Wednesday, June 29, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Polls? For Now, Ignore Them

If you begin to read an article that’s based primarily on poll
results, my advice is to stop reading and go on to something

My reasoning is based on the now irrefutable evidence that
political public opinion polls in competitive or controversial
contests in virtually all major Western nations, particularly
in the U.S. and Great Britain have been chronically wrong for
some time.

Dramatic poll numbers in the U.S. presidential primaries, and
now in the match-up between Donald Trump and Hillary
Clinton flip-flop in a matter of days or a few weeks, and that’s
assuming the dubious premise that these results are in any
way accurate at the time they were taken. Even exit polls have
been wrong.

Public polling has been an honorable profession when the
pollsters have maintained high standards, as many have. But
the rise of the use of the cell phone, internet and social media
has introduced a new level, if you will, of Heisenberg’s
uncertainty principle (the measuring device alters the
measure), and the disinclination of the millions of angry
voters to disclose their true feelings to pollsters has reached
epidemic levels.

In normal times, when political rules and traditions dominate
the political environment, polling errors exist, but are relatively
infrequent. Usually, those errors are caused by the pollsters
themselves, i.e., by some bias, by flawed questions, by flawed
samples. In a time such as we are now in, specifically the 2016
presidential campaign season, the flaws in public opinion
polling might be well beyond the pollsters best efforts and

A portent of this phenomenon came in the 2014 U.S. national
elections, and the two most recent British parliamentary

There is now a full-blown mutiny taking place among the mass
of voters in virtually all Western nations, with elections in
in the U.S., Spain, France, Austria, Italy, Iceland, Netherlands,
Belgium and elsewhere seeing anti-establishment candidates
either upsetting major party candidates, or almost doing so.
These voters seem to be wary of candidly responding to
traditional poll takers or participating in most public polls.

This voter reluctance exists among voters of the left, right and
center. They are not only angry and frustrated, as most analysts
now concede, they seem determined to upset the political
shopping cart of candidates and policies put forward by the
major political parties.

With the discarded litter of bad polls for both the Democratic
and Republican presidential nomination contests still visible,
and the erratic behavior of recent polls of the November
contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump recently
published, and so much turbulence ahead at both national
conventions, why should anyone pay any attention to polls
about this race?

The Colorado Republican Party has just nominated an
unknown black military veteran Darryl Glenn to be their
candidate against incumbent Democratic Senator Michael
Bennett. The initial media comments have been that
Democrats should breathe a sigh of relief for this race which
has previously considered to be potentially competitive. The
black veteran is also an outspoken conservative, and was not
favored by most in the state party establishment. Mr. Glenn
might indeed lose, but it is extremely early to make
pronouncements about this race, especially in the year of
Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Brexit. Polls will now no
doubt come out heavily favoring Mr. Bennett. They might,
however, bear no resemblance to the final poll in early

This will also be a political season in which the two largest
“third” party candidates for president might well receive very
large numbers of votes. The Green Party on the left, and the
Libertarian on the “sort of” right, could complicate both
polling and elections. Both these parties' tickets will be on
almost all state presidential ballots.

No doubt, by mid-October and later, the polls will become
more and more accurate, not only in the presidential race,
but also in many down-ballot races.

Until then, however, don’t count on opinion polls and analyses
based primarily on them to tell you much about what is going
to happen on election day, 2016.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 27, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Political Update 18

Sunday’s national election in Spain brought some relief to
continental Europe, but more bad news to Spanish politics.
The good news was that the populist left party Podemos did
not make predicted gains in the Spanish parliament. Podemos
was not exit-European Union (EU), but strongly opposed EU
austerity measures for Spain. The conservative party, led by
acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy, actually gained 14 seats,
but fell short once again of a majority. The socialist party was
predicted to fall into third place (behind Podemos), but held its
own, and a new fourth moderate party lost ground, although
with 32 seats and a few seats from minor parties, this party is
expected again to form a ruling coalition with the conservative
party. Short of a majority, Sr. Rajoy nevertheless declared
victory and the right to govern Spain. As in Great Britain,
constitutional monarch Felipe VI makes the choice of whom to
invite to become prime minister. The results on Sunday were
more or less the same as those in a recent December election
which put Spanish politics in stalemate, but this time there is
much public pressure to end Sr. Rajoy’s temporary status
and put him firmly in charge. The radical populist Podemos
Party had threatened to further destabilize Europe, but their
failure is at least somewhat reassuring to remaining EU
member states and their leaders. On the other hand, there
was little true anti-EU feeling in Spain, as there is in France,
Italy, the Netherlands, and at least two other EU nations
where demands have been made, after Brexit, for their own
referenda on EU membership.

With only days until the opening of the 2016 Olympic games
in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, there is unprecedented disarray as
the Rio state and the national governments teeter on
economic and political disaster. Not all the Olympic facilities
have been completed, environmental goals have not been
met, and the Zika viral epidemic is scaring away prominent
athletes from participating. Local Olympic authorities are
contending that the games will proceed as planned. Brazil,
which is in a deep recession, has impeached the nation’s
president (who is now awaiting trial for her formal removal),
and the governor of Rio de Janeiro state has declared a state
of emergency. Many nations and international agencies have
warned tourists about going to Rio for the games, primarily
because of the Zika epidemic.

In contrast to her larger hemispheric neighbor Brazil,
Argentina (long the trouble spot of South America) appears
to be growing stronger economically and politically under
new President Mauricio Macri who has brought more
conservative policies to the southernmost nation of the
continent. For almost a century after World War I, the once
prosperous Argentine nation has seen upheaval and decline
under radical and populist Peronista leadership that has
drained its considerable resources.

The small island nation of Iceland has just elected a history
professor (who had not ever run for office before) as its new
president. Gudni Johannesson ran as an anti-establishment
candidate (much as the new woman mayor of Rome, Italy did),
and promised political reform, although the office is largely
ceremonial (but he can veto legislation). He opposes, as do most
Icelanders, his country joining the European Union, and he
cheered the British Brexit vote.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, once an early favorite to win the
Republican nomination for president this year, has changed  his
mind and decided to run for re-election to the senate. His
original pledge was to retire from the senate whether or not he
won the GOP nod, but the looming probability that his party
would lose the seat in November (Republicans have only a
four-seat majority) brought enormous pressure on the rising
conservative star to reconsider. It had been thought that Mr.
Rubio planned to run for Florida governor in 2018. Polls indicate
that Senator Rubio would likely win re-election, even though he
did not carry his home state in the presidential primary. The
man who did win, Donald Trump, had been a bitter foe, but now
as presumptive GOP nominee, Mr. Trump has been warmly urging
Mr. Rubio to run.

The failure of British and Spanish polls, even exit polls, to predict
accurately results in those two very recent elections fits a pattern
of  failure in an earlier British parliamentary election last year,
and in many of the U.S. presidential primary elections this year.
In fact, public polling  has had many failures since the 2012 U.S.
presidential election and the subsequent 2014 national elections.
Perhaps most dramatically, the UKIP leader of the “leave the
EU” faction in the UK election last week, Nigel Farage, told
British television audiences on election day (as the voting
ended) that his side had probably lost the referendum, citing
private polls made by some of his establishment friends just
prior to the voting.  As early as election day, 2004, it might be
remembered, network exit polls predicted a landslide victory
for John Kerry, a victory which did not happen when the votes
were counted. The critical deterioration of public polls in so many
competitive elections on the state and national levels poses a
serious dilemma for many political observers and commentators
who have in recent decades come to depend on poll numbers as
the basis of their analyses.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 24, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR; Brexit Over Bremain!

The British voters have decided to withdraw from their
formal relationship with the European Union (EU) by a
larger margin than was expected by most pollsters,
pundits and those who placed bets with London bookies,

With a robust turnout, especially in England, voters chose
to “leave” the EU rather than “remain” (in the language
of the British referendum ballot).

Scotland (by a large margin) and Northern Ireland (by a
narrow margin) voted for Remain. England (by a sizable
margin) and Wales (by a narrow margin) voted for Leave.
The final overall margin was 3.8% favoring Leave.

It was not an overtly party line vote, inasmuch as leaders
of the ruling Conservative (Tory) Party, opposition Labour
Party and the party in coalition with the Tories, the Liberal
Party, all supported Remain. Only the nationalist UKIP
Party was uniformly for Leave, and the Scottish National
Party was uniformly for Remain.

The real division in the referendum outside of Scotland
was between rural and small town voters --- and big city
voters. Although Conservative Prime Minister David
Cameron led the effort for Remain, Conservative M.P.
(and former London mayor) Boris Johnson led those who
were for Leave.

At stake in the vote was the UK’s membership in the EU.
It had joined in 1973, although it opted out of the rest of
the member nations’ adoption of a single currency, the

In spite of threats and warnings from the leaders of other
EU nations that a British exit would have dire consequences
for the island nation, it is likely that the huge British economy
and its enormous trade with its continental neighbors will be
stabilized over the next two years.

The short-term effect, of course, is likely to be a negative
over-reaction in the price of the pound and of British stocks,
but cooler heads will likely soon prevail as British currency
and markets stabilize. The UK is the second largest economy
in Europe.

There will now be calls throughout the remaining EU member
states for more referenda. The EU has recently been previously
destabilized by economic conditions in several of its smaller
member states. Only Germany, which has the largest economy
in Europe, and which dominates the EU, has avoided some of
these problems, although the controversial issue of immigration
to that nation has created problems for its government, as it has
for most other EU member states.

Immigration was only one of the issues which inflamed the
British EU referendum. Also upsetting to many UK voters was
the increasing power of the EU bureaucracy and parliament
(in Brussels) which dictated unpopular rules and regulations for
British farmers and small businesses. English sovereignty, almost
a thousand years old, moreover, was threatened by EU intentions
for political unification.

In  a critical way, British identity itself was threatened. Although
the island nation was no longer the dominant world sea power
and colonial power it was a century earlier, a majority of its
people felt that the nation which had contributed so much to
world law, representative democracy and global culture, should
not, and could not, be erased by bureaucratic fiat.

The British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, and the entire royal
family, remained carefully neutral throughout the campaign, as
is the custom in this constitutional monarchy, but few missed the
meaning of a private dinner conversation, leaked to the press,
during which the queen was reported to have pointedly asked her
guests to name “three good reasons why the UK should remain
in the EU.”

Great Britain’s withdrawal from the EU also provides it with
several positive economic and strategic new possibilities,
including potentially strengthening its ties with North America
and Asia. While “Brexit” was clearly a rejection of the
European status quo, it could be an early moment in a global
reorganizing, something already in the international wind as
China and India take their places as major players in the world
economic and political order.

Signs of voter mutiny have already appeared at various levels
in the Western democracies. Nationalist parties on both the
left and right have done well in Spain, France, Netherlands,
Italy, Austria, Belgium, Greece, and elsewhere. Just days ago,
the first woman mayor of Rome in 2800 years was elected
representing a reform-minded protest party that is likely to
become significant in Italian national politics. European
secession movements are widespread. Even if the British had
voted to remain in the EU, it is not at all clear that, as a
political entity, the EU could have survived much longer,
especially with the challenges of mass migration to the
continent, and the chronic problems of some of its member

This current anti-establishment phenomenon has even spread
this year to the United States where an extraordinary
presidential campaign is taking place with mutinies in both
parties that have upended long-standing political rules and
partisan rhetoric.

The election of Mayor Virginia Raggi in Rome, the Brexit
vote in the UK, and the nomination of Donald Trump to be the
Republican nominee for president are neither accidental nor

They are eruptions from grass roots voters asking for change
and transformation. That does not mean they are necessarily
the right thing or the best thing, but whatever they are, they
cannot be ignored.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Celebrity Culture Has Its Price

Accompanying the emergence of mass communications in
the mid-nineteenth century, a nascent celebrity culture arose
in Europe and North America. By the time that Hollywood
films, network radio, and professional sports were inserted
into daily life, international celebrity culture was in full
flower. Television, popular music recording, global cinema
and ubiquitous commercial media advertising pushed this 
culture “over the top,” and the subsequent introduction of
the internet and social media has enabled virtually anyone
to become a “viral celebrity” without leaving his or her own

Given the the preoccupation in Western culture with physical
prowess, material evaluations and sexual beauty, this was
almost certainly inevitable. As traditional standards and
rules were overturned by the celebrity “squeaky wheels” in
each national culture, a certain universal vicariousness and
passivity arose. Individuals were content to become “fans”
and “followers.” (It’s no accident that active participants in
one of the largest social media institutions are, in fact, called

In some European, Asian and South American societies
during the 20th century, particularly in societies with
undeveloped  democratic political traditions, the celebrity
culture was combined with new propaganda techniques to
induce totalitarian regimes, a phenomenon that seemed to be
avoided in the United States where celebrity culture and
political culture seemed to be kept more or less separate in
national public life. Of course, there were momentary lapses,
such as with the glamorous but dysfunctional Kennedy
political family personalities, yet for the most part, political
and celebrity values remained distinct.

The presence of powerful, multi-generational political U.S.
families is as old as the Republic itself. The first U.S. vice
president, and later the second president, John Adams, was
first of 19th century Adams political heavyweights, including
another president. The Harrison family produced two
presidents before 1900, and the Roosevelt family two after 1900.
The Taft family also had two major figures in the 20th century,
as did the Kennedy family (which actually had three). The 21st
century has brought us the Clintons, husband and wife,
interspersed with the Bush family with at least two presidents.
It’s a non-partisan phenomenon over time, and surely an
understandable one, but with the Kennedys (as already cited)
the celebrity culture and the political culture became somewhat
confused. Some would suggest that the 2016 candidacies of Jeb
Bush and Hillary Clinton, notwithstanding their considerable
political experience, represent a further step in creating a U.S.
political “celebrity dynasty” culture (to be followed presumably
by young George P. Bush and Clinton daughter Chelsea).

When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, it seemed
that celebrity culture was again becoming misapplied by the
political culture, but Ronald Reagan the movie star and
Hollywood celebrity had absorbed himself genuinely into the
political culture. Although controversial for his political views,
his presidency was substantive and transformational.

It is 2016, and one of the two major political parties is about
to nominate someone from the celebrity/entertainment culture
as its candidate for president. Donald Trump upset his party’s
establishment and 16 of its leading members to win the nod as
he defied virtually every political rule and the inhibitions of
political correctness. He treated the nominating campaign not
as a political process, but with his understanding as an
experienced entertainer and celebrity. He has infuriated almost
the entire political class, and its fellow-traveling pundit class.

Now the nation is confronted with a problematic choice, that is,
the voters have to choose between an unlikeable member of a
political family dynasty and an unlikable celebrity. The former
has an extraordinary political resume, but few real
accomplishments, and the latter has no political resume and
ambiguous accomplishments. Both have long trails of
controversies behind them, and both are promising to proclaim
the other’s scandals in a vicious mutual campaign of attrition.

It is an election made for television soap operas and Hollywood

The celebrity culture piper has worked hard for many decades
and many generations in American society. This piper has led
us to clowns and heart throbs, vamps and home run hitters,
pretty faces and assorted star athletes, crooners and adonises,
colorful gangsters and charming charlatans, knock-out punchers
and punk rocksters, daring quarterbacks and provocative
TV/radio hosts, and so on --- a seemingly endless list of
amusements for our starstruck entertainment and vicarious

The doorbell rings. It’s the piper. Time to pay, he says.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


Monday, June 20, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Latest Political Update 17

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald
Trump has fired his campaign manger Corey
Lewandowski four weeks before the GOP national
convention in Cleveland. Mr. Lewandowski was the
successful but often controversial manager of the Mr.
Trump’s unorthodox campaign that defeated 16 major
rivals. Since clinching the nomination several weeks ago,
Mr. Trump’s campaign against presumptive Democratic
nominee Hillary Clinton has faltered, primarily because
of Mr. Trump’s own inflammatory remarks, but also
because of deteriorating relations with the Republican
National Committee (whose cooperation he will need to
raise funds and solidify his position as GOP nominee).
Mr. Lewandowski’s departure is expected to improve the

The historic British referendum on whether to leave or
remain in the European Union (EU) is now in its last
campaign hours, and polls indicate the final result will
be close. These same polls have indicated a pattern of
alternate “Leave” and “Remain” leads in the vote. The
referendum does not pit left vs right or Tory vs. Labour,
but instead pits large cities and Scotland against rural and
smaller urban areas. Conservative Prime Minister David
Cameron’s job is up for grabs (he favors ”Remain’), and
fellow Tory Boris Johnson (and potential successor) heads
up the “Leave” campaign. “Leave” supporters assert that
British sovereignty is at stake, and the whole world is
watching and waiting for the outcome.

In what might be an omen for the national general
November election ahead, first-time candidate and
businessman Doug Burgum shocked heavy favorite and
current Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to win the
Republican nomination for governor of North Dakota.
Mr. Stenehjem had won his last two races with 75% of
the vote, and had the backing of almost all of the state’s
GOP establishment. Mr. Burgum was a very early
endorser of Donald Trump, self-funded his campaign,
and explicitly ran against the GOP-controlled legislature
and the GOP party leadership. He also had the critically
important endorsement of enormously popular former
North Dakota Governor Ed Schaeffer. Heavily favored to
win in November, Mr. Burgum will now have work
together with both the GOP legislature and Mr. Stenehjem
in Bismarck next January.

Democrats nationally are expected to make net gains in
U.S house races in 2016, and the party (known as the DFL)
is expected to pick up a seat in Minnesota’s 2nd district
now occupied by retiring GOP Congressman John Kline.
If GOP-endorsed candidate Jason Lewis wins the
conservative party’s primary over party favorite Darlene
Miller, he will receive very little support from GOP donors
and activists. Lewis, a libertarian and radio show host, is
likely to join the anti-GOP leadership faction if elected. The
DFL nominee is businesswoman Angie Craig who has no
primary opposition and has self-funded her effort so far.
Ms. Craig is also strong campaigner, and would be heavily
favored against Mr. Lewis in November in this district
carried by President Obama in 2012.

But the liberal party might not make a net gain in the
Gopher state because Republican Stewart Mills could
upset DFL Congressman Rick Nolan in the state’s 8th
district. Nolan barely won in 2014 against Mills, and then
only because there was a statewide U.S. senate race at the
top of the ballot. In 2016, there are no statewide races.
Normally the presidential race would more than
compensate for this, but Hillary Clinton, the presumptive
Democratic nominee is not popular in the state, particularly
in areas outside the Twin Cities. In fact, Mr. Nolan pointedly
endorsed Bernie Sanders in the state’s caucus. With serious
races in MN-2 and MN-3, liberal campaign funds will not be
concentrated in MN-8, as they were in 2014, and Mr. Mills
(whose family business was just sold) has virtually unlimited
cash resources at his disposal. Mr. Mills, a political neophyte
in 2014, is now an experienced and spirited campaigner in the
district that was formerly DFL plus-3, but which polls now
indicate is GOP plus-1.

A third potentially competitive race is MN-3 for a seat now
held by popular GOP Congressman Erik Paulsen. The DFL
has nominated a state legislator Terri Bonoff, and GOP
presidential nominee Donald Trump is not popular in this
upscale suburban Minneapolis district. But Paulsen, a
member of the powerful U.S. house ways and means
committee, is well-liked, and Bonoff (who ran
unsuccessfully in another congressional district several
years before) might be an over-rated campaigner. Mr.
Paulsen and the local GOP, moreover, are taking the race
seriously while the state DFL must divide its resources in 
competitive races in two other congressional districts.

A 37 year-old member of the Rome city council has been
elected mayor of the Italian capital. She is the first woman
to head the city which is almost 2800 years old, and the
youngest person to win in modern times. A lawyer, she is a
member of an anti-establishment protest party that was
founded only 7 years ago by a popular Italian comedian.
Most mayors of large cities in Europe and the U.S. are
leftists, and Rome was no exception, but Virginia Raggi
defeated her leftist opponent in a landslide. Her party, the
Five Star Movement (M5S) also has just won 19 out of the
20 municipal elections in which it put up candidates.
Mayor-elect Raggi has promised sweeping reform of the
moribund Roman city government, and Italian observers
now expect M5S to be a significant factor in upcoming
federal Italian elections.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Summer None Of Us Will Forget?

This is going to be quite a summer.

If you booked passage for a quiet cruise to various well-known
destinations, you are already alert to the fact that the ship has
changed course. There has been no announcement of this
diversion from the bridge. In fact, the captain is not even on
the bridge; he’s reportedly dealing with an unanticipated mutiny
of the crew that is spreading throughout the ship.

It all began with what was expected to be a conventional first
stop, the port of call known as the U.S. presidential nominating
season. The ship did not arrive as planned. Both major party
itineraries were disrupted by hijackers. Instead of heading
south to lazy tropical climes, the ship lurched to the east toward
the tired old continent of Europe.

Did you pack clothes for London? That’s the first stop. The
mutineers on the ship have friends in the United Kingdom who
are also in open revolt. On June 23 next, the Brits will decide
whether or not to remain part of the European Union (EU). The
referendum could go either way, but if they choose formally to
remain, they are in for a shock --- the European Union no longer

On that day, June 23, the presumptive Republican nominee for
president will fly to Scotland --- to open a golf course! Only an
American would have the chutzpah to do this. What will he say?
Does it matter?

Meanwhile, you are on an ocean liner now heading west.
The next ports are Cleveland on Lake Erie, and after that,
Philadelphia on the Delaware River. Do you dare to disembark
at either port? The unsuccessful Democratic hijacker is now
under house arrest in Vermont, but his agents are already
slipping into the City of Brotherly Love where the Big Sister is
planning to take charge. Do you care?

After departing the summer ports of Cleveland and Philadelphia,
the destinations are unknown. You decide it’s time to cut short
this cruise. The food is awful. The crew has disappeared. Only
the ship’s band is playing on deck, but it’s The Grateful Dead.
You can’t get off. No one is in charge. The captain has vanished
into a sea of platitudes.

You are in open water, and there’s no land in sight.

Have a nice summer.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: England's Forgotten M.P; America's Unremembered Friend

One of the great English parliamentarians of the 19th
century has now been largely forgotten in his own country,
although his name in his own time was as well-known as
Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, Robert Peel and
Lord Palmerston, each of them significant prime ministers
in Great Britain’s most globally powerful era. His name
was John Bright, and he was the most important British
politician to take the side of the North in the U.S. Civil War.
He importantly helped keep England from assisting the
South, which might have led to an early Confederate victory
and the destruction of the American republic.

Abraham Lincoln admired John Bright greatly, and
communicated with him through an intermediary. The
night Lincoln was assassinated, a speech of Bright’s was
found in Lincoln’s vest pocket.

While the association with Lincoln and the U.S. Civil War
might give Americans today reason to take note of him,
Bright was also deeply involved with most of the important
British legislation of the mid-1800‘s, including English
economic and civil rights. When he died in 1885, the
prime minister, numerous former prime ministers,
cabinet officers, many of the top figures of English politics,
and a special representative of Queen Victoria (who was
then out of the country) were in attendance. He was
eulogized as one of the great men of his age.

Today, there is a statue of him in the House of Commons,
but only a relatively few Britons could tell you who he was
or what he accomplished.

Like so many important political figures in history who are
temporarily put on a forgotten shelf, Bright is now being
recalled for his role in English parliamentary history, and
part of this has been due to a biography in 2012 (John Bright:
Statesman, Orator and Agitator
) by Bill Cash. What makes
this biography particularly interesting is that Mr. Cash is
both a descendant of Bright, and himself a senior Conservative
member of parliament. The EU referendum, many would argue,
is one of the most important British votes of the 21st century.

Even more than that, Sir Bill (he was recently knighted by the
Queen) was a protege of Margaret Thatcher and an early
opponent (euroskeptic) of the 1993 Maastricht Treaty which
redefined the United Kingdom role in the European Union (EU)
which it had originally joined in 1973. Making this all the more
timely, the voters of the United Kingdom are now only days
away from a June 23 referendum on whether the island nation
is to remain in the EU or withdraw from it. The leader
of those who want to withdraw (“Leave”) is Conservative Boris
Johnson, former mayor of London and currently a Tory M.P.
Leader of those who want to stay in (“Remain”) is Conservative
Prime Minister David Cameron. If the Leave voters prevail,
Mr. Cameron will almost certainly have to resign, and Mr.
Johnson would likely succeed him. Sir Bill Cash continues to be
a top spokesman for Leave voters.

In full disclosure, I have known Sir Bill Cash since 1991 when he
was my official guest in Minnesota under the U.S. State
Department’s International Visitor Program. A euroskeptic
even then, Sir Bill’s ideas were not warmly received on this side
of the Pond (primarily because most Americans were not really
aware of the issues involved). The EU had been formed after
World War II on the continent as an economic union that would
prevent another round of European wars. The intention was
laudable, and as primarily an economic program, it worked.
But EU leaders had more ambitious goals, First, they wanted to
establish a European common currency which they finally did
with the euro. Great Britain wisely decided to opt out of the euro,
and kept the British pound. The next step for the EU was political
union, removing the national sovereignty of its member states,
even though each of these states had centuries of their own
cultures, spoke different languages, and had different ethnic and
religious histories. (not to mention the countless and violent
wars they had fought against each other).

As this goal of political union approached, economic problems
beset the EU which had become more and more dominated by
its most successful member nation economy in Germany. The
number of member nations was expanded, and the instability
of several smaller ones, created more and more skepticism
about political union, especially in Great Britain.

I visited London in 2010, just after the elections which brought
Mr. Cameron to power, and had a reunion with Bill Cash after
almost twenty years. He had, I thought, grown from being mostly
a backbench agitator to become a statesman. He was still a
euroskeptic, but recognized that the UK was a part of Europe,
and would always be a major trading partner with it. Yet he also
understood the critical danger, after a thousand years of national
identity, of losing British sovereignty.

This is where he continues to be today. While I was visiting the
House of Parliament, Sir Bill took me from his office there to see
the statue of his cousin John Bright. He told me he was going to
write a book about him to remind his countrymen and
countrywomen how much they owed to Bright and his 19th
century colleagues.

He did write it, and it’s a terrific read about a key period in
British history, and about someone who led the efforts to
expand British democracy. John Bright was indeed a statesman,
agitator and orator who felt passionately about his country.

It is fitting that his descendant and biographer is one, too.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 10, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Another 2016 Turning Point

With the two major party nominees now decided, the 2016
presidential campaign moves toward the national party
conventions, and then to the autumn campaign. This
statement could have been made, at the same moment in
time, about the previous presidential campaigns in recent

But the 2016 cycle has been different in so many ways from
all the rest. Very little has gone as planned or predicted in
the contests in both parties.

Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party nominee, and
in the flush of her victory there is both relief and alarm.
Bernie Sanders, a most unlikely challenger, made it a contest
to the end, and even now does not formally concede defeat.
But Mr. Sanders will concede, probably right after the DC
primary next week, and he will endorse Mrs. Clinton. The
Democratic Party establishment will make some face-saving
concessions to the Sanders wing of the party, the Vermont
senator will declare a “moral” victory, and the former first
lady will begin a relentless and brutal attack on her opponent
Donald Trump. That is the liberal party’s plan, but it has a
problem that has not gone away, and that problem is Hillary
Clinton herself.

Mrs. Clinton will now turn to the political center to conduct
her campaign. The Democratic electorate, however, has
changed. Bernie Sanders’ success in the primary/caucus
season was not due to his personality. It was due to the issues
he raised, issues which appealed to both the youth and to older,
more progressive voters. His endorsement will, of course, help
bring some of his supporters back to vote for Clinton, but it
will not bring a lot of them to the polls to vote for the
Democratic nominee in November. Many who voted for Bernie
are angry with Mrs. Clinton’s and the national Democratic
Party’s tactics in the primary/caucus season (“the system was
rigged”), and have no time for what they consider to be the more
moderate liberal policies which Mrs. Clinton and her advisers
truly believe in and would execute as president. These voters
probably number in the millions, and many could either stay home
or vote for the Green Party nominee (likely to be Dr. Jill Stein).

Lest Republicans take comfort from this dilemma facing their
opponents, they need to take a hard look at their own situation.
The conservative party, unlike the liberal party, nominated their
maverick outsider candidate. Donald Trump won the GOP
nomination “fair and square” --- and even against greater odds
because he was opposed by 16 other major candidates and
virtually the entire conservative establishment. Mr. Trump not
only defied conventional wisdom, he openly defied, as no major
politician before him had done, traditional political correctness.
He stated out loud what many grass roots voters, both Democrats
and Republicans, were thinking, and with his celebrity bravado,
he brought them to the polls. Unlike the Democratic Party process,
the GOP process was not “rigged” to favor an establishment
candidate, and at the end, he demolished his formidable array of

While Donald Trump might be a “gifted amateur” (as Newt
Gingrich describes him), a political amateur he remains, as
evidenced by the hubbub  he unnecessarily provoked by criticizing
a federal judge after he had already secured the GOP nomination.
There are, for many conservatives, now understandable questions
about his temperament and how he might behave if he were chief
executive and commander-in-chief. While his political
“incorrectness” might have been often laudable and effective
during the primary/caucus campaign, there are obvious limits to
it in a brutal confrontation with his Democratic Party opponent
in the autumn campaign, especially one in which most of the
media will be pointedly hostile to him.

The current hubbub over his remarks about a federal judge will
pass (the hypocrisy of Democrats who said much worse things
about Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia is egregious).
But Donald Trump has now been given an opportunity that few
persons are ever given --- to be the major party nominee for
president of the United States. This office is not a mere real estate
deal or litigation; it’s being the leader of the free world. He can no
longer be seen as a spoiled rich kid or a TV entertainer. An
enormous weight has now been placed on his shoulders. He is
also, for the time being, the leader of his political party. Hundreds
of members of Congress in the house and senate depend on him
to help them keep their majority. He is no longer Trump Island; he
is part of something much bigger.

Each nominee has family associations which could help or hurt
their candidacies. In Mrs. Clinton’s case, it is her husband Bill, a
former president who remains a political force. But Bill Clinton is
a shadow of his former self, and once again controversial. In
Donald Trump’s case, it is his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law
Jared Kushner, two persons virtually unknown to the public. Mr.
Trump has designated Ivanka (over two sons) to be his business
successor should he be elected president (a rather irrefutable
argument against the charge that he is a misogynist), and there is
some evidence that Mr. Kushner who is both young and politically
inexperienced, is nonetheless acting as a very constructive
influence on his father-in-law.

In any event, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, each with
unprecedented negatives going into November, will need to find
ways to put the reasons for their negatives behind them with
general election voters. The one who does succeed in doing this
will be the next president of the United States.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: 2016 Revisits 1986

The title of this article might seem a bit odd, especially
considering that it looks back to a year in which there was
no presidential election.

First, if the reader will bear with me, a bit of background.

I did not set out to be a journalist. I did write for my
college daily newspaper (when I was an undergraduate
at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School), but
my intention was to be a literary writer.

After finishing graduate school in the late 1960’s, I set out
to write poetry and fiction, and I moved to New York City,
then the co-terminus of American new literary writing
(with San Francisco) where I became a specialized editor of
a major U.S.. book publisher.

It was an explosive era of early drug use, anti-war protests,
tragic political assassinations, and generational unrest.
There are many accounts written about that era, including
some incisive ones, but like all transformative historical
moments, you had to be there to get its full flavor.

One day, after about a year in Manhattan, I read an article
in the newspaper that a study showed that breathing an
ordinary day in that city then was the equivalent of smoking
three or four packs of cigarettes (a son of a physician, I was
a non-smoker). As exciting as it was being in New York at that
time, I decided it was time to move where there was much
more fresh air and optimism.

My older brother and his family then lived in Minnesota
where I had often visited (from Iowa where I had been in
graduate school). The twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul
in those days had an extraordinary spirit of innovation and
optimism (I invented the term “biomagnetic center of North
America” to describe it), and I decided to go there, start a book
publishing company, and make my mark on American literature.

Once there, I soon gravitated to a “new town” then being
constructed in sleepy exurban Chaska, 35 miles from
downtown Minneapolis. It was the early 1970’s, and the
federal government had jump-started a “new town”
movement across the nation. The first one was in Chaska,
and was called Jonathan. I rented an apartment in some
experimental dwellings that were built like tree houses, rented
office space in an experimental business park, bought an
IBM typesetting composer, and then discovered that I had run
out of cash with no prospects of incoming funds to pay for my
daily life.

A new town like Jonathan was, as the term suggests, “new.”
Totally new. It was built on farmland with a few scattered
farmhouses. Almost overnight, visionary developers employing
innovative architects and planners created a new “village” with
housing, shops and community centers. They had provided for
almost everything, but forgot to include a newspaper. There I
was, with an office and typesetting equipment --- and no income.
So I started from scratch a monthly newspaper called

Appleseeds was not like any other newspaper. I had one of the
architects design its eye-catching contemporary format. It
printed a lot of local news, but reflecting my personal interests,
it also included extensive coverage of the then burgeoning Twin
Cities performing arts scene, the area’s then emerging restaurant
scene --- and political analysis. The paper carried ads, but its
circulation was small. It was independent, but its developers
liked it because it helped give Jonathan more self-identity.

Jonathan was the first of about twenty new towns created by
federal government loan guarantees in the 1970’s. Soon after it
opened, a second new town in Minnesota was created in the
middle of an old inner-city neighborhood in Minneapolis. It was
called Cedar-Riverside, and was labeled a “new town-in-town.”
The developers of Cedar-Riverside came to me and invited me
to publish a newspaper for their new town. Unlike Appleseeds,
it would circulate in a much more populous area. In 1973, I began
editing and publishing Many Corners (named after the historic
Seven Corners neighborhood where it was located), and it
continued for the next 14 years. It was one of the earliest and
largest “neighborhood” newspapers in the Twin Cities (there
were about 40 of them eventually), and it was like re-inventing
the newspaper. Of course, there was a large daily newspaper in
Minneapolis, but it was so large that it had begun replacing its
local coverage with more metropolitan and region coverage. The
internet was a few decades away, but the handwriting had begun
to appear on the journalistic wall and daily newspapers were
disappearing across the nation.

The stories of Appleseeds and Many Corners merit a book of
their own, and if the reader will excuse this long-winded
background, I will get to the reason I am writing this article.

In the mid-1980’s, I shut down Many Corners (I had ceased
publishing Appleseeds a decade earlier), and became a freelance
journalist who specialized in national politics. Thanks to my
friend Stu Rothenberg, then editor of Free Congress Foundation
The Political Report in Washington, DC, I had been initially a
source for his Minnesota reporting. The Free Congress
Foundation was a conservative research organization that also
published a journal called Election Politics, which was also edited
by Rothenberg. In 1985, Stu invited me to write an article about
the changes then going on in the labor union movement, and a year
later, having read some of my pieces on the upcoming 1988
presidential election in Many Corners, he asked me to write a
piece for Election Politics on the same subject.

(Incidentally, on the board of advisors of the Free Congress
Foundation was a then little-known Georgia congressman
named Newt Gingrich.)

Entitled “The ‘Goose Bump’ Democrats and the Coming Plebiscite
of 1988,
” it appeared in the autumn issue of 1986, next to an
article by Stu entitled “A Rose Is a Rose Is a Rose, But What’s a
” That was 30 years ago almost to the day, but both
articles would seem quite timely if published today.

Stu went on to publish The Political Report to be his own
highly-respected independent (and very non-partisan)
publication  (in turn, his very able assistant Nathan Gonzalez
now edits the publication as The Rothenberg Gonzalez Report,
with Stu as editor emeritus). Thanks to Stu’s generosity over a
19-year period I contributed signed articles for the publication.

Stu’s superb piece on populism has text-book quality, and would
seem totally appropriate and shrewd as a discussion of the so-called
populism on both the left and the right which has emerged so
powerfully in 2016 with its anti-establishment, nationalism and
redistribution themes.

My piece centered on what I thought was the emerging theme of
“new American economic nationalism.” In that context, I singled
out two probable presidential candidates for 1988, Democratic
Senator Joe Biden and Republican Congressman Jack Kemp as
harbingers of a new generation in U.S. politics. At that time,
neither was the candidate of their party’s respective
establishments, although Kemp was generally perceived as
then-President Ronald Reagan’s ideological heir. Biden was then
an upstart slated to run against establishment figure Michael
Dukakis and 1984 phenomenon Gary Hart who had almost upset
Walter Mondale for the nomination that year.

As it turned out, Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush won
the GOP nomination in 1988, and then won the general election
against Dukakis who had prevailed against both Biden and
Hart who dropped out early. (Kemp, of course, became Bob
Dole’s running mate in 1996; and Biden reappeared in 2008 to be
Barack Obama’s vice president.)

Obviously, my predictive powers were then much better on the
vice presidential level.

I have always been a political centrist, and those days I had more
interest in the Democratic center. (I would eventually get my
forecasting right when I began predicting in 1990 that New
Democrat (then Arkansas governor) Bill Clinton would be elected
president. After Al Gore and John Kerry took the Democratic
Party sharply back to the left beginning in 2000, I became more
interested in the center-right figures in the Republican Party.

In the mutinies against the establishments of both major parities
in 2016, the “populist” uprisings have made the political center
temporarily invisible. I have endorsed no one, make no
predictions, and await events.

But here is what I wrote in Election Politics in 1986:

“In both the national Democratic and Republican parties,
we can observe that the presidential nominating process
has taken some unusual twists in recent years. Interest
groups which mobilized around a specific, often emotional
issue have exerted, and continue to exert, influence over
party policy and party nominees beyond their apparent
strength in numbers...... So-called establishment figures in
both parties often become self-righteous in criticizing those
interest groups and their candidates, while they try to wrap
themselves in rhetorical idealism that is at odds with their
own criticism. This is especially true of those in the party
establishments who advocated changes in the election
process in the name of expanding suffrage, and then
complain about the previously inactive voters who do
respond when the changes are made because these new
voters have different political views than they (the
establishment) have --- and compete with them for power....”

That was then. Isn’t it now?

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 3, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Why Ben Franklin Matters

There is a conscious effort to unremember history in the current
pseudo-intellectual fad taking place in many college and university
liberal arts departments --- and in not a few public secondary
schools. As part of this, there are also attempts to denigrate the
importance of many so-called ‘founding fathers” of our republic
that was born in a revolutionary struggle from 1775 to 1783.

The motivation for this, as is usually the case, is an ideological one,
and twenty-first century standards are being used to accomplish
the unremembering of so many of the remarkable figures who so
brilliantly and courageously created the world’s first and most
enduring modern democratic republic in the eighteenth century.

The targets of these efforts include no less figures than George
Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton, as well as
later figures such as Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. A few
brave and distinguished historians have recently published books to
counter this trend, but “political correctness” continues its destructive

Historian/politician Newt Gingrich, however, has just issued an
excellent new DVD reinforcing George Washington’s role as the
“indispensable” political and military figure in the founding of
the republic, and his wife Calista Gingrich has written a superb series
of books for young children emphasizing and restoring the high
character of the transforming values of early American history.
Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer continues to write incomparable
volumes with new insights about Abraham Lincoln. The biggest hit
on Broadway is a musical depiction of Alexander Hamilton and his
dispositive contribution to American economic life.

One of the most lamentable and self-destructive trends occurred
recently with the Democratic Party hierarchy’s attempts across the
nation to erase the two most important founders of their party,
Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, from places of honor in
the party’s history and commemoration.

Yes, even the greatest statesmen and figures in history had personal
flaws and made mistakes, especially judged by the hindsight and
standards held centuries later.

One of the figures I think is not fully appreciated from the germinal
period of our nation is Benjamin Franklin. Of course, everyone
knows his name, and so far, he remains on the $100 bill, and on
the name of a national chain store. He was on the half dollar until

He was not as indispensable a military and political figure as
George Washington, nor as central a constitutional figure as were
John Adams, Jefferson, and James Madison. In spite of his key role
as an early and high-minded author-publisher, he was also not as
rallying a voice of the revolution and constitution as were Thomas
Paine and the authors (Hamilton, Madison and John Jay) of the
Federalist Papers.

What Benjamin Franklin was, on the other hand, was America’s
first and perhaps greatest intellectual figure. He was one of the
world’s all-time greatest polymaths --- an important inventor and
scientist, philosopher, diplomat, author, wit, and creator of a
national pragmatic ethos which endures to this day. His role
representing the young nation in France was decisive not only in
gaining critical French support for the revolution, but in providing
the important contributions of Baron Von Steuben and the Marquis
de Lafayette to General Washington’s struggling continental army.
In the innumerable discussions leading to he Declaration of
Indpendence, and later the adoption of the Consititution, Franklin
was a voice of enlightenment and reason, often speaking out against
the "political correctness" of that time.

I think that without Benjamin Franklin the American revolution
does not succeed. That is why he matters.

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Compendium Of Recent Developments

The California Democratic presidential primary, until recently
thought to be nothing more than the coronation of Hillary Clinton’s
campaign for the nomination, has become a serious contest,
including some polls indicating it is a virtual tie. Alerted to the
public relations consequences of a defeat in the final major
primary of the 2016 cycle, Mrs. Clinton and her campaign are
pulling out all stops to head off a disaster, including increased
campaigning and the last-minute endorsement of popular
California Governor Jerry Brown. But Bernie Sanders has
stepped up his campaign as well, with large rallies and dramatic
appearances at at least one major sports event. With the
Clinton campaign in a full-press mode, and with her
considerable resources, it is still expected that she will win
this West Coast state, and at the same time go over the 50%
threshold in committed delegates, but the late Sanders surge
is following a recent pattern of upsets by the Vermont senator,
and some mainstream pundits are openly doubting a victory
here for the former first lady.

There are divergent poll reports of British voter sentiment for
its historic “Brexit” referendum on June 23 when the United
Kingdom will decide if it wants to remain in the European Union
or not. Telephone polls indicate a close vote with the “remain”
vote slightly ahead of the “leave” vote, while internet polls indicate
a larger margin for the “remain” vote. In the most recent
parliamentary election, UK pollsters significantly missed the
Conservative Party’s big victory. Polling in Europe and the U.S.
has recently often failed to accurately predict elections.

The U.S. mainstream media is the target of putative Republican
nominee Donald Trump’s latest attacks. The media reaction, of
course, is that this is a tactical mistake, especially since the same
media has been so instrumental in Mr. Trump’s remarkably
sudden rise in American politics. Others point out, however, that
virtually all public polling indicates that voters hold the media in
almost as much low esteem as they do politicians.


It is now the season for predicting the major party nominees’
choices for vice president, with the bulk of the speculation so far
on whom Donald Trump might pick for his running mate. Several
names have been prominently mentioned, and most of the
speculation has been in the context of traditional demographic
models of “political balance” to the ticket. The historical fact
is, however, that voters rarely cast their vote for a ticket’s
running mate, and that is even more likely true in 2016 when
Mr. Trump will so dominate the GOP side of the contest. Age,
ethnic or religious origin, geographic or other traditional
considerations might mean much less to Mr. Trump than who
might be valuable to him if and after he is elected. He has
already indicated he would favor someone with considerable
congressional and foreign policy experience.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.