opinion Strategies, is a Republican firm, but generally respected. However, the poll only interviewed 300 voters, and the margin of error is at least 6%. (To be fair to Mr. Oberstar, I think at least one more poll with these kind of numbers will be necessary before his opponent’s challenge is convincing.)

Congressman Oberstar usually wins with about 60% of the vote, and is known to deliver lots of federal “groceries” to this conservative Democratic northern Minnesota district which has lots of union members, high unemployment and a severely diminishing population. The district is heavily Catholic and pro-life, and Oberstar has usually been a reliable pro-life vote in Congress. However, he not only voted for Obamacare (considered by the pro-life community as a pro-choice vote), he heavily promoted it. Another pro-life Democrat, Kathy Dahlkemper in Pennsylvania’s 3rd congressional district, also voted for Obamacare, and saw her initial double-digit lead evaporate. She is now several points behind her GOP challenger.

But this is far from the only “shocking” new polls signaling Democratic “safe” incumbents now in trouble. If history is a fair instructor, other incumbents who are “sure winners” will now discover they have a race on their hands. This will include not only many other members of the U.S. house, but senators as well. However, there are currently only five or six Democratic incumbent senators remaining who are usually considered “safe.” Of those, I sense that Senator
Wyden of Oregon and Senator Gillebrand of New York could be the next to receive unexpectedly bad poll news. Two-thirds of U.S. sentators are not up for re-election this year (and for that they should thank their political stars).

One of the reasons “safe” incumbents often ignore a wave election is that they have weak opponents. This is reasonable, but when the voters are as upset as they are this year, the qualifications and character of the challenger are often much less important than the powerful desire of voters to throw the incumbent out.

If incumbents such as Jim Oberstar lose this year, the magnitude of the GOP victory will be a whole level above the worst-case scenarios now being suggested.

It is less than four weeks to election day. The polls will now likely bounce like a ping-pong ball in a lottery number machine. The watchword for this election is “Caveat Incumbent!”

Friday, October 1, 2010

Build No New Schools?

Reading and listening to far-thinking educators, and observing the revolution now going on in high school and university education, it occurs to me to say out loud what might have been unthinkable, much less unsayable, only a few year ago, that is it may no longer necessary to build (always expensive) new junior and senior high schools, and (even more expensive) new buildings on college and university campuses.

The online education movement, these educators are saying, is the inevitable future of education. I believe them. It is not that education is any less important. In fact, it is more important than ever. It is not that good teachers are not necessary. In fact, they are more necessary than ever. The point is that the very physical structure of public and private education has been, and will continue, to be fundamentally altered in rapid sequences. The computer and its many software applications, now also evolving with astonishing velocity, is making so-called modern (and expensive) school buildings, equipment, furnishings and other paraphernalia as outdated as the one-room schoolhouse.

The economics of education, by coincidence, is reaching a seemingly insoluble crisis. The needs are greater than ever, but the cost of providing it are becoming hopelessly too great, especially for a fair and universal public education system. Taxpayers cannot reasonably be asked to contribute more. But if the costs of constructing and repairing buildings and other physical facilities for this public education is dramatically reduced or even eliminated, AND the quality of the education provided is greatly simultaneously improved, we have a fortuitous resolution.

This subject requires much more discussion than I can provide here at this time, but readers can count on my returning to this subject with specific numbers, facts, and cost savings in future columns.

Meanwhile, I encourage readers to send in their own thoughts on the subject.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Next Three Weeks

We are now entering a curious moment in the already curious 2010 mid-term elections. The year’s themes and trends have been established, and very little if anything can alter that. The anger at President Obama and his party has been so strong that most Democratic incumbents in the U.S. house and senate, and in gubernatorial races, have seen remarkable vulnerability so far, with very large gains for the Republicans now expected.

Since this anger is emotional as well as substantive, it would seem that the high pitch of voter dissatisfaction cannot like be maintained at this level for the entire next five weeks. With little of substance to salvage what races they can, Democrats have turned to smear attacks against their opponents earlier than usual. (To be fair, in years past when they were behind, Republicans often resorted to attacks on Democrats.)

The natural tendency for grass roots movements to proceed with stops and starts, will produce, I think, a political pause in some (but not all) closely contested races over the next three weeks. This does not mean the outcome will be changed, and in fact, it will likely provide the Tea Party movement and GOP activists with renewed energy as they go into what will likely be a furious and epic final two weeks of the campaign at the end of October.

What will be the specific kind of phenomena we will now see in the next three weeks? First, earlier-than-usual heavy advertising by well-financed Democratic incumbents and their supporting groups, much of it laden with harshly negative personal attacks on their challengers. Second, a great deal of volatility of poll numbers in the most competitive races, including momentary “comebacks” by several Democratic figures who have been slipping in their numbers. Third, a massive effort by the Old Media, including the TV networks (except Fox and C-SPAN) and the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, etc., to resurrect the prospects of the Democratic candidates and the Obama administration. This media effort will attempt to reinforce the negative attacks on GOP candidates, and will also try to portray President Obama, the Congress and its legislative record, in a favorable and upbeat light.

Will any or all of this work? Not very likely. Democratic incumbents, especially those who voted for Obamacare, are prisoners of their president and their own party.

The public has come to expect last-minute tactics by politicians and their campaigns, and although scandal does not help a candidate, this is a year that the public is itching to make a point of its own, and it will employ virtually any challenger to do its bidding.

There is, of course, an after-the-election consequence to the voters’ desire to register their unhappiness. Any Republican elected this year who reverts to politics-as-usual and does not vote to change the current political climate in Washington, DC or their state capital will be summarily dismissed in the next election.

To call to mind an earlier American revolt, this is the whites of their eyes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Surreality and Provocations

Electoral developments in U.S. politics are taking on an aura of surreality these days as even the most respected and usually accurate pollsters are coming up with numbers so unexpected and extreme that we have to pinch our political selves to make sure we are truly awake.

After an early campaign season in which the anger of the voters became increasingly visible during the primaries, it was understood that Republicans would make signficant gains in many states and regions as the sputtering economy, high unemployment, and a halfhearted recovery from the recent recession surged into the core of the public mood. There was even some far-out talk that the Democrats might narrowly lose the U.S. house of representatives and maintain only a small lead in the U.S. senate after controlling both houses of Congress by large margins for the past two years and after also regaining the White House in 2008.

It was conceded by most observers at the outset of this mid-term election cycle that Democrats who had won Republican seats in 2006 and 2008, especially in traditional GOP areas, might well be vulnerable. This could produce GOP gains of 25-35 in the house, and 4-6 seats in the senate. A pick-up of 3-5 governorships might also be possible.. Now poll numbers are indicating Democratic losses of 50-80 in the house, and 10-15 in the senate, and perhaps as many as ten governors. This seems to be happening in spite of the fact that several GOP nominees are eccentric or have personal and political probelms of their own. (It should also be stressed here that these indications are not necessarily what the final numbers will be.)

Much of this momentum has occurred in the few days since the primary season ended in mid-September, and has infiltrated the campaigns of several “secure” Democratic incumbents who, only a month ago, seemed totally “safe” against any Republican tide.

Now the question becomes, with only about five weeks before election day, where does the voter mood go from here? The apparent “collapse” of the Democrats is taking place well before the final days of the campaign, so it is very difficult to imagine that the current dramatic trend will continue unabated. But what is to change the public mood? The recession has been declared to be “over,” and the stock market is having a mild rally. Several economic indicators are positive.. Earnings declines seemed to have bottomed out, and are reversing upwards. Yet the voters (and consumers) seem to be unimpressed.

I suspect that the response and attitude by the Democratic leadership is the key to understanding the rapid detrioration of voter confidence and predictability. For several months, a number of us in the right, left and center of the “commentariat” class, that is, journalists and op ed columnists, talk show hosts and other broadcasters, and political scientists have been citing the unusual political behavior of the party in power and its leadership. (Of course, many of us were accused of just being very partisan.) At the top of that party, President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid have been promoting and insisting on some rather radical changes in U.S. domestic policy that climaxed in the passage of healthcare legislation known as Obamacare this past spring and summer. Not only was this unpopular (more than 60% of the public oppose it), its secret details and consequences have now begun to leak out, much of it in direct contrast to what its supporters and the Democratic leadership said it was and would be. Huge and continuing financial “bail-outs,” unprecedented takeovers of large U.S. corporations and industries, tax increases and massive new public spending and bureaucracy have conveyed a philosophy of governing, and an understanding of how the economy works, that are the opposite of common sense and what might give the public confidence in those in charge.

In short, the Obama administration and the Democrats have gone too far and too fast.

And that is only looking at domestic policy. In foreign policy (which voters usually care less about), President Obama has had very fews successes in an international environment that is increasingly unstable and threatening. His lack of experience and naive attitude to the complexity of foreign affairs has allowed international problems in Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Venezuela and Israel/Palestin to deteriorate.

To be fair to Mr. Obama, he did inherit a domestic recession and a volatile international landscape. Mistakes were made by his predcessors, both Republican and Democrat. But we are now long past the time when a current president can legitimately place the blame of his problems on others. There has been plenty of time since January, 2009, to put new policies, initiatives, and relationships in place. The public intuitively knows and understands this, and a great unease has arisen, and continues to rise in the country.

As many have already pointed out, and I among them, presidents in trouble in the first part of their first terms (Reagan in 1981-82; Clinton in 1993-94) usually change course when their original directions don’t work. Mr. Obama and his advisors and collaborators seem unwilling to admit their failures or to seek new directions. This has aggravated the public mood even more, and provoked the electoral response we now see forming.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Confusing "Centrists" With "Moderates"

There is much discussion now going on by members of the political class in America that political “centrism” is dead, and that the voters have become polarized to the far left and far right. Polling data is produced as evidence of this, as are recent election results in which so-called “moderates”: have been defeated in their own primaries, “forced” to retire, or are likley to lose in the forthcoming November elections. While I do not dispute the election results, nor even most of the polling, I must rise once again to clarify the difference between “centrist” and “moderate.”

Many in the political class (party activists, political consultants, candidates, poltical journalista and editorialists), I suspect, use the terms interchangeably, and might wonder what I am talking about. I suggest that the confusion about the terms would enable anyone, in the political class or not, to misread the phenomena which are motoring the 2010 mid-term national elections.

The primary cause of misunderstaning about these terms concerns their usage. “Centrism” and “centrists” occupy a demographic place in the political spctrum. “Moderates” occupy a mathematical “middle.” I have long argued that the United States is the quintissential “centrist” nation, that is, its public policy center is where most voters are. Sometimes the “center” leans to the right; sometimes it leans to the left. It is not necessarily where its elected officials are, nor even where the poltiical class is. Short of a revolutinary environment, most voters in the U.S. always remain the political center (since, in effect, they define it).

There are always, simultaneously, “moderates” among elected officials, that is those who try to operate in the political “middle” where compromise attempts to deal with those in actual political power. Some of these “moderates” are centrists, too, much of the time, but their modus operandi is merely to moderate poltical action rather than fulfill the “centrism” of the majority of voters.

A case in point was the recent healthcare legislation in which President Obama and the Democratic congress put forward, relative to govenment policy in the past, radical proposals to change the government’s role in healthcare. Very few in America, Democrat or Republican, left or right, would deny that reform of our healthcare system was in order and needed. But the proposals of the Obama administration went much further, in my opinion, than where the voter in the political center wanted to go. Whether these proposals can be accurately labeled as “socialist,” “social democratic,” “European” or simply “radical” is not the question. The question is whether they occupy the political center or not.

Many Republican legislators, now out of power after years of some power since 1994, tried to exert some influence to moderate the legislation, and in so doing voted for the final bill. These senators and members of the house of representatives acted as “moderates,” not as centrists. They only moderated the radical legislation slightly; they did not make it fit the political center.

A large number of voters, many of them in the Republican Party or self-described as “independents” who belong to neither major party, however objected to this legislation, especially as its details and consequences were revealed after passage and signing. When combined with other Obama administration intitiatives in domestic and foreign policy, these actions or proposed actions provoked many outside the political class, but primarily in the political center, to coalesce as the 2010 mid-term elections approached.

I am not saying that the so-called Tea Party movement is the only part of this centrist reaction, but it is the most visible and active part, I am not saying that all Tea Party members and activists are centrists, but most of them are. It is, of course, in the self interests of the Democrats and the Republican “moderates” to try to portray the Tea Party as “extremists,” “radicals,” and “rascists,” but they are, as a movmement, nothing of the kind.

(I note that the politically smartest members of the Republican Party have welcomed the Tea Party, and are now working with them for the November elections.)

Those elected politicians of both parties who have been acting as “moderates” are in much trouble this year. They have confused their role as centrists with acting solely to moderate. Thus, Arlen Spector, Mike Castle (neither as a senator nor a congressman), Lisa Murkowki, George Voinovich (retiring) et al, will not be returning to office next year; and why Democrats Blanche Lincoln, Byron Dorgan (retiring), Evan Bayh (retiring), Michael Bennett, Bill Nelson, Patty Murray, et al, are in so much trouble or just chose not to run.

The fact that some of those chosen by Tea party voters so far this year are eccentric, and may not win in the end, or that a few Tea Party activists hold more extreme views than the vast majority of Tea Party voters. does not alter the reality that the Tea Party is a genuine grass roots centrist movement.

I therefore caution those who would use interchangeably the terms ‘centrist” and “moderate” to be wary about missing the political boat this year. “Moderates” are indeed in trouble, but they are in trouble because the political centrists, those not in the political class, are upset and angry with what has been happening in Washington, DC.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

After Last Night: Upsets and Upstarts

The final primaries of the 2010 mid-term national elections have now been concluded, and they ended with a bit of a bang as the season of upsets and upstarts made one more appearance.

I have argued for many months now that the so-called Republican establishment and the Democratic Party in general make a huge mistake in underestimating and criticizing the Tea Party movement. Now there can be little doubt that they are the emblematic new force in the 2010 elections.

The conventional wisdom is that Christine O’Donnell’s surprise defeat of long-time GOP officeholder Michael Castle in Delaware means that a hitherto “sure GOP win” is now a “sure GOP loss.” The same was said previously about Linda McMahon’s nomination in the Connecticut senate contest when it turned from a “sure GOP win” while incumbent Senator Chris Dodd was the Democratic candidate, but became a “sure GOP loss” when Attorney General Blumenthal replaced Dodd on the ticket andMcMahon won Republican primary. I want to stress, as I have been doing for weeks, that NO incumbent is absolutely safe this year, especially no Democratic incumbent, and particularly Democrats Blumenthal and Koons (Delaware), even though they currently have “safe” leads. Mr. Castle and Mr. Lazio in New York, only a few weeks ago, held double-digit “insurmountable” leads, albeit only in their own parties.

Thus Rick Lazio’s landslide defeat in the New York GOP gubernatorial primary, and the extraordinary weakness of nearly all Democratic candidates for house, senate and governor, tells us one more time what an incredible year it has been, and going to be, with voters aroused as perhaps they have not been before.

It is not the age or sex of candidates that matters this year. It is their attitude, their conduct, and their awareness that there has been a sea change in American politics. Younger candidates such as Lazio and older ones such as Mike Castle represent the “politics as usual” crowd, a crowd of politicians that voters are rejecting left and right this year.

What is this “politics as usual” attitude? It is senators and congresspersons who take care of themselves first, i.e., higher salaries and benefits for themselves, larger staffs, lots of pork barrel, taxpayer-paid trips abroad, voting for highly unpopular legislation, and so forth. Most American voters have had their fill of this. The cliche that voters hold a low opinion of Congress, but support their own member of Congress, is no longer necessarily true.

Democrats should rightly fear the Tea party phenomenon. It is no surprise that their strategists are already slandering this movement as “racist,” “extremist,” and “radical.” It is nothing of that sort. It is a genuine grass roots movement fed up with how Washington is run. It is furious at President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress for its radical agenda. It supports Republicans, but only if they offer change. It is conservative, but not necessarily partisan in the usual sense. And it is very, very angry.

I want to point out that my commentary about this is not necessarily about my personal political views. In fact, on some issues I may well disagree with the majority of Tea Party views. (On many others, I may agree with them.) My observations are my attempt to fulfill my role as a fair and accurate observer of politics, particularly the politics of this remarkable political season.

So if any of my readers think I will now moderate my prediction (made on this space only two days ago) of an historic GOP sweep ahead in November because grass roots Republicans have upset the political apple cart in the primaries, they are mistaken. I may be wrong about this, but so far I see nothing to change my mind. In fact, yesterday’s primaries only reinforced it.

Democrats, rejoice at your peril. Old-line Republicans, complain at yours.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don’t Look Now, But...

My contrarian nature has been resisting confirming the new conventional wisdom that November will bring very large Republican gains in U.S. house, U.S. senate, gubernatorial and state legislative races across the nation. Of course, I was among the earliest to forecast the GOP trend, when it was not so conventional, but now that it is, I have been wary.

Now I have a new contrarian view which I will state here, and then over the next seven weeks describe in detail, race by race (I will leave the detail, precinct by precinct, to my friend, Michael Barone who can do that as no one else in America can.). [NOTE: I do not mean to imply that he agrees with me on my prediction.]

A caveat (there is always at least one caveat in this business): While there is no longer anything President Obama and his Democratic leadership colleagues can do to salvage their impending defeat by perhaps historic dimensions, there are always unexpected historical events, domestic or international, which can appear at the last minute, and change public attitudes in the short term.

Lacking one of those traumatic events, the defeat of the Democrats is inevitable. Conventional wisdom now has it that GOP gains will be substantial, possibly leading to taking narrow control of the house of representatives. After alternating between bravado and caution, I now see that the voters are in such an aroused and negative mood that they are going to deliver an historic rebuke to Mr. Obama, his radical agenda, and his Democratic accomplices.

This means that virtually all of the still close house and senate seats will be turned over to the Republicans. It also means that several house and some of the remaining up-for-election-this-year senate seats considered “safe” for the Democrats will be lost. Republicans will win even more governorships and take control of more state legislatures than even now predicted. It is slated to be the most historic political reversal in modern American history.

All fingers point to Barack Obama as the prime cause for such an outcome. (Sorry, Mr. President, but the buck DOES stop with you.)

This is just my opinion, at this point, and I could be wrong. I have a track record I’m very proud of in these matters, but I hasten to point out that past performance in political prognostication, as in stock market forecasts, is often illusory when making predictions about events which have not yet taken place.

So watch this space over the coming weeks for examples of the political movement I now see in full flower. Please stay tuned in.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fanning The Flames: The Real Villains

Needless to say, burning or defacing the sacred book of any religious faith is unethical, self-defeating and just plain wrong.

But there is a villain in the recent outburst of publicity over threats to burn the sacred text of Islam. It is not the vast majority of those who practice Islam, nor is it even the attention-getting pastor of the Florida church who got it all started. The villains are those in the media who inflame public opinion, here and abroad, by paying attention to someone who purports to represent a tiny church with less than 100 members.

I agree that if, say, the Methodist Church would decide by a vote of its members, or even all of its clergy, to perform such an act, that would be legitimate news, much as most of us might disagree with it. But to give some weirdo pastor with a tiny church membership an international podium to promote himself is an irresponsible act. I am not talking about censorship (which all of us in the media oppose); I am talking about the responsibility of editorial choice and control.

The bias of the Old Media has been apparent for many years now. It has also accompanied their dramatic decline in readers, viewers and listeners. I am sad to report that some of the New Media have joined in on this sacred book-burning spectacle; albeit they have almost all condemned it which is commendable, but still no excuse for promoting the story.

There are very few persons or institutions which approve of this sacred book-burning act. It is not enough to justify a worldwide sensational story, especially when the fringe persons who perpetrate it are insignificant, and not news. If, as a profession and institution, we cannot demonstrate self-control and good editorial judgment, then eventually there will be those outside journalism who will want to do it for us.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Electoral Avalanche Nine Months Later

On January 6, 2010, I wrote in this space that Republican might gain 12 U.S. senate seats and 55 U.S. house seats (”Electoral Avalanche? Don’t Call 9-1-1″). I think many of my readers and friends WERE tempted to call 9-1-1, but thankfully no one did. What seemed preposterous nine moths ago now seems not only quite possible, but probable. I may even have low-balled the U.S. house number.

Since, however, conventional wisdom has shifted my way, and being an instinctive contrarian, I am now being cautious about the numbers. A takeover of the U.S. senate yet remains questionable inasmuch as current estimates are that Republicans only now have secure leads in 7 or 8 races. Panic among Democratic strategists is beginning to set in as draconian measures are being put forward, but the primary cause of the liberal party’s political problems, President Obama himself, seems not quite fully aware of the problem.

I m not yet predicting a GOP takeover of one or both houses of Congress, but the election is now so near, and the possibility so real, I would suggest that conservative leaders begin to think about what they will DO after election day if they win an historic victory.

Even in mid-term defeat, an incumbent president has certain advantages if he or she is running for re-election two years later. But a dramatic defeat only two years after winning an historic presidential election does put the primary advantages in the corner of those who win the mid-terms.

On the other hand, if Republicans merely gloat, or attempt to behave legislatively as extreme on their side as those they defeated have done, their political triumph may be short-lived. If they treat their colleagues as arrogantly as the Democratic leaders did the Republicans in the past two years, the public will only become further alienated from the legislative branch…..and both parties.

A Republican victory this November is not a mandate for pay-back time. (Voters are not looking for retribution; they are seeking an economic turnaround.) It would be a mandate for the thoughtful promotion of conservative principles, i.e. lower taxes, less government spending, less interference by the federal government in state and local matters, reduction of federal deficits, and less polarization of the country. If Republicans win in November, their leaders should offer to work with, and even compromise with, President Obama to advance these principles (but not his radical principles). If they do not follow this course in general, they risk giving Mr. Obama a legitimate target for his 2012 campaign (assuming, of course, he could win his party’s renomination).

If it is Barack Obama, then, who does not seem to be trying to work with the Congress, then it will be relatively simple for the GOP nominee for president in 2012, whoever it might be, to make his or her case for finishing the job begun in 2008.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Political Somnabulism in September

There is an unprecedented dream-like quality to this year’s mid-term national elections. Normally, regardless of political conditions, the two sides engage in a comprehensible back-and-forth competition for votes. On some occasions this produces a one-sided result, but there is at least some kind of debate about issues and the record of those in power, as well as some level of enthusiasm on each side.

In 2010, President Obama and his Democratic leadership in Congress, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are campaigning, and are defending their record and policies, but in the face of unambiguous and steadily declining unpopularity and rejection of their agenda, they are making no response to the electoral landscape, no adjustment as has been the case of all those in their position in recent decades. They appear, in fact, to be behaving as if they and their policies are enormously popular and successful.

For Republican candidates, who have to be constantly pinching themselves to make sure it is not just a wonderful political dream, there is the consequent political advantage of just saying “No!” and “No thanks” to the Democratic agenda that has featured gigantic bailouts, radical and unpopular healthcare reform, and repeated foreign policy failures. Mr. Obama, Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid seem to be doing the heavy work for them!

For Democratic candidates, it is a nightmare that does not stop, as they watch not only competitive house, senate and gubernatorial races slip away, but usually considered “safe” ones as well. Recent reports that Democratic house leaders and strategists are prepared to “abandon” many of their own (and marginal) candidates to create a “firewall” that will salvage their control, makes it a nightmare-within-a- nightmare for those candidates, already struggling for political air.

This dream-nightmare landscape up to and including September cannot continue without dire consequences for the Democratic Party and the Obama administration. If it does, the political slaughter of the Democratic Party will be of such historical dimensions that the presidential election of 2012, barring some titanic unforeseen international occurrence, will only be a charade. The only question then will be who the Republicans choose for their nominee. In a dream-nightmare, there are no laws of gravity. In the so-called real world, gravity is still operative.

Increasingly, as President Obama campaigns across the nation, as he is doing now, he will be spurned and avoided by his own party’s candidates. It has already begun. Those Democrats who stand at the president’s side will only become the dream wish fulfilled of GOP political admakers.

I do realize that the Obama administration is staking a great deal in the current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. With its enormous economic leverage, the U.S. can always force these matters and even make the Israeli and Palestinian leaders say hopeful things to the media. But with powerful and hostile Iran and Hamas in the background, and their allies, any Middle East agreement made today isn’t worth the paper it’s signed on. Besides, the primary issue fueling voter dissatisfaction with the Democrats today is the state of domestic economy and the very high unemployment throughout the nation. The “suspicious” timing of these Middle East negotiations are clearly an attempt to divert public attention from our domestic woes.

So there will almost certainly be an attempt at an “October surprise” this year, as Democrats further wake up to the urgency of their situation. I don’t know what it will be, but there will be one. Watch for it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Democrats Shift To The Center

Less noted in the discussion this year’s mid-term elections, preoccupied as it has been with party labels (and which party will be in control of the senate next January), have been signs of rejuvenation in the Democratic Party’s centrist wing. (This trend, I hasten to say, does not include President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress.)

As I have previously pointed out, the likely election of centrist Democrat Joe Manchin to succeed the aging Robert Byrd in West Virginia is a notable example of this. But the trend is present in other seats vacated by incumbent Democrats (by retirement, primary defeat or death) in 2010. Richard Blumenthal is ahead in Connecticut, and has a record more likely to be to the center of retiring Senator Chris Dodd. Kirsten Gillebrand was appointed to succeed Hillary Clinton in New York in 2009, so the seat is not technically an open one, but Senator Gillebrand is up for election for the first time and has a huge lead in the race. She used to be more centrist when a congresswoman, but she is certainly less liberal than Mrs. Clinton. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania may not win this year, but if he does, he will likely be to the center right of the man he defeated for the nomination, Arlen Spector, a party-switching former liberal Republican. It’s more opaque in Illinois where Democrat Roland Burris was appointed to finish the term of Barack Obama on his election as president. Liberal Burris chose not to run, but it is not clear if the Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulis is much more than a Chicago machine politician, and how centrist he might be if elected. (His center-right GOP opponent seems now to have a slightly better chance of winning.)

Democratic centrists will lose a seat to the GOP in November since Evan Bayh is retiring, and will probably lose another when Arkansas incumbent Blanche Lincoln likely loses in November. Although appointed center-left Democrat Ted Kaufman (who replaced Vice President-elect Joe Biden) is not running in Delaware, likely GOP winner in that race Congressman Michael Castle is himself considered a GOP centrist.

But Castle is the exception this year on the Republican side where likely winning candidates have moved distinctly to the right. Conservative GOP nominee Joe Miller has defeated centrist Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska. Appointed Republican George LeMieux will likely be replaced by a more conservative Marco Rubio. Most other retiring Republicans will be replaced by those who are equally or more conservative than they are.

Thus, whether or not the Republicans win control of the U.S. senate in 2010, the upper house will almost certainly become distinctly more conservative. In fact, conservatives may control the senate regardless of their party affiliations.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Clocks Of Public Pension Funds

Since the 1970s, I have been writing about my concern about the impact of public pension funds on the local, state and national economies. My original interest was provoked after I read Peter Drucker’s brilliant and prescient book “The Unseen Revolution: How Pension Fund Socialism Came to America” published in 1976, and later doing some math on the incremental growth of the public pension funds, and their impact on public spending and taxation.

Now, almost 40 years later, what some very visionary and smarter folks than I am saw coming, is now at out doorstep. Unfunded liabilities of public pension funds are now so large that the numbers are staggering and grim.

In many American cities, for example, the bulk of local taxation goes to pay for the costs of pension funds for public employees. Increasingly, the same is becoming true of costs and taxes at state and federal levels. The bottom line is that if some “drastic” reform is not effected, and soon, public employees simply will not receive their pension benefits. For some reason, there is amazingly little discussion of this explosive matter in the media, and by political figures of both parties.

I am not talking here about social security or private (corporate) pension funds which have, or soon will have, huge unfunded liabilities of their own.

This is not some small problem that can be easily fixed or wished away. It is also no longer a problem which lies in the distant future, and can be procrastinated to some future group of officials.

At some point, the stock market, other markets, and the corporate governance community will have to react and act. There is no solution to this whole issue that will be without considerable pain and difficulty. And now, the longer it is put off, the more painful and expensive it will become. The clocks of this issue are now all running out.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Many More Surprises Coming

After Tuesday's primary results came in from several states, several media analysts and commentators repeated their opinion that voters were surprising conventional wisdom.


There is, in fact, no conventional wisdom worth talking about this political cycle.

I am suggesting that the surprises have only begun. No incumbent this year, particularly no Democratic incumbent, is safe this cycle. It has been said many times already that voters are upset. I am suggesting that voters are more than upset. They are in a rapacious mood to clean house, something often mentioned rhetorically, but which very rarely happens.

Lisa Murkowski, Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold, Patty Murray, Richard Blumenthal, Harry Reid were not on any list I saw of vulnerable senators at the beginning of the year. Blanche Lincoln was on a few lists. Now they’re all in trouble. At least 2-3 of them are going to lose, and perhaps all of them will go down. Although the anti-incumbent mood is not directed solely at Democrats, most of the vulnerable members of the House and Senate are those who have voted for the Obama administration’s legislation and supported its policies. (In fact, most of those Republican incumbents in trouble are those who voted for liberal legislation.)

Chris Dodd, Arlen Specter, Roland Burris, George Voinovich and Byron Dorgan are already gone, either defeated in primaries or voluntarily retired rather than face defeat.

We are almost at the end of the primary season. The surprises now will come in the general election. Lacking any political experience to speak of, and evidently no serious student of history, President Obama makes matters worse for his own party almost every day. The Republican leadership in Congress, to be candid, has not been particularly aggressive or imaginative so far, but this is beginning to change. Notwithstanding that Michael Steele is technically the head of the Republican National Committee, the true leadership of the GOP is in the hands of Governor Haley Barbour, former RNC chair and now the head of the Republican Governors Association. Mr. Barbour is a very savvy political operator. Congressman John Boehner, heretofore only a perfunctory critic of the Obama administration, is at last becoming more outspoken. The politically unattractive Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid sound more and more out of touch.

Most importantly, and the primary cause for voter anxiety, is that events and conditions are not going well. Some of these, of course, are beyond the control of presidents and other politicians. But many are not. Voters have observed a steady long list of mistakes made with the economy, pressing domestic issues and foreign policy by the Democrats (and some Republicans), not only at the national and international level.

We are only two months from election day. Undecided voters are already beginning to make up their minds, and their decisions now appear to be going one way. This can change, of course, but August will very soon be September, and by World Series time in October, voter rage may be out of control.

Perhaps, by so-called objective standards, voters may over-react on Election Day. Perhaps. But there is no clarity in government today, no sense of matters getting better, no sense of most elected officials doing much more than take care of themselves.

If this is where we are the first week of November, all bets are off.

The Tempest, 2011

This is the 400th anniversary of one of William Shakespeare’s most celebrated and influential plays “The Tempest.” It was first performed in November, 1611, and is the only play by the Bard (arguably the world’s greatest playwright) which has connections to the New World. It has provoked more adaptions, music, poetry and other artistic and critical inspirations than perhaps any of Shakespeare’s other works, which is no small matter when it is considered that Shakespeare also wrote “Hamlet,” “MacBeth,” “Othello,” A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream,” “All’s Well That Ends Well,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Julius Caesar,” “King Lear,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “Twelfth Night,” “Taming of the Shrew,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” “Coriolanus,” “As You Like It,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” and twenty-one other plays known the world over.

With Hurricane Irene now raging through the U.S. East Coast from its Caribbean origins (supposedly “The Tempest” was set in the Caribbean), I could not help but think of Shakespeare’s play with its iconic storm created magically by the play’s main character Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan. Although it remains to be seen how “historic” and great a storm Irene will be, it has certainly gripped in advance of its path the justifiable concern of millions of Americans who are likely to be affected by it, and the entire rest of nation watching from “a safe distance.”

One of the most famous visual images of this play was the painting “The Shipwreck” by the most celebrated 18th century portraitist George Romney. Yes, current frontrunner for the Republican nomination Mitt Romney is a descendant/kinsman of George Romney the painter, and that got me to thinking about a second tempest now going through the United States, a fellow named Rick Perry who is also the current governor of Texas. In only a few weeks, Mr. Perry has announced his late entry into the presidential contest, and has already emerged as Mr. Romney’s main challenger. Liberal Democrats seem not to regard Mr. Perry as a storm, but rather as Caliban, the disfigured and scary character who is another principal figure in the play. (Mr. Romney’s supporters, no doubt, hope that Mr. Perry is only a “tempest in a teapot.”)

The reader might think I am depending too much on coincidences here in drawing Mitt Romney and Rick Perry into this (how about Michele Bachmann as Ariel?), but of course, Shakesepeare’s 17th century plays are is so full of coincidences and references to other sources that I feel no compunction to hold back my devious way to bring up the current state of the 2012 presidential election and the contest for the GOP nomination.

While everyone hopes that the damage from Hurricane Irene will be minimal, there are many who wish that Tempest Perry will cause maximum damage. Some conservatives, unhappy with the bona fides of Mitt Romney as a true out-and-out man of the right are hoping that Mr. Perry will derail the Romney candidacy. Some liberals, fearful of a terrible defeat in November, 2012, hope that a man perceived as too far to the right, i.e., Mr. Perry, will be nominated, thus giving President Obama a better chance to win re-election.

Just as we do not know Hurricane Irene’s full course (as I write this), the impact of Tempest Perry is also unclear. He will now be subject to extraordinary scrutiny, and as he has already discovered, every word he utters will be examined under a political electron microscope. (Some of Mr. Perry’s recent utterances would indicate he is perhaps more like Caliban than his supporters would wish.) Mr. Perry will now have to stand on the stage with his rivals, and answer questions from the media and debate moderators that will contrast him to Mr. Romney, Mrs. Bachmann, and that most formidable GOP debater of all, Newt Gingrich.

I don’t know if it will be a tragedy, a comedy or a history, but it almost certainly will be quite a play to listen to and watch.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Corn Is High This Year

I’m only a city boy, but even I knew, driving through rural Wisconsin recently, near the St. Croix Valley, that the corn stalks are unusually high this year. The weather has been remarkable for some time, i.e. colder than normal in some places during the winter and summer, warmer than normal in some places in the summer and winter. Partisans for global warming have warmed up to the latter; skeptics feel cool about the former. But not being a meteorologist. I think it only proves what scientists have known about the weather for a long time, i.e. that climate is subject to many cycles, including subcycles, which often mask or imitate true long-term trends.

My point, however, is that it would appear that corn, wheat, soybeans and many if not most of the agricultural products grown in the U.S. are heading for bumper crops this year in many (but not all) regions. If it does turn out this way, and the droughts and weather-damaged crops of Europe, including especially Russia (which faces a serious wheat shortage), result in food shortages around the world, then our nation’s role as a great agricultural supplier in the world is once again spotlighted.

In the first one hundred years of our history, most Americans worked in farms and agricultural-related industries. By the end of the 19th century, however, we became known increasingly as an industrial and technological center. We continued to produce prodigious amounts of food products for ourselves and other nations, but our farm population shrunk as many farmers moved to our urban centers.

There is a romantic notion even today about the so-called family farm and its disappearance, and leftist criticism of so-called corporate farming. The latter is often attacked for its agricultural techniques of using pesticides, antibiotics and other tools that produce larger and larger yields. A charming cult of organic farming and chemical-free food, in reaction, has arisen, a well-meaning but atavistic attempt to revive conditions of the past. (Full disclosure: as a food writer, I do recognize that “organic” and “locally-produced” usually tastes better. I often praise chefs and restaurants who purchase, prepare and serve this kind of food and cuisine. However, these strategies of growing, preparing and dining on this kind of food is very expensive, too expensive to feed a nation of 300 million, and even to provide food in addition to billions more around the planet.)

Recently, it was disclosed that the “scientific” conviction that DDT caused cancer, held for decades, was inaccurate. The problem was that the UN and other world organizations banned DDT and related pesticides also for decades, and this resulted in worldwide food shortages (especially in Africa) that killed many millions from starvation. Organic and artisan food-growing has an authentic place in our culture, but we have to be honest about the fact that it is an elite phenomenon, and does not solve the larger challenge to feed everyone and reduce starvation.

This brings me to the irony of this year’s prospective U.S. harvest. Threatened by commercial and technological rivals around the world, including China, India, Korea, Japan, Russia and Brazil, it turns out that many of our rivals will not need from us electronics, airplanes and automobiles, but they will need our basic food products! (It should be noted that many of our farming methods still produce higher yields than those from other parts of the world.)

Of course, next year could be different. Harvests could be weak in the U.S. and strong in the rest of the world. But wherever it comes from, our basic food products will be as important as they were in 1776, and 1876.

I write this as a note to other city boys and girls, especially those who take food and hunger for granted. There is a true “romantic” history of the American farm, and the heroic farmers who have fed us, and billions of others, for more than two centuries. By all means, let us dine on “organic” produce, “wild-caught seafood, “grass-fed” meats, and exotic plants and fungae. But let us also acknowledge our dependence on the vagaries of the winds and clouds and the
weather fronts which move across our land, often forgotten by those of us dwelling and working in urban condos, apartments, townhouses and suburban homes in the “modern” America.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why Obama Is Doing It His Way

Barack Obama has a huge ego. This is not a unique condition for someone who has been elected president of the United States. Even men and women who have not been elected president have huge egos. He also has concluded, I believe, that he is a political genius. I remember that midway in the 2008 primary/caucus season, when his campaign was faltering, Obama personally rallied his staff. This in itself was commendable; presidential hopefuls like Rudy Giuliani and (now-disgraced) John Edwards also faltered, but were so above the battle, they failed to try to intervene when their political fortunes went south. Obama had a great deal of outside help, much of it from the savvy folks who make up the Chicago Democratic machine, but like so many who reach high office, I think Mr. Obama has come to believe he is the true source of his own (and for now, unquestionable) electoral success.

He came into the office of president, however, with very little political and executive experience, probably less than anyone in the Oval Office for the past century. He gathered around him friends and foes, but his innermost circle includes mostly friends (a totally understandable and common phenomenon). It was thought that some of those friends would give the new president good advice. If they did, he has not seemed to be listening. He seems to be listening to himself.

To his critics, of which I am one, he has made numerous mistakes in domestic and foreign policy, and has constantly exhibited his inexperience. Most of these critics find his rhetoric pedestrian, and his political instincts inept. These critics also find his dealings with foreign leaders and nations to be dangerously naive at best.

His supporters see Mr. Obama quite differently. They consider the legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress and signed into law by Mr. Obama to be significant and positive “change.” They hear his speeches as “eloquent.” They agree with and applaud much of his point of view, including his foreign policies.

But many of these supporters are now not so sure about his political instincts. They note that most of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid legislation is unpopular, causing the president’s popularity to nosedive, and endangering Democratic control of both houses of Congress. They observe his “tin ear” as he espouses provocative views about building a mosque at Ground Zero in New York and opposing the clear views of Arizonians on immigration. As the midterm elections approach (now less than 3 months away) more and more senators and members of Congress are distancing themselves from Mr. Obama and his administration.

Mr. Obama himself seems unmoved by his sudden unpopular trend in his ownvparty, the loss of support of many independents who voted for him in 2008, and of course the criticism of him coming from Republicans and conservatives.

Some glib analysts have suggested Mr. Obama and his coterie want to lose the 2010 elections so that they can run against Republicans in 2012. But most observers have concluded that he is simply naive and self-deluded, and is a true believer in his own world-view (whatever that is), and is willing to lose in 2012 to promote that world view.

While I do think Barack Obama is misinformed by his own lack of political and executive experience, I am beginning to conclude that he is not as politically clumsy and clueless as his actions so far would indicate.

Right or wrong, I suspect that President Obama thinks his agenda and political strategy, now faltering in opinion polls, will be redeemed by events. I suspect
that he believes his treatment of the leaders of Iran, Russia, North Korea and Venezuela (most of whom now scorn him in private) will produce diplomatic triumph. I suspect that he believes his understanding of the economy will produce a notable if not dramatic turnaround before 2012. I suspect he believes he can satisfy the far left of his political base while at the same time appearing to be a “mainstream liberal” to the rest of the Democratic Party base as well as most independent voters.

As readers know, I do not share his beliefs above, but I think we have to understand his actions, not as intentionally politically suicidal, but as behavior which anticipates results that will be dramatically different than his critics predict.

So Mr. Obama is a kind of radical “contrarian.” The Prairie Editor, as readers know, is also a contrarian, but he anticipates contrarian results and outcomes of a very different kind.

My conclusion is that Barack Obama is the first political “sleepwalker” American president. He lives and acts in his dreams, dreams formed here and in his childhood outside the mainland U.S.. There is always the chance that he is more right than wrong, but all of us will know whether he is or not, as economic, political and international events continue to unfold.

This, almost certainly, will wake us all up.