Saturday, May 31, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Surprise In The Minnesota U.S. Senate Race

Going into this weekend’s Republican state convention in
Rochester, MN, it was not expected that businessman Mike
McFadden could win party endorsement for the U.S. senate

In fact, State Senator Julianne Ortman was the consensus
favorite to win the endorsement, and was then expected to
contest for the nomination in the state’s August primary with
the better-funded McFadden who had the support of most of
the big-name party leaders.

Four other GOP candidates also were in the race for party
endorsement, including  a county commissioner from
northern Minnesota, Chris Dahlberg.

But the convention did not go according to most anyone’s
plans. From the first through the eighth ballot, Commissioner
Dahlberg surprisingly led the balloting. McFadden was second,
and State Senator Ortman trailed in third place from the outset,
and was eliminated from the balloting after the fifth ballot. She
had stated throughout her campaign that she would honor the
party endorsement, as had Dahlberg. Mr. McFadden, however,
made it clear that he would be on the primary ballot no matter
the result in Rochester.

The party endorsement process over the past several years has
been failing in Minnesota in both major parties. In fact, the
current Democratic (in Minnesota, called the Democratic-
Farmer- Labor Party or DFL) Governor Mark Dayton had
defeated the DFL-endorsed gubernatorial candidate in 2010,
and had gone on to win the general election. In this year’s
GOP convention, the other major business will be the
endorsement for governor, but already two of the major
gubernatorial candidates have announced they will go
directly to the party primary in August.

Mrs. Ortman’s campaign had suggested, after her elimination
from the balloting that, if there were no subsequent party
endorsement, she would also run in the primary, but that now
seems very unlikely after McFadden’s surprise victory in

Mike McFadden now will face incumbent DFL Senator Al
Franken in November. A political novice, but a successful
businessman with a rags-to-riches story and a large attractive
Irish-American family, McFadden had been favored to win a
contentious and expensive August primary while Franken
coasted all summer building up his political money chest.
This scenario made Franken a strong favorite to win
re-election in spite of a developing national Republican trend,
and the fact that he voted for controversial Obamacare.

McFadden’s unexpected success at the GOP state convention
now potentially alters this scenario. With almost $2 million
cash on hand, already a successful track record at fundraising,
ability to self-fund, and a whole summer to concentrate his
political assault on the incumbent, this race now moves a few
tiers up the competitive ladder.

To be sure, Al Franken remains the clear favorite in this race,
but following a national pattern this cycle (and unlike their
pattern in 2010 and 2012), Republicans are mostly choosing
their strongest candidates to contest the 10-14 competitive
U.S. races in 2014.

I would now change this race from “strongly favoring the
Democrat” to “leaning Democrat.” As elsewhere in the
nation this political cycle, this could become a very interesting

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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


For some time, the U.S. media has been preoccupied with
news from China, our nation’s newly-emerged principal
competitor on the world market and a potential political

Several years ago, a previous Chinese leadership abandoned
traditional Marxist economic policy and adopted a Western
model adapted to their continuing non-democratic (totalitarian)
political structure. Following the mainland Chinese
communist revolution in 1949, led by Mao Tse Tung, the
Chinese People’s Republic which resulted was globally
isolated and rigorously totalitarian with a Marxist economic
model. Allied then with the Soviet Union, the world’s
other large communist state, the Chinese went through a
series of unsuccessful  and ruthless societal transformations.
In the early 1970’s, sensing a political opportunity, U.S. President
Richard Nixon went to China and initiated a “thaw” in
U.S./Chinese relations.

China has for most of recent history been the world’s largest
nation in population. Lacking political freedom and some
vital natural resources in spite of its large land mass, China
was unable to prosper under a Marxist model. Its population
approached and then exceeded one billion persons, many of
them living in rural areas.

It size, its potential for future conflict, and its recent partial
capitalist transformation, have made it a constant and
irresistible news story in the U.S. and Europe.

At the same time as the Chinese Peoples Republic was founded,
however, another Asian nation, India, formerly a British colony,
formed an independent democratic (but socialist) nation under
its founder Jawaral Nehru and his Congress Party. Nehru’s India
did not ally itself with Great Britain or the U.S., but was a
leading force in the emerging  so-called Third World, a large
number of mostly left-leaning and developing nations which
remained more or less neutral in the Cold War. But Nehru often
sided cautiously with his powerful neighbors, the Soviet Union
and China. India’s religious problems and socialist economy
kept this huge Asian nation from true economic success and
domestic stability for decades.

Estimates recently suggest that India's population is now equal
to, or exceeds the population of China. In any case, each nation
now has a population which is greater than 1.2 billion persons.

Only in 1998, when the conservative Hindu nationalist Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) took control of the government, and turned
the Indian economy to free market capitalism under Prime
Minster Atal Vajpayee, did the sub-continent begin to take its
place in world trade and to thrive domestically.

In 2004, the leftist Congress Party, still controlled by the Ghandi
family dynasty, returned to power, and the Indian economy soon
stalled. At the same time, long-term tensions with its other large
neighbor, Pakistan (the other nation which was created from
colonial India), increased. Both nations possess nuclear weapons.

Now in 2014, Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist (and
pro-Western capitalist) Bharatiya Janata Party has been elected
prime minister in what can only be described as a voter landslide.
He and his party now have a clear majority in the Indian
parliament’s lower house and control the government.

Modi faces many internal social problems, including protecting
the rights of Hindu minorities, other religious minorities and the
large Moslem population, all of which have faced severe
discrimination in the past.

Indian society is quite divided by caste, religion, language and its
geography. Of the latter, the regional identities of Kashmir,
Bengal, Punjab, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu are some areas which
constitute ongoing vexing problems for any India government.

Here’s how some demographics break down.

Hindus number 80%of the population; Moslems 13%; Christians
2.4%; Sikhs 1.6%;  Buddhists 1.5%, Jainists 0.5%.

The population of Utter Pradesh state is 200 million,
Maharashta 112 million, Bihar 104 million, West Bengal 91
million, Andhra Pradesh 84 million, Madhya Pradesh 73
million, Tamil Nadu 72 million, Rajasthan 62 million,
Karnataka 61 million, Gujarat 60 million,  and
Odisha 42 million. All of these India states are larger than
California, the largest U.S. state. There are also a number
of Indian states with lower populations.

The caste system in India had its origins in early Hindu
history, but virtually all religions in India, including
Christianity, have imposed a caste system. The practice
was beginning to disappear by the time the British took
over the subcontinent as a colony, but the British revived
the system as a means of exerting their control over the
population. Long criticized within and without India, the
caste system in illegal under the Indian constitution, and
recently “untouchables” (the lowest level of the caste
system) have been elected to the highest positions in the
government. Informal caste prejudice, however, persists in
modern India, although it is diminishing with each new

Hindi speakers number 400 million, Bengali 83 million,
Telugu 74 million, Marathi 72 million, Tamil 61 million,
Urdu  53 million, Gujerati 46 million, Kannada 40 million,
Punjabi 34 million, Oriya 33 million, Malayam 33 million,
Maithill 32 million, and more than 100 million speak more
than 200 native languages. English is an official second
language of India, but only about 50 million speak it fluently.
A combination of English, Hindi and other local languages
is called Hinglish, and it is spoken by about 350 million in
India (and many Indian immigrants also speak it in the
Untied Kingdom).

These numbers and statistics are astonishing by U.S.
standards, and make it difficult for Americans to properly
evaluate the  extraordinarily complex political environment
of India.

The election of Narendra Modi is potentially the most
significant democratic election in the world in the 21st
century, especially if he and his party are able to revive the
free market reforms of his BJP predecessor Atal Vajpayee,
and resolve the myriad of subcontinental problems Mr.
Vajpayee could not accomplish in his six-year term.

The implications of this election for the United States,
European Union and the Middle East are potentially
tremendous. For this reason, as Mr. Modi and his party
take over and begin their leadership of India, we will
revisit their progress and stewardship going, hopefully,

to India, nor am I scholar of Indian history and culture.
Between 1966 and 2010, however, I had many encounters
and intersections with Indian political and cultural figures
and Indian life, including almost two decades of hosting
numerous Indian members of parliament (from all parties)
and future cabinet officers and governors as my active part
in the U.S.I.A. International Visitor Program. Before and
during that period, I also met with various Indian literary
and cultural figures. Some of my literary work was
translated by them into Bengali (Calcutta) at that time, and
throughout I have pursued a lifelong interest in Indian
philosophy, music, literature, art, dance and cuisine. The
above article is meant only to be a very brief outline of an
ancient culture and nation which is emerging once again as
a great force in the world.]

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

Sunday, May 25, 2014


It might be considered unusual that so little has changed
in the competitive U.S. house and senate  races since the
first of the year. But it does make historical sense.

Of course, there has been some movement, primarily to
the Republicans as a number of senate seats, originally
considered “safe Democratic” have become competitive.
At the same time, the number of potential Democratic
pick-ups has dwindled to two, Kentucky and Georgia.

The reason for the small amount of movement, yet the
drift to the GOP, has been the standing and performance
of President Obama. He remains consistently under 50%,
and most often in the low to mid-40%. The primary
impetus for the Democrats’ defensiveness was, of course,
the roll-out and aftermath of Obamacare. Since the first
of the year, new problems have emerged for the Obama
administration, including its continuing block on the
public-supported Keystone pipeline, scandals in government
surveillance of the general public, the performance of the
Veterans hospitals and administration, and the continued
apparent failures in foreign policy around the world.
Supporters of the president and his policies could point out
that these political problems have not further eroded the
president’s popularity, and that, although now 8-10, and
possibly 11-13 senate seats are in play, the Democrats have
not as yet lost a single seat, and remain competitive in most
of the seats in play.

I have previously cautioned readers, regardless of their
political inclinations, to be careful about proclaiming any
premature victories or defeats, and I continue to do so, but I
cannot fail to observe that while many voters are still sticking
with the president, there are signs that this loyalty is wearing
thin. In fact, I have observed over the years that voters will
stick with a president up to a threshold. When that threshold
is breached, however, support quickly erodes at a greater
velocity and in greater numbers. We have seen this during
the White House years of Mr. Nixon, Mr. Ford, Mr. Carter,
Mr. H.W. Bush and Mr. W. Bush. So it might yet be for Mr.
Obama. In the case of Mr. Carter and Mr. H.W. Bush, it cost
them re-election. It cost Mr. Ford his first actual election.
For Mr. Nixon, Mr. W. Bush and, potentially, for Mr. Obama,
it’s a circumstance that prevented the election of their party’s
presidential candidate.

Until and only if that threshold is crossed, however, no secure
prediction for 2014 can be made, other than the obvious loss of
some Democratic seats in the senate, and the maintenance of
control of the house by the Republicans. Nor can their be a
useful prediction yet be made about 2016.

With Hillary Clinton now dominating the conversation on the
Democratic side in 2016, and Jeb Bush now in the forefront of
the conversation on the Republican side, pundits, strategists
and party activists risk missing any vital signals from their
respective grass roots about who the country really wants to
be the next president. Opinion polls 30 months before a
presidential election are invariably misleading and
incomplete --- and often plainly wrong.

There is no use in rushing these matters. We like to watch a
whole play, not just its ending.

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

Thursday, May 22, 2014


The U.S. secretary of defense just gave a speech stating
that a “new world order” is forming. This phrase usually
provokes many on the far right and far left with paranoic
anxieties, since it is often part of their views that the world
is always being controlled by some dark and demonic forces.
It can also create unease among folks more in the political
center if they know their history, and recall the phrase
being used almost a century ago as totalitarian fascist and
communist regimes arose intending to impose themselves
on their particular nations and on the world.

President George H.W. Bush used the phrase during his
presidency with the rational purpose of attempting to create
a stable and humane democratic world order as he assembled
a broad coalition to conduct the brief Persian Gulf War, and
restore the small nation of Kuwait to the sovereignty it lost
when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein overran it, and was also
threatening other neighbor states.

The concept, if not the phrase, goes back centuries as the
evolving primitive tribes of the human species began to form
countries, and were constantly invading or being invaded by
neighboring countries or forces. The first modern “new world
order” was probably created at the 1815 Congress of Vienna in
the aftermath of Napoleon’s conquest of much of Europe when
Austrian Prince Metternich and others fashioned the “chandelier
balance of power” in Europe with the purpose of bringing some
stability and peace to the hostile myriad of rival kingdoms,
duchies, nations, factions, religions and regions of that continent.
(Not coincidentally, the modern industrial revolution had just

Since that time, each attempt to create stability and peace in
the world has ultimately failed, and been replaced with new
treaties and organizations which, in turn, failed and were
replaced. The United Nations (U.N.) is the current global form
of these structures, and in smaller form, numerous regional
economic and military alliances. While some of the smaller
organizations are holding their own, the U.N. has become
overall an ineffective debacle in which radical and totalitarian
member states have made its founding principle of human
rights and non-violent global relationships a caricature.

The essential point is that the world is in a permanent state of
economic development and political evolution, and that the
condition known popularly as a “new world order” is a
constant global process (as is, incidentally, global climate).

The recent economic emergence of the world’s largest nations
(in population), including China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and
Russia, hitherto undeveloped large consumer markets because
of totalitarian rule or colonial suppression, clearly signals a
major adjustment of the world order.

Earlier powers such as Europe (now as the European Union) and
the United States, remain as dominating economic nations for
the time being, but global economic change is clearly coming.

It is entirely understandable that the 20th century democratic
inheritors of the old, ornate aristocratic “chandelier” world order
would be profoundly concerned as they try to anticipate and
prepare for another “new world order” created by the ceaseless
energy of history and the brooding and relentless “revolt of the
masses” so prophetically described by the Spanish philosopher
Ortega y Gasset almost a century ago.

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

Saturday, May 17, 2014


In his pithy, provocative, funny, sometimes outrageous,
and often profound book We Are Doomed: Reclaiming
Conservative Pessimism
, British-born commentator John
Derbyshire writes:

“Education is a vast sea of lies, waste, corruption, crackpot
theorizing, and careerist logrolling.”

I wish I could say that Mr. Derbyshire overstates the case,
but surveying K-12 and university education in the U.S.
today, I cannot do so. With exceptions in some experiments
with charters, vouchers, home-schooling, and other
private schools, public urban K-12 education is a national
fiasco and disgrace.  Certain school reformers also have
some interesting, if sweeping, proposals for change, but
those and public K-12 education are a subject which requires
much more discussion than I can provide in this space.

Instead, I want to point to the latest outrage in higher
education, a field which is becoming a Tartar steppe of
intimidation against free speech and an empty reservoir
of bleak politically-correct curricula.

A time-honored practice at graduation time is the
commencement remarks of prominent public figures in
American public life. These not only include presidents and
former presidents, but other elected official and cabinet
officers, as well as major personalities in science, business,
the military, and the arts.

In very recent years, and especially this year, this custom
is becoming an endangered species, as small extremist
groups are intimidating  college and university
administrations to disinvite or avoid inviting at all some
very distinguished speakers because of their roles in
American or international public life.

I won’t rehash how ludicrous it was for hitherto prestigious
colleges and universities this year to turn away persons of
great accomplishment. What I want to point  out how these
actions and the epidemic of political correctness, now so
pervasive on so many American campuses, is only hastening
the day when higher education will take place primarily online
or in alternative models. The primary argument for the
traditional undergraduate college or university has been the
socializing experience of college life, the personal interaction
between students, and between students and faculty. That is
not only disintegrating rapidly, but the financial cost of
providing this now-questionable experience has become
prohibitive, and it is only a matter of time before American
parents turn to alternative higher education experiences for
their children. Graduate schools and graduate education
will likely remain on smaller campuses, but undergraduate
education, I now believe, is an endangered species, made all
the more vulnerable by its own hands, and its own follies.

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

Sunday, May 11, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: 2016 Presidential Debates

The Republican National Committee (RNC) has just acted to
reclaim control of the 2016 presidential television debates.

The 2012 debates were fascinating, but there were clearly
too many of them, and the media which hosted them
unfairly too often acted more like a prosecutor than an
impartial body of moderators. There was no contest for
the Democratic nomination in 2012, so all of the debates
took place on the GOP side.

Since their outset with the now legendary 1960 Nixon-Kennedy
debates, these events have served to introduce the candidates
to large audiences. More recently, the TV debates have not
only included the formal confrontation of the two (or
occasionally three) major party nominees, but also have
included the major contestants for the presidency during the
primary and caucus season leading up to the general election.
As well, a more recent addition has included the vice
presidential nominees in debate.

In 2016, there will be no incumbent president running, so
there will be an open contest in each party.

The 2012 debate experience included about 20 debates.
Lacking the major funding for his effort until very late in
the campaign, former Speaker New Gingrich dominated
most of the debates (except the vital Florida debate) and thus
put himself in serious contention, particularly in the debate
just before the South Carolina primary.

But Gingrich aside, the debates were too long and too many.
As Texas Governor Rick Perry discovered, one slip in his first
TV debate became so magnified he could not recover.
Sensational issues in the debate were not often the most
serious issues to be discussed. Frontrunners appeared in one
debate and faded in the next. Sometimes, it appeared more as
a soap opera, especially as biased moderators often intruded
in the debate.

Mr. Gingrich debate ascendance was no accident. He was a
student of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, and in 2007
he organized a debate between himself and former New York
Governor Mario Cuomo, a Democrat, at Manhattan’s Cooper
Union, the site where Lincoln had made a speech that
catapulted him to the Republican nomination in 1860. (In
full disclosure, I worked with Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Cuomo and
the debate staff in organizing that occasion.)

Perhaps more than any other aspirant in 2012, Mr. Gingrich had
the skills and the understanding of the psychology of TV
debates to perform best, and to emerge during them even
though he was not the frontrunner (as Mitt Romney was), or an
early caucus/primary winner. Another previously unknown
candidate, Herman Cain, also had early debate success, much
of it attributed to his personality.

Whatever I say about the RNC action, incidentally, equally
applies to the Democrats and their national committee.
Although Hillary Clinton is a heavy favorite at this time win
her party’s nod, there will no doubt be at least one or more
significant other Democratic presidential aspirants by the time
2016 arrives, and they, too, should be in discussion with the RNC
and the networks, about control of the debate calendar.
Furthermore, each party should have veto power over the
selection of the moderators of each debate, thus avoiding the
excesses of 2012.

Mr. Kennedy won the 1960 TV debates by a close shave, as it were,
and considering how close was the subsequent popular and
electoral vote that November, there can be little doubt that
presidential debates are important. In 2016, they might also be
critical to the outcome.

In an article I wrote with Mr. Gingrich for Real Clear Politics
in 2008, we argued that debate format also is very important.
The word “debate” is not really accurate in the formal sense
when TV presidential debates are discussed. They bear little
resemblance to formal debates of the past, including the
iconic Lincoln-Douglas debates. Of course, the environment
of television would not support classical debate formats, but
that does not prevent each party’s national committee insisting
on rules that will enhance the public awareness of 2016’s most
important issues, and how the individual candidates stand on
those issues.

Kudos to the RNC and its chairman for taking an important
first step to make the 2016 presidential debates fair, interesting
and useful. It is not insignificant that Mr. Gingrich, now the
emeritus leading expert on presidential debates, has endorsed
the RNC action (with the proviso, however, that the ability of a
lesser known, lesser funded candidate’s opportunity to emerge
from them be preserved). He also says, “The next step will be
for the two parties to eliminate the federal debate commission
and hold the Fall debates on their own terms.”

Mr. Gingrich also points out that the primary/caucus debates
are valuable in preparing the eventual nominee of each party
for the “tough” general election campaign. Although he did not
win the election, I think it is fair to say that Mitt Romney was
a much better candidate for his experience in the debates that
preceded his nomination.

This is precisely the moment for each party to act on and sort
out the issues of the presidential debates, and put an effective
and useful system in place in time for 2016.

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

Thursday, May 8, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Emerging Tone of 2014

I noted a few months ago that it appeared that the
Republican Party and its grass roots had decided they
wanted to win the 2014 national midterm elections
decisively with their best candidates for competitive
U.S. house and senate seats.

Tuesday’s primaries in North Carolina and Ohio
reinforce my earlier observations. Most notably, North
Carolina house Speaker Thom Tillis won enough votes
to become the GOP nominee without going to a
runoff. Tillis had been opposed in the primary by
two so-called Tea Party protest candidates, and as
they have done in recent elections, Democratic Party
strategists spent money against him hoping it would
elect one of the protest candidates (who would of course
be easier to beat in November). Democrats did this
successfully in races in 2010 and 2012, most notably in
Missouri where they spent more than $1 million to defeat
a strong GOP senate candidate, The result was a weak
and gaffe-prone Republican senate nominee who lost in
November to an otherwise vulnerable Democratic

(There has been, incidentally, little media discussion of
the political ethics of one party interfering and intruding
in the candidate selection process of the other party.
This has been particularly true of the biased so-called
“mainstream” media, which in fact have mostly cheered
this practice on, resulting in the success of their
preferred candidates. After two cycles of this, however,
the Republican electorate has evidently caught on to
the mischief, as North Carolina and other primaries
have demonstrated. Led by Harry Reid in competitive
senate races, the practice continues, but it is now likely
to turn out to be mostly a waste of campaign dollars
that might be more needed in November. Doing this is not
illegal, of course, but it might be interesting to see how
loudly Democrats and their media friends complain if
Republican strategists resorted to the same practice in
future elections.)

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who led the fight to block
Mr. Tillis’s primary win in North Carolina by campaigning
for an obviously flawed Tea party candidate, then did the
right thing by immediately and strongly endorsing Tillis
on primary night. Mr. Paul, who is emerging as a serious
contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination,
hopefully learned an important lesson from this experience,
especially as he has been reaching out beyond his libertarian
base to gain support for 2016. As Governor Chris Christie
learned in 2012 when he “embraced” Barack Obama in the
closing days of that campaign, a certain party loyalty is
necessary if one expects to then obtain party support for
oneself. (It will be interesting to observe how Senator Ted
Cruz of Texas, another GOP protest figure with national
ambitions, will conduct himself during the rest of the 2014

More contests with intraparty challenges lie ahead, most
notably in Georgia, Kentucky, Alaska and Iowa. In these
races so far, the strongest GOP candidates appear to be ahead,
although surprises can yet happen. On the Democratic side,
the left wing of the party appears to be stirring, especially
against the prospects of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic
nominee in 2016, but so far Democrats are not indulging in
intraparty fights against their own U.S. house and senate
candidates. Democrats, to their advantage, avoided these
squabbles in 2010 and 2012, and reaped rewards for their

Public opposition to Obamacare remains the largest issue
of 2014 so far, but other issues are emerging, including
President Obama’s stubborn refusal to permit the
construction of the Keystone pipeline to please a few
rich supporters (but not his union friends), and some
pocketbook issues such as a sluggish economy and
raising the minimum wages. Democrats hope the latter
will work to their advantage.

Although foreign policy issues very rarely affect midterm
elections, the constant headlines featuring Russian
aggressiveness in Ukraine, Chinese aggressiveness in
Asia, North Korean provocations, and bestial murder and
kidnapping by warlords in Africa, to name only the most
prominent, could have an affect on voters, especially if they
want to protest Mr. Obama’s foreign policy.

The curious advice by administration supporters and some
Democratic strategist for candidates to “double down” by
supporting unpopular and controversial Obama policies
so far does not seem to be working for most of these
vulnerable Democratic candidates. Those who early on
have tried to separate themselves from Washington, DC
seem to be having the most success. In the U.S. senate, now
controlled by the Democrats, majority leader Harry Reid
is becoming more and more erratic in his speeches and
pubic comments, and thus further enabling the 2014 election
to be nationalized, something which in this cycle clearly
helps the Republicans.

With six months to go, and a potential electoral catastrophe
for the Democrats approaching, it would seem only a matter
of time before Mr. Reid, Mrs, Pelosi and other liberal
hardliners are superseded or abandoned by cooler heads
in their party who still want to win.

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

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Successions And Successors

I think it’s becoming clearer and clearer that we are in a
period when political power is being transferred to and
taken up by new generations in American politics.

Some might want to characterize this generation transfer
as “better” or “worse” than the previous one, to a more
“liberal” or more “conservative” group of men and women,
but I see it, at this stage, as only an inevitable and timeless
process with consequences yet unknown.

In due course, we will be able to describe it in contrast to
the past, but such descriptions will always be subjective,
and mostly determined by the long-held views of observers
and commentators about those who are having power
transferred from them or the new views of those receiving

Some of the most bitterly contested issues in the recent past,
however, are not likely to arouse the passions of those
inheriting power in each national political party or even of
new generations of voters. I suspect that a growing secular
character in young Americans will diminish the size of
partisanship on many, but not necessarily all, social issues.
Instead, facing seemingly bleaker economic prospects than
did their parents and grandparents, younger Americans,
already immersed in the new digital technologies which have
so recently come to dominate daily life in U.S. society, will
turn their greatest attention to issues, although previously
raised, that they perceive are more immediate to their

The demographic shifts on the American geo-political
landscape are part of this transfer, as are the so-called
“diversity” issues raised by recent immigration. Hispanic,
southeast Asian, east African and other “minority” group
new settlements and concentrations, especially in urban
centers across the country, are changing grass roots
priorities and attitudes.

At the same time, there is intensification of old conflicts
brought about by new circumstances. While younger
generations are inheriting more and more power, there is
the significant reality that notably longer life expectancy
in the nation is producing a larger and larger group of
so-called senior citizens, most of whom not only hold onto
their long-held views on social and political issues, but who
also intensely defend  and assert themselves on what they
consider their economic interests, including social security,
pensions, healthcare and entitlements. I have already noted
a growing “secular” character in the life of younger
Americans, but that should not ignore a notable revival of
religious life among many in the population. This is likely
to keep certain social issues on a political front burner, but
possibly with a certain shift in emphases, especially again,
among younger Americans.

These transfers of generational power are as old as our
republic, and they usually take place with the frequency of
several decades. I think the present chapter of this transfer
saw a certain marker in 2008 when, partly in reaction to the
post-9/11 global and domestic events, the electorate chose
a young black presidential candidate. The next presidential
election in 2016 will likely be in part a judgment on that
choice, and the values it brought with it, as well as, lacking
an incumbent, a fresh expression of new voter expectations
about the future.

I sense a certain dissonance between the most
often mentioned presidential candidates in both parties
and the transfer-of-power phenomenon I have been
describing. We might be now underestimating the appeal of
younger and newer candidates in each party when the
nomination process actually begins about 18 months from
now. The often-expressed distaste of “political dynasties,”
for example, should not be dismissed out of hand.

The election of 2016 could resemble 1960 in this generational
sense. Two young post-World War II candidates won their
party nominations from older figures who had been, only a
few years earlier, considered perhaps more likely nominees.
Of course, there are significant differences between 1960 and
2016, but 1960 did turn out, in then-new President Kennedy’s
words, a torch-passing to “a new generation of Americans.”

I am writing this because I sense a certain “it’s business as
usual” attitude that is widespread today across the ideological
board. If there is concern about innovation, it is currently
mostly about the new technologies of voter ID, GOTV and
polling. As the 2012 presidential contest demonstrated, those
are important, but as former Speaker Newt Gingrich and
others have been signaling us, there are other, and more
profound, “break-outs” taking place in American life.

The question to be answered, as I see it, is whether the
national elections of 2016 will reflect these transformations
of American society, or whether the consequences of
change will be postponed politically until 2020 or later.

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

Sunday, May 4, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Is Happening In Eastern Europe?

The ongoing situation in Ukraine is becoming more
complicated each day. An original Ukrainian nationalist
uprising in the western part of this nation overthrew an
unpopular pro-Russian leader who fled to Russia. In the
Crimean province of Ukraine, mostly inhabited by Russian
speakers, an uprising then occurred, demanding that Crimea
be reunited with Russia. During the period of the Soviet
Union, Crimea had been given to Ukraine. A plebiscite then
overwhelmingly approved this, and Russian troops entered
the Black Sea peninsula while the Russian parliament
confirmed the reunification. Unrest by pro-Russian forces
in eastern Ukraine, where there are also many Russian
speakers. then also agitated for more autonomy and special
rights for Russian speakers. Mobs in various cities of eastern
Ukraine took over local government facilities, and the
Ukrainian army initially was unable to counter these actions.
When they did finally act to restore order, they met not only
further resistance, but new calls for a plebiscite in eastern
Ukraine to also either become an independent state or
re-unite with Russia. The new Ukrainian government so far
seems unable to stem the deteriorating circumstances in its
various regions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, upset by the revolution in
western Ukraine, has been seen to encourage the pro-Russian
nationalist movements in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, but
has, at the same time, been perceived by leaders in the U.S.
and the European Union as attempting to reassemble in some
form the old Soviet Union, especially after he made comments
about protecting the rights of Russian speakers int he Baltic
nation of Estonia, itself also a former Soviet province.

Western leaders, led by U.S. President Obama, have opposed
these Russian moves in eastern Europe, defended the
independence of Ukraine (which is not a member of NATO)
and Estonia (which is a member), and threatened economic
sanctions against Russia.

President Putin has dismissed these economic threats, and
perhaps sensing that the U.S. and the E.U. have neither the
ability nor the will to block him, has continued to issue dire
warnings about the unrest, all of which, it must be noted, is
taking place on its borders.

An agreement between Russia and the West was then
negotiated to calm matters down, but pro-Russian nationalist
forces in eastern Ukraine have paid no attention to this, and
Ukraine now appears to be at the edge of a full civil war.

Stepping back to view the economic circumstances in the
region at this time, the Russian economy appears to be
entering a period of recession. But its huge reserves of oil and
gas (which enabled it to recover from a disastrous period
following the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s)
still are major energy exports to and resources for Ukraine
and western Europe. The threat of discontinued sale of these
resources is a considerable Russian lever against the western
Ukrainian government in Kiev, and secondarily against E.U.
nations which depend on Russian oil and gas supplies. On the
other hand, without the income from these energy sales to
Europe, Russia, already in recession, risks major new internal
economic turmoil. Depending on the nature of threatened
Western sanctions, the Russian economy could also be further

The reacquisition of Crimea has also brought notable new
debt to the Russian economy, and in spite of eastern Ukraine
being the site of much of that nation’s industry, the
reoccupation of that region would only pile on to Russian
economic obligations at a time when it cannot afford to do so.

Further complicating matters, there is some evidence that
Russian control of nationalist forces in eastern Ukraine
might be becoming more and more limited, and there is the
danger, as suggested by a former British diplomat to Russia
(in an interview in the British newspaper, The Independent)
that Putin now could be drawn into a situation in eastern
Ukraine beyond his control and which is not in his interests.

Mr. Putin, operating in the long historical tradition of Russian
rulers going back to the czarist period and the Stalinist Soviet
period, does not apparently behave with the diplomatic
niceties expected in the West, and as the biggest shark in the
sea of eastern European politics, has moved with brute force,
intimidation, and masked military infiltration in this conflict.

But Mr. Putin’s Russia is no longer the immense Cold War
force the Soviet Union was. The USSR’s marxist-socialist
economy was eventually no match for Western capitalism, and
the new Russian market economy is still in its early stages.
Mr. Obama’s inept foreign policy, especially in relationship to
Russia, has perhaps led Mr. Putin to believe that the U.S. is no
longer a force to be contended with, but the American leader’s
naive go-along-get-along attitude, and clumsy attempts to
reset U.S. relationships in Europe and the Middle East, have
seemed to have run out their course. With the failure of
U.S.-promoted negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,
the failure to bring a settlement in Syria, the continued nuclear
military program in Iran, and the disintegration of U.S.
expectations for the “Arab spring” in Egypt, Libya (including
the still-unexplained State Department role in Benghazi) and
elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as the break-down in
U.S.- Russian diplomacy, the retreat of the U.S. militarily
across the globe, the new challenges from China, the instability
of North Korea, and the recent damage in U.S. relationships
with its oldest allies, it would seem that President Obama is
obliged to rethink his original foreign policy assumptions in
a major way. With almost no lasting major foreign policy
accomplishments in his first six years in office (unless you
count his elimination of Bin Laden), and not a few blunders,
Mr. Putin might be presupposing that Mr. Obama and his
foreign policy team (or their successors) cannot now reassert
American power.

A key to restoring stability in central Europe might be
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. The reunited German
republic is now an even more dominant partner in the
European Union. Relations between the U.S. and Germany
have been upset by revelations of U.S. spying on the
chancellor, and there is economic rivalry (as well as
interdependence) between the U.S. and the E.U., but the
long-term global interests of the two largest forces in the
West still are inherently linked. Germany is attempting to
handle its leading role in Europe today with understandable
and laudable sensitivity to its recent past (when it caused so
much destruction and suffering in two aggressive world wars).
This sensitivity explains much of Mrs. Merkel’s caution. The
question is, however, do the times require more caution or more

One possible solution to the Ukrainian crisis might be a
negotiated settlement, engineered by Mrs. Merkel, along the
lines one has previously emerged in Canada in regard to
Quebec, or Spain in regard to Catalonia, i.e., dual language
recognition and some autonomy.

U.S. retreat  and attempts to change its worldwide relationships
has created an increasing global power vacuum. In the
continuing Ukrainian crisis, there are signs that Mr. Obama is
beginning to realize that there are limits to that retreat without
dire consequences, and there is a need for old friends that
cannot be replaced.

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

Thursday, May 1, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Quick Takes 2014 - No. 2

We are now in the not-quite-clear period of the 2014 national
mid-term elections when competitive U.S. house and senate
races are not fully inhabited with their full cast of characters.
What is partially clear is that there is so far a “trend” putting
many incumbent Democrats, especially senators, on the
defensive and quite vulnerable. With no presidential election,
continued domestic economic problems, and above all, the
exceedingly weak launch of Obamacare, this “trend” has
grown in recent months, creating the possibility that
Republicans might not only win back control of the senate,
but might as well increase the size of their control of the U.S.
house. We have been in a similar place before, in 2010 and
2012, but only in 2010 did the “trend” continue and grow
through election day. In 2012, the Democratic president was
re-elected with a superior get-out-the-vote effort and, in some
notable cases, better candidates --- and the trend was blunted.

Just as the Democrats were out-campaigned in 2004, and
organized superior campaigns in 2008 and 2012, the GOP has
been attempting to catch up in voter ID technology and other
innovations in campaign strategy. We won’t know if they have
succeeded until election day, but there is little doubt they are
trying. The Democrats have to defend not only Obamacare,
the obvious “politics” of delaying the Keystone oil pipeline,
an unpopular incumbent president near his lowest level in
the polls, and the seeming decline of U.S. standing in the world,
they have to do it with no clear and underlying principle of
government other than the controversial notions of
“redistribution” of wealth and resources.These latter include
emotional issues such as raising the minimum wage which,
as did social security in previous cycles, puts Republicans on
the defensive.  Other emotional issues such as immigration
reform have historically also put Republicans on defense, and
cost them votes. The GOP leadership, facing dissident wings in
their own party, is having a time of it trying to navigate through
some very troubled political waters. These and various other
countervailing forces complicate the emerging political “trends”
of the 2014 elections. This uncertainty will likely continue until
the summer when the competitive races are more defined and
the state of the economy is clearer.

What must be most disturbing to Democratic strategists, however,
is the procession of incumbent vulnerabilty from one level, or tier,
to races thought to be “safe.” A recent attempt by some Democrats
to suggest this was not happening through bogus polls fell flat
when more credible polls rebuked this. A “bunker mentality” of
defending Obamacare and other administration policies has
arisen, but as I have suggested for many months, at some point,
the instinct for self-preservation by many vulnerable Democrats
will predominate over blind party loyalties.

Those who follow each competitive race, and write about them,
have seen little movement in recent days, although the overall
“trend” continues for now. In a few competitive states, such as
Minnesota, Democrats are doing well in statewide races, although
even there they could lose a U.S. house seat and control of the
state house of representatives, but these details will have to wait
for warmer weather.  In this environment, individual races,
flawed candidates in both parties, blunders by campaigns
and individuals, and factionalism will dominate the political
news. Yet make no mistake, an enormous quantity of political
work is already taking place behind the electoral chatter.

The media, but not the electorate, will also fill the time with
endless speculation about 2016 presidential candidates, and at
least one side will try to create the impression that their
nomination contest is over. It need not be said enough, however
in regard to 2016, and even about 2014, there is more than enough
time for new turns, flips, and somersaults in the acrobatic
spectacle of it all.

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