Friday, August 31, 2012


After Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the 2012 Republican convention,
I noticed many conservatives and other Republicans, as well as pundits and
political operatives, attempting to rate his remarks with a grade, an adjective
or a judicious noun. I suppose it is a natural response, but I think it misses a
true evaluation of what he said and how he said it.

Romney, most agree, is no orator, but the implication that he cannot speak
well is wrong. In fact, he is a better speaker than most presidents have been.
He is also a better debater than most give him credit for because he is, above
all, cool under fire, knows what he’s talking about, and because he is naturally
competitive and assertive. That does not make him a Newt Gingrich, a Bill
Clinton, a Chris Christie, a Ronald Reagan or a John F. Kennedy for he is
not like any of these men, nor as naturally communicative as they are or were.

There were innumerable speeches at the Republican convention, as there will
be at the Democratic convention.  Most of them are ordinary, several are
openly boring, and a few are unexpectedly good, elevating their speakers to
an early  and temporary prominence. Some will show intelligence, some will
show wit, and many will show a missed opportunity.

A few speeches at a national convention are clearly important. The keynote
speaker, the vice presidential nominee, the wife of the presidential nominee,
and the person who introduces the presidential nominee are surely in that
category. They don’t always go well. (A case in point was the man who
introduced Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis to the 1988 convention in
Atlanta. I was there in the convention hall. It was an abject failure, making
the speaker a national laughing stock. When he said “In conclusion.....,”
the delegates cheered loudly, glad the long-winded ordeal was about to be over..
The perpetrator of this disaster, however, was a gifted speaker, who had gone
on much too long, and he was able eventually to recover from his mistake.
His name? Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas.)

This year, all four of these convention speakers did well, some a bit better than
others, but their performances succeeded. Only one of them really counted, of
course, and that was Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech.

I could tick off his speech’s strengths and weaknesses. I could give it a grade from
A to F. I could relate how it pleased my expectations or failed them.  I could also
compare Romney’s speech to Reagan’s “The Speech” in which the late president
set down his core principles again and again. Those are reasonably legitimate
ways to comment about Romney’s speech, but as I said at the outset, I think
doing so in that manner would miss the main point.

The choice in 1980 was also about a fundamental direction for the nation, but
in 2012, it is also about informed action and uninformed repose. Jimmy Carter
was an experienced manager, albeit a poor one. Barack Obama has not only had
virtually no experience as a manager, he has no talent for it now that he is in
charge. Mitt Romney’s convention speech was more about communicating that
he is the person who at this moment in American history who should be the nation’s
chief executive and begin to solve the national economic crisis than about
communicating ideological principles.

I have been writing about presidential elections for a long time, since the 1972
election in fact, and I have seen incumbents of both parties run for re-election,
and new figures from both parties  run against them, or against one another, to
win the most important executive job in the nation.

I recall attending a memorable speech in 1992 in New Orleans given by the
then presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, an interesting new figure in
national politics I had been following even before he announced for the
presidency (when he was just a an upcoming politician). Up to that occasion in
New Orleans, he had been a self-confident and charming speaker and skillful
campaigner, but still only a hopeful candidate. At that 1992 speech to the
Democratic Leadership Council convention, however, Bill Clinton seemed
different than I heard him on previous occasions. His voice was the same as 
always, but his manner and his tone had a different quality. It was the quality
of a man taking charge. I knew then, even before his party’s convention, that he
was likely to become president.

The Mitt Romney I heard in Tampa was a man taking charge. That does not
guarantee he will win in November, although I think he will, but it does mean
that, after all previous jobs and responsibilities, the years of campaigning,
the ambition and the preparation, Mitt Romney knows he is ready to take up
the toughest job anyone in public life is ever going to have.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Victims Or Masters of Destiny

At the opening session of the 2012 Republican National Convention,
there were numerous speeches by various elected officials, candidates, small
businesspersons, et al, but most Americans were primarily interested in the
final two of the evening, one by Ann Romney, wife of the Republican nominee,
and the other by Chris Christie, GOP governor of New Jersey, the most
exciting political personality today (in either party) and the keynote speaker.

There were extraordinary expectations for Governor Christie’s speech, he is
a charismatic speaker and the speech was much heralded in the media. As for
Mrs. Romney’s speech, the expectations were less clear. She had emerged most
notably after she was was attacked earlier in the year by a Democratic/Obama
political operative, and had shown herself to be an attractive and likeable
figure with no small amount of grit as her story of raising a large family and
surviving serious illness became public.

Mrs. Romney’s speech came first, and was clearly intended to be a supportive
one for her husband who would make his own acceptance speech on Thursday.
But from the outset, Ann Romney’s words were a statement of her own
character and principles, an impassioned, plucky anthem to American women,
the mothers and grandmothers, wives and sisters, daughters and granddaughters.
As such, it was perhaps unexpected, and a very feminine celebration of the
phenomenon of love in our culture, not sentimental and only romantic, but
grown up and passionate and tough at the same time. It was in fact a stunning
performance, marred only by some Old Media commentators who tried to
demean it for their own purposes after it was delivered.

Governor Christie’s speech had a different purpose. Interestingly, he began his
speech with his debt to his mother who had instilled in him his most enduring
life principles. He even went so far to say that his father, still alive and in the
convention audience, was a fine father but only a passenger in the car of their
lives, a car in which the mother and wife was the driver. From these enduring
principles, however, Governor Christie embarked on his own journey of the
most important and vital American values, especially as they are applied to our
own time.

Some commentators have spent time comparing the two speeches, and trying
to evaluate them and their comparable success. I think this is not a very useful
exercise, primarily because they had such different purposes. Mrs. Romney’s
words intended to bring her husband to the American people in a human
light, a light that can only be seen by a woman and a wife. At the same time, she
was bringing herself to the public, something important because, if Mitt Romney
is elected president of the United States, she will will be the First Lady of the
nation, perhaps the most important unelected and least formally official post in
our country.

Governor Christie’s task, on the other hand, was to set down the defining contrast
between the incumbent president and his party, and Mitt Romney and his party,
the GOP of 2012. As he always does, Mr. Christie gave a spirited and charismatic
performance. But more importantly, he established the clear markers by which
voters could evaluate the two political visions being presented to them in 2012.
This was, as he had warned in advance, going to be a “tough” speech with “tough”
words about where we are as a nation, and the choices voters had about where the
nation would be going. In this respect, it was a lucid and impassioned statement of
conservative principles. while it was a restatement of the ideas and values which
had been thoroughly aired in the primary caucus campaign season just past.

It had some good “lines” as any good speech does, but the most memorable
moment for me came when Mr. Christie said:

“American has never been a victim of destiny. It has always been the master of its

With these words I think, Chris Christie verbalized most succinctly where we are
as a nation and as its citizens.

Beginning perhaps in Korea, and certainly in Viet Nam twenty years later,
Americans began to feel for the first time in more than a century that it was not
able to master its role in the world, although we continued to be the world’s
greatest economic and military power. Our democratic capitalist model was still
the most successful model in history. By the time September 11, 2001 came, and
we were attacked by a new and deadly force, world economic development and
political evolution had seemed to be increasingly problematic for us, and by the
time Barack Obama had been elected president, a new and unprecedented mood
had begun to affect America, a mood of withdrawal and appeasement to the
clatter of hostility and criticism that our role in the world had become. This was
complicated by a governing philosophy introduced by Mr. Obama and his
associates that expanded government intervention in all aspects of American
society and held up as an ideal the redistribution of wealth in an imitation of
the European social welfare model.

In spite of some debated ideological issues that were raised in the 2012 primary
and caucus campaigns, Mitt Romney represents a very different course for the
United States than that proposed by Mr, Obama and his party. It was Governor
Christie’s task in his keynote address to make this as clear as possible, and with
his statement of the contrast of the nation as either a victim of destiny or its
master, he did so probably as ably as could be done.

These were quite different opening night convention remarks by key figures who
have different roles. But taken together, one after the other, the American public
observed a remarkable occasion of national political discourse. Let both sides of
the quadrennnial contest that now follows maintain the high standard Mrs.
Romney and Mr. Christie set at their convention.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: U.S. House Overview In Late August

While there are only 33 U.S. senate seats up for election in 2012, there are
435 U.S. house contests. Republicans made dramatic gains in the 2010
off-year elections. This was primarily due to the heavy-handed passage of
the Obama administration's healthcare legislation (known as "Obamacare'),
perhaps the most unpopular major legislation in recent times. Although there
were local factors in most 2010 races, as always occur, that election became,
in effect, "nationalized" by voter unhappiness with the leadership of
then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Republicans won control of the U.S. house in 2010, and replaced Mrs.
Pelosi with John Boehner. Mr, Reid, however, remained in control, albeit
with a much smaller majority. Since January, 2011, the house under
Speaker Boehner has passed much legislation, as it promised it would, but
Mr. Reid has dictated that the senate be essentially a moribund branch of
government, not even allowing a vote on most house initiatives. As a result,
and compounded by Obama administration policies, the economy has drifted,
trying to recover, but thwarted by a lack of positive economic policies.

Obamacare, the primary cause of the Democrats' 2010 debacle, is still in place,
having been okayed by the U.S. supreme court, and now beginning to take
effect (revealing its immense costs and unintended consequences). It remains
very unpopular.

Normally, in a presidential re-election year, the chief executive wins, and makes
some gains in house and senate races. In recent years, however, we have seen a
series of one-term presidents, beginning with Gerald Ford, and continuing with
Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. This might be also the case in 2012.
President Obama's poll numbers have languished in the mid-40s for two years,
and show no sign of improving. In terms of the senate and house races, the
signs are not good for the Democrats. They will have a net loss in the senate,
and probably control. In the house, it was expected in early 2011 by most
observers that many of the seats won by the GOP in 2010 would revert back
to the Democrats in 2012, especially with Mr. Obama leading the ticket.

There is no indication by polls or information in the field that this will happen.
Democrats are expected to pick up a few seats, in the single digits, and might
even have a small net loss on Election Day. The redistricting of U.S. house
seats, which occurs every ten years, had a slight demographic favor to the
Republicans on paper. As it turned out, it was primarily a wash, with
Democrats doing better in some states than expected, and no so well in others.

A case in point, is in Minnesota's 8th congressional district where first-term
incumbent Republican Chip Cravaack was expected to lose his re-election in
this historically heavily Democrat (called DFL in this state) seat. Cravaack
had upset 18-term DFL Congressman Jim Oberstar in 2010, but faced a
number of serious challengers for his 2012 race. As it turned out, none of these
potential challengers ran, and the DFL field was reduced to a political has-been
(a former congressman of another district who had been out of office for 30
years), a woman who had run in 2010 in another district, (and had lost badly),
and a city councilman from the district's largest city who was unknown
elsewhere (and had no cash). The primary was bitter, and was split three ways
almost evenly, with former Congressman Rick Nolan narrowly winning.
Although the 8th district usually votes heavily DFL, it is a conservative blue
collar area. Mr. Nolan is a 1970's liberal with foreign policy views that are not
necessarily shared by many 8th district DFL voters. Nolan will get funding
from the national Democratic party and from organized labor, but Mr. Cravaack
has more than $1 million in the bank, and outside money for his DFL opponent
will be more than matched from Republican sources. Redistricting only
slightly improved Mr. Cravaack's chances, as he received some exurban Twin
City GOP precincts in the 8th's new lines. Voter intensity in outstate Minnnesota
this year favors Republicans, although the state is likely to give its electoral
votes, as it did in 2008, to Mr. Obama (because of the heavy DFL vote in the
Twin Cities). This should have been an easy pick-up for the Democrats. but
the hard-working Mr. Cravaack might well keep the seat.

There are also individual stories of districts in the nation where Democrats are
likely to have success, but the overview, with just over two months until
Election Day, is that the new U.S. house on January, 2013, with some new
faces, will be very similar to the one now in office.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Friday, August 24, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: U.S. Senate Races and Surprises

Although I have stated early and often that the Republicans are very
likely to win control of the U.S. senate in the 2012 election cycle, I
have also consistently pointed out that early predictions about individual
races are often risky because these races frequently are subject to
unanticipated events, circumstances, and changes in voter attitudes.

Now, with only a bit more than two months to go, some of these surprises
are beginning to appear. The outcomes of Democratic and Republican
candidates are both subject to to these surprises. The gaffe of GOP
nominee Akin in Missouri has already been in the headlines for days,
and initial post-gaffe polls are predictably very bad news for the Mr.
Akin and his party in Missouri. Mr. Akin still has until September 25
to withdraw, although his defiant attitude so far indicates he is planning
to remain in the race (and suffer a bad defeat for himself and possibly
for the GOP ticket in that state).

Two races I have been actually predicting could be big surprises, in Hawaii
and Ohio, are indeed becoming more and more competitive. Republican
Linda Lingle is perhaps the most underestimated nominee in the nation
(mainly because Hawaii usually votes overwhelmingly Democratic).
GOP challenger Josh Mandel in Ohio is so young (and looks it) that it has
seemed unlikely that he could defeat long-time Ohio politician Sherrod
Brown. Yet latest poll numbers in both states are signalling the final results
might be a surprise.

I did not predict that the Connecticut senate race was going to be close,
but now one major poll has the Republican Linda McMahon leading
Democrat Chris Murphy by 4 points. This is the seat currently held by
Joe Lieberman, an independent who votes primarily with the Democrats.
It's only one poll, but if McMahon should win (she ran and lost a senate
race in 2010), it would be a surprise to all.

Another races that could be a shocker on Election Night is in Michigan
where incumbent Democrat Debbbie Stabenow has been considered "safe."
Her GOP opponent Peter Hoekstra still trails her, but she has been under
50% in most polls, a danger sign this late in the campaign season.

Even incumbent Democrat Robert Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania, hitherto
considered very safe, especially after Republicans failed to nominate a
"big name" against him, remains consistently under 50%. A new voter
ID law in the Keystone State could cost Casey vital inner-city votes, although
he remains clearly ahead at this point.

It was assumed from the outset, once Republican Senator Olympia Snowe
made her surprise retirement announcement, that she would be replaced by
independent Angus King, a former governor, who was expected to caucus
with the Democrats (who nominated a candidate of their own). Early polls
had King way ahead of both his Republican and Democratic opponents in a
three-way race. But tough ads about King's economic record as governor
have reduced his lead. He is still well ahead, but the absolute certainty about
the final result has been replaced with some doubts.

On the other side, the favored Republican senate nominee in North Dakota,
Rick Berg, leads his Democratic opponent Heidi Heitkamp in the contest to
replace retiring Democatic Senator Kent Conrad, but his current margin is
not that impressive, and his opponent is mounting a serious campaign.

Two first-term Republican incumbents, Senators Dean Heller (Nevada) and
Scott Brown (Massachusetts), were expected to face serious challenges, but
so far, they seem to be holding their own (although their re-elections are not

Senate races to replace retiring senators in New Mexico and Arizona, the
first a Democrat and the second a Republican, remain up in the air, but any
outcome in these races would not be a surprise.

Nor would any outcome in Virginia and Florida where polls have the races
going back and forth. These were always expected to be very close races.

I want to stress that any surprises mentioned above are only potential
surprises. There are ten weeks to go, and the presidential race itself is up
in the air (and might influence these senate races). The numbers (23
Democratic seats up and only 10 Republican seats) favor the GOP, but
congressional election surprises always seem to happen, and this election
year will probably prove to be no different.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Keeping An Eye On The Political Ball

The current flap over Missouri Congressman Todd Akin's dumb and wrong
gaffe has grabbed headlines and plenty of news stories from the Old Media
which continues to be embarrassingly biased and hostile to Republican
candidates in 2012. But the Republican Party in Missouri and nationally
has behaved in an exemplary fashion by denouncing Akin and asking him
to resign as the GOP senate nominee in Missouri. Akin so far has refused to
do so, and is now behaving as the aggrieved party. He may find himself a
very politically and financially lonely fellow soon enough, however, and
change his mind.

In northern Minnesota, a Democratic state legislator who was caught by
police in a politically unacceptable sexual situation in a public area (but
was not charged) has also been urged by most Democratic (called the DFL
in this state) party officials and colleagues to resign, but has refused. In
this case, the party and its officials also did the right thing, and their
candidate refused to cooperate.

In both cases, attempts to blame the whole party for the offenses of an
individual candidate will not work. The voters will decide what to do in
each case, as it should be done.

Throughout my commentary about the congressional races for 2012,  I
have reminded readers that a campaign season always has surprises,
whether they be unexpected retirements (such as GOP Senator Olympia
Snowe in Maine), scandals/investigations (such as the Democratic senate
nominee in Nevada) or gaffes (such as Mr Akin's in Missouri). In the case
of the campaign for control of the U.S. senate in the next term, there will
almost certainly be more, and on both sides.

I have suggested for several months that the Republicans will regain control
of the U.S. senate in 2013, and by more than a margin of one. Of course,
that is not a certainty, and it could be a tie at 50-50 or a margin of one at
51-49.  But the home stretch is now on the horizon, and the Democrats
are stuck with the extraordinary disadvantage of having more than twice
as many seats up for re-election this cycle, and many more of these seats
than GOP seats are vulnerable. I am sticking to my prediction.

U.S. house and senate contests are usually more local in character, but in
2010 they were primarily nationalized. This seems to be recurring in 2012,
with high unemployment and a poor economy providing the motor.
President Obama's and his party's signature legislation, Obamacare,
remains unpopular and continues to drive independent voters away from
their 2008 choices.

Democrats in Missouri will make Mr. Akin's gaffe an issue, and they should
do so. It may well turn a likely GOP pick-up into the re-election of an
otherwise very unpopular incumbent. (Mr. Akin is the same kind of
candidate as GOP senate nominees in 2010 in Delaware and Nevada,
candidates who by their own actions threw away likely Republican
pick-ups in those states. But those avoidable losses in 2010 did not change
control of the senate, and one flubbed race in 2012 will not do it this time.)

Interestingly, when GOP Senator Snowe retired earlier this year, it was
universally considered a sure pick-up by Democrats even though the
presumed winner would be Independent Angus King (who would caucus
with the Democrats).  Latest reports indicate that Mr. King's initial large
lead has dwindled as campaign ads against him remind Maine voters of
his questionable fiscal record when he was governor. The Republicans
have a well-known nominee this year, as do the Democrats. In this
three-way race, Mr. King is still favored, but the early certainty now has
some doubt. As I have said, in individual races anything can happen,
even at the last political minute.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Monday, August 20, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Show Time, Fellow Citizens

We now know who the presidential and vice presidential candidates, and
most of the congressional candidates, are, and in less than three weeks,
the two major party national conventions will have concluded. Less than
two months after that will come Election Day. It's showtime!

Polling, usually a vital tool to political commentator, and a guide to voters,
has been notably inaccurate this cycle, for reasons discussed in this column
and in many other venues. As is well-known, polling becomes significantly
more accurate in close proximity to the actual election date, and with so
much at stake in this industry, I suspect the polls, by October, will give us
a better picture of the various competitive races than they do now.

Thanks to the surprising judgment of Barack Obama and his campaign
team, the incumbent president so far has not decided to compete openly for
U.S. voters in the political center, and instead they have decided to make
the 2012 election a plebiscite on a new and radical direction of American
public policy, and on voter affection for the president himself. This is a
surprise because the administration's policies have not been popular, and
the standing of Mr. Obama with the pubic has been shrinking. If the
outcome depended on only bringing out the political base, as happened in
2008, it could work, but so far, virtually every measurement indicates that
there is considerably more "intensity motivating Republican voters than
motivating Democratic voters (in a time of continued high unemployment
and economic stress).

The Obama campaign strategies, in fact, so far have been erratic, beginning
with the ill-advised Obama campaign agent who attacked Ann Romney and,
most recently, the public declaration that Mr. Romney's choice of Paul Ryan
as his running mate was a mistake. That attack on Mrs. Romney
misadventure was one of the earlier signs that Team Obama was overrated,
and that Team Romney had been underrated.

Size of crowds for a candidate, especially just before an election, doesn't
always translate to size of the vote for that candidate, but at this point in a
campaign, large turnouts for one ticket, and disappointing turnouts for the
other ticket, are an ominous sign.

The party convention is a traditional political pageant was inaugurated in
1840. But beginning with the age of television, and hastened further by the
age of the Internet, it has lost much of its attraction to both the public and
politicians themselves. I cannot remember a cycle when the two major
conventions, the Democratic one in Charlotte, North Carolina; and the
Republican in Tampa, Florida, were less anticipated. The conventions today
are simply an orgy for the media who attend.

The conventional wisdom is that the presidential race will be close in
November, and that control of the U.S. senate is unknown. I have
challenged these commonplace predictions, but now we will soon find out
just to what direction the American voter is going to send its government.


Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.      All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Meanwhile, However......

The news has been filled with Mitt Romney's vice presidential choice,
and reactions to it, with accounts of Joe Biden's latest gaffes, and
with new polls of who is ahead, and who is not, in the presidential race,
and highly-contested congressional races. This is as it should be.
After all, we are on the cusp of the climactic November national

Meanwhile, however, the world goes on with its usual and varied
fol-de-rol, even though we may not be looking attentively.

The Assad regime in Syria once more seems about to fall, as the
Qaddafi regime previously always seemed to be at the end of its
political rope. Qaddafi did fall, eventually, and so will Assad and
his cohorts. Meanwhile however, this regime remains as a Russian
client state, and President Putin keeps air in Assad's balloon as part
of the Russian chess game to reassert its place in geopolitical affairs.
The United Nations, chronically ineffective, even inept, in these
international conflicts, has once again come up empty as Iran, chief
Syrian protector, and primary threat against Israel, the primary
U.S. ally in the region, continues its shadowy machinations to
intimidate any and all, and promote anxiety among its neighbors.

Israel, meanwhile, however, assesses the immediacy of Iran gaining
nuclear weapon capability, and quietly prepares for a possible strike
at the Iranian regime's nuclear facilities, a move that would be silently
supported by most of Iran's neighbors who have grown anxious
about Iranian aggressive ambitions. Like so much in the history of
international relationships, national leaders of nations with the power
to influence events, put off any decisive action against totalitarian
figures who want to use violence to gain what they could not
accomplish with some adult behavior.

Meanwhile, however, adult behavior is nowhere to be seen as
European leaders make economic procrastination a high and perverse
art form in the midst of a dangerous and prolonged crisis of basic
fiscal governance.

It takes a singularly dramatic event to turn the attention of
Americans to matters foreign, especially during the a presidential
campaign. But the incumbent president, regardless of which party
lives in the White House, has to mind the store, domestic and foreign.

The question is not IF such an event will occur outside the borders of
the U.S., but WHEN and WHERE. It will be interesting to see how the
domestic political players deal with this event or events.

Meanwhile, however...........

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Monday, August 13, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Misreading The Ryan Choice

With a few days to digest the news of Mitt Romney's choice for his
vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, it can be observed that
some folks are misreading the choice.

Interestingly enough, most of those who misread it are not Democrats.
Publicly, of course, virtually all those who speak for Team Obama, and
those who think they speak for them, are verbally celebrating the "poor"
choice, now almost guaranteeing the president's election. That is the
inevitable and predictable spin. No matter who Romney chose, these
spokespersons would have said the same thing.

But the president himself, and most savvy Democratic operatives, are
speaking very respectfully of Paul Ryan the man and public official.
That's because you don't have to be a all-wise media consultant to know
that Paul Ryan has a formidable private and political persona. The
Democrats know that Romney not only made the best choice he could,
but that the choice is going to make it more difficult for them to win in
November. Of course, the Democrats are definitely not throwing in the
towel. They know that voters do not often cast their ballot for vice
president, and the liberals feel they can handily beat Mitt Romney, the
GOP candidate for president.

It really is some Republicans and faux-conservatives who are misreading
the Ryan choice. Of course, Mr. Ryan is not a perfect candidate, no one
ever is, but he is likely to do something few vice presidential candidates
ever do, i.e., notably help the top of the ticket.

In some ways, Paul Ryan brings some of the best attributes of most of
his rivals for vice president, and without their liabilities. He is as smart
and Washington-wise as Rob Portman. He is as young, blue collar and
articulate as TIm Pawlenty, He has much of the grass roots appeal, and
ability to talk back to Democrats, as Chris Christie. He brings almost as
many electoral votes to the table as Bob McDonnell. On the other hand,
he is an Irish-German Catholic, with a great family, a spotless
background, a fine personal story, and an informal, sincere manner that
is almost unprecedented in politics these days.

He does have some controversial votes (for conservatives) from his early
days in the U.S. house. His reform of government plan is not without
possible controversies, and he is also untested on the national political
stage. But these, as I see it, are far outweighed by the many pluses he
brings to the campaign, not the least of which is the seeming energizing
of his now-mentor Mitt Romney.

What some Republicans and self-styled conservative analysts seem to be
objecting to, ironically, is his conservative substance. "Ammunition for
Obama," "Makes the ticket vulnerable," "Too risky ideas," are what they
are saying, as if any GOP vice presidential choice could have by-passed
Team Obama attacks.

He has only been the vice presidential choice for a few days. It is always
possible he might make some gaffes, or not be up to the challenge he
faces. But he is far less risky than a Dan Quayle, Spiro Agnew, John
Edwards, or Sarah Palin, and so far he has energized his party as few
vice presidential choices ever have.

Before he was elected to Congress, Paul Ryan was a staffer in the nation's
capital. Among those he learned from was the late Jack Kemp, himself a
prominent congressman chosen to run for vice president. Kemp had his
shortcomings and idiosyncracies, but he was an extraordinary political
figure in his day, known for his mastery of economic issues and
conservative ideals, and for being liked and respected even by his
opponents. For those of us who remember Kemp with admiration, the
emergence of his protege Paul Ryan is a sign of rebirth and
rejuvenation of the conservative party.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Friday, August 10, 2012




Tuesday, August 7, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Harry Reid Has Just Done The GOP A Big Favor

Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic senate majority leader, has just done
the Republican Party a very big favor. His desperate charge that Mitt
Romney hasn't paid taxes is an obvious ploy to try to force the GOP
presidential nominee to release 10 years of back tax returns (Mr.
Romney has already released his most recent) so that the Obama
campaign might try to use them to attack Mr. Romney and thus deflect
public attention from the Obama administration's dismal first term.
Even if he didn't succeed in forcing Mr. Romney to disclose more tax
returns, Mr. Reid obviously intended to create doubt in some voters'
minds about Mr Romney. Some argue that was his primary intention.

No matter that Mr. Reid won't release his own tax returns, nor that Mr.
Obama won't release his own college records nor his records as an Ilinois
state senator. No matter that Mr. Reid himself is the center of numerous
controversies about his investments, personal finances, mendacity and
misuse of his office.

But the reason Harry Reid has done the GOP a big favor, particularly all
those Republican challengers to Democratic-held senate seats, is that he has
now created himself as the number one visible reason for American voters to
elect a Republican U.S. senate this November.  Harry Reid is behaving so
badly and irresponsibly that one almost misses the time when Nancy Pelosi
spoke for her party. (I said "almost.") This is only the latest example of his
mismanagement of the high office he holds. The senate has not, as required
by law, passed a budget in three years. He refused to allow bills passed by the
U.S. house to even have a vote in the senate. He has falsely described his
opponents for years. He is a profound embarrassment to his state, his
country and to the important institution he is supposed to lead. Simply put,
Harry Reid is the worst senate majority leader in modern American history.

Democrats running for U.S. house and senate seats desperately need the old
axiom "all politics is local" to be true this year. If the 2012 elections are
allowed to "go national" (as they did in 2010 when Democrats lost the U.S.
house by a large margin and had their U.S. senate majority much reduced),
it would be catastrophic for many Democratic candidates, some of whom are
already in electoral difficulty. The prolonged economic crisis, coupled with
chronic high unemployment, is not helping Democrats in 2012. Nor is the
prospect of more than a trillion dollar deficit coming soon from the immensely
unpopular Obamacare, the hot button issue that led to Democratic defeat in
2010) helping either. If you add the unpleasant face of Harry Reid to the mix,
and now he has made this inevitable, you have the formula for an historic
rejection, not just of an incumbent president, but of a whole party as well.

The political ads featuring the mean-spirited Mr. Reid, and adaptable to
virtually every close U.S. senate race this year, almost make themselves.

The races for control of the Congress are, of course, tied to the presidential
contest, but voters have historically kept the elections of the two branches
somewhat apart. To defeat an incumbent local congressman or senator
usually takes more than one's preference for president. As I said, the key to the
"nationalization" of the 2010 elections was voter antipathy to Obamacare.
Obamacare is still with us, but now what stands in the way of its repeal (and
fixing most everything else) is the Democratic-controlled U.S. senate and Harry
Reid. And, of course, President Obama. But as for voters worrying more about
an obvious spurious allegation about Mr. Romney not paying taxes, or their
antipathy to Obamacare and Mr Obama's failed administration, it isn't even close.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Saga Of A Remarkable People

We live in an era of rebounding ethnic identities, as historical groups,
many of them lacking national sovereignty or even a modicum of
political power, struggle to keep their languages, cultures, histories,
religious affiliations and (perhaps most importantly) their aspirations
alive and strong.

There are many of these ethnic groups in Europe, Africa, North America
and Asia, as well as other parts of the world. Some of them are well-known
and long-suffering. A few have been and remain virtually unknown outside
their own immediate geographical location.

Occasionally, a hitherto mostly unknown group appears through the cracks
of our mostly monolithic world cultural consciousness, and that often
happens through the reawakening ethnic consciousness of a group spurred
on by a combination of repeated persecution and by the powerful bonds of
their shared values and history.

Such a group are the Rus or the Rusyns, a Slavic people who have lived as
an ethnic entity since the Middle Ages in Central Europe, particularly in
Carpathian Mountain region which traditionally has included parts of
Ukraine, Poland, Hungsry, Russia, Slovakia, and Rumania.

The Rusyn traditionally are devout and agricultural peasants. Church life
and ritual has been central to Rusyn identity and culture.They have not
had a national identity of their own, but have live suborned in the nations
which have occupied their home lands for more than half a millennium.
Rusyn is a distinct language (just as Catalan is distinct from Spanish and
French) of the Slavic group, but many Rusyns over the centuries were
forced to speak the language of the nation which controlled their territories.
Most Rusyns are Catholics, many of whom observe the Byzantine Orthodox
rite, but who are nontheless affiliated with the Roman Catholic church in
Rome. Their priests may marry.. An almost equally large group of Rusyns
are Russian or Eastern Orthodox.

Because political boundaries in Central Europe have changed so much in
recent centuries, Rusyns have only had their ethnic identity and language
to keep them bound together. Soon after World War I, however, Rusyns from
throughout the Carpathian region met, and subsequently sent to the 1919
Paris Peace conference a delegation which asked for a national Rusyn state.
(As we now know, many of the origins of today's international political
problems stem from the often capricious re-drawing of maps of Europe, the
Middle East, and Africa, at that conference (especially in today's Middle
East where the 1919 victors imperiously carved out the new nations of Iraq,
Saudi Arabia, Syria, Palestine and Transjordan). The Rusyn's did receive a
short-lived autonomous area in Slovakia, but that was soon wiped out by
the murderous German Nazi regime which decimated the whole region.

Even before World Wars I and II, Rusyns began to emigrate from their
home lands. Some of them went to what used to be Yugoslavia, France,
Great Britain, Canada and Australia, but most came to the United States,
settling primarily in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
There are believed to be about 2 million Rusyns worldwide, with about
750,000 living in the U.S. and Canada.

Some well-known Rusyn-Americans have emerged in the U.S.. Perhaps
the most famous was Andy Warhol whose work has had a profound impact
on U.S. art and pop culture. Movie stars Sandra Dee and Tom Selleck have
Rusyn origins, as does former Pennsylvania governor and the first secretary
of homeland security, Tom Ridge. Astronaut Thomas Jones, NHL hockey
star Scott Stevens, tennis star Zaneta Husarova and Sgt. Michael Strank
(one of the men who raised the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima) also share a Rusyn
heritage. Both in Europe and the U.S. there has been an impressive
reawakening of Rusyn culture, led by Rusyn artists and scholars.

Two very notable and recent works bring Rusyn history and contemporary
literature to a broader English-speaking readership. The first is a remarkable
novel, "The Linden and the Oak" , by Rusyn-American Mark Wansa. I was
sent a copy of this book to read, but before doing so I was apprehensive
because it is long and because the author had not written a book before and
was not a "literary" person. I began the book thinking I would skim through
it, but no sooner did I read page one, I was involuntarily swept up into this
amazing saga taking me through more than a century of recent Rusyn
family life both in Europe and in the U.S. One of the novel's most
impressive chapters recounts the emigration of a Rusyn family from the
Carpathian region to America at the turn of the century. This family and
other Rusyns also emigrating at this time paralleled so many other
European refugees fleeing Europe, and on the same ships, all huddled
together in steerage. Another chapter recounts daily life in the Carpathian
farms and small villages where most of the the population were Rusyns,
but small groups of Jewish refugees had settled, fleeing from Czarist
persecutions. These Jews served as tradesmen and tavern owners in the
Rusyn homelands for more than a century, and remarkably, there was no
anti-semitic persecution from the Rusyns. In fact, the Rusyns may be the
only non-Jewish ethnic group in Europe who did not persecute their
Jewish neighbors. As author Wansa tells it, the Rusyn majorities found
the Jews among them to be curious and quaint in their practices, but
apparently, after being persecuted so long themselves, kept the Jews living
among them in an informal and tolerant sympathy.

The second book was just published. It is Elaine Rusinko's "God Is A
Rusyn," a superb collection of recent Rusyn poetry and short stories.
Elaine Rusinko, a professor at the University of Maryland, is one of
the world's foremeost Carpatho-Rusyn scholars. Her anthology presents
the powerful emotions of Rusyn identity as shaped by a thousand years of
persecution, peasant labor, religious devotion and ethnic endurance at the
most personal level. Since almost all of the Rusyn homeland was located
in territory controlled by the Soviet Union and its satellites until about 25
years ago, and it was Soviet policy that the Rusyns were not a distinct
ethnic group, nor that Rusyn was a separate language, modern Rusyn
literature is a recent phenomenon. In fact, Rusyn literature really did not
exist until the middle of the 19th century. The Rusinko book only includes
Rusyn literary work of recent years. The outpouring of Rusyn poetry
and fiction today is thus all the more remarkable, and Professor Rusinko's
book makes some of the best of this mini-renaissance available to readers
to English through a number of excellent translators.She, furthermore, in
her selections for the anthology displays much of the variety of new
Rusyn literature, some of it traditional and some of it experimental, all
of it revealing Rusyn sensibilities.

The Rusyn people are not the largest ethnic group in central Europe; in
fact, worldwide they are a relatively small group. What is most remarkable
about the sudden flowering of this long-suppressed people, their language
and culture, is that everywhere in the Rusyn world, in its Trans-Carpathian
homeland, and in their diaspora in the West, there is so much energy,
passion and celebration, as well as creation of new institutions of education
for the Rusyn youth of today and for the generations ahead. While so many
persons in the West seem to be retreating from their ethnic origins and
their cultures, here is a group which seems to be embracing and
intensifying theirs.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.