Saturday, November 18, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Some Weekend Items

A CRIMSON TIDE?
An explosion of allegations about well-known Hollywood,
media and political figures is currently pushing other (and
more immediate) news aside in newspapers, magazines and
the internet. Allegations against GOP U.S. senate nominee
Roy Moore have disrupted the special election in Alabama on
December 12. Moore had been initially favored to win in this
very  conservative state, but latest polls have his Democratic
opponent pulling increasingly ahead. National Republicans
have denounced Moore, including the GOP senate leadership
which could lead a vote to expel him if he wins the race.
Other options for blocking his election would need the
support of the state’s new governor, but she has just declared
the special election will go as planned, and that she will vote
for Moore. Increasingly isolated from his own party, Moore
denies the charges, and vows to stay in the race.

MINNESOTA MISHMASH
The allegations uproar has hit Minnesota where incumbent
junior Senator Al Franken has been charged with improper
behavior. A photograph shows the senator apparently doing
this. A newswoman has asserted other misbehavior. Calls for
his resignation have come from several sources, some in his
own party and in previously supportive liberal media. Franken
has admitted that he acted improperly and apologized, but the
general furor over improper behavior --- and his own, and his
party’s condemnation of accused Republican officials that has
been seen as hypocrisy --- ensures that the controversy and
the political damage to him will not go away soon. Franken’s
defense is further weakened by various supposedly
humorous sketches  and statements made when he was a
career comedian prior to his election. The state also now has
additional scandals, one involving a  Democratic legislator,
and another involving a Republican. This normally staid
midwestern state is now awash, as is the nation, in
daily-revealed scandals.

SAUDI SANDSTORM
A developing and potentially region-changing series of events
is occurring in the critical mideastern kingdom of Saudi
Arabia where its new crown prince has been consolidating
power within the Saudi royal family. Prominent members of
this large and all-powerful family and their allies have been
arrested or detained. Rumors that the Saudi king will abdicate
soon abound. Behind the move is believed to be the decision 
to modernize the ancient land and its political structures in
response to extraordinary volatility and popular unrest not
only within the kingdom, but in neighboring Arab states.

BENCH BLUE FADES INTO RED
Finally responding to criticism from his own party, including
President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
has decided to ignore two “blue slip” vetoes of federal
judicial nominees by President Trump which had been held
up for six months. One of those senators whose opposition is
being bypassed is Minnesota junior Senator Al Franken who
is currently embroiled in a controversy of his own (see story
above). Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David
Stras, one of the two nominees, will now receive a senate
hearing on November 29. Justice Stras is a widely-respected
jurist strongly supported by figures in both parties, and would
be expected to be confirmed soon after that. The logjam over
President Trump’s judicial and other appointments will
probably continue to some degree, but the senate leadership’s
decision to discontinue allowing single senators to block a
nomination should relieve some of the pressure for the time
being.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Moon Over Alabama?

Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill collaborated on some of
the greatest musical theater classics of the mid-twentieth
century, including the immortal Threepenny Opera. They
were politically too radical for the incoming German Nazi
regime in 1933, and had to flee to avoid the Holocaust.
Weill settled in Hollywood and New York; Brecht, an avowed
communist settled in East Germany after World War II.
Both died at a relatively young age.

No matter what your politics, Weill’s music rightfully endures
long after his death. Brecht was an artist, and became something
of a maverick in the communist world, especially in East
Germany. until his death.

One of the many great songs they wrote together (others were,
of course, Mack The Knife; and September Song) was
Alabama Song (sometimes called Moon Over Alabama) which
includes the line:

Oh moon over Alabama, we now must say goodbye.

Many great singers from Nina Simone to The Doors have
recorded this song.

Why do I mention all of this?

I do so because there is now a Moore over Alabama, i.e.,
Roy Moore who is running for the U.S. senate in a December
special election. He has twice been removed from high office,
and he has long held very controversial views. He won the
Republican primary against a sitting (but recently appointed)
senator, and now faces a moderate Democrat in the general
special election.

The GOP establishment opposes him, and now calls for him to
resign from the election following numerous new allegations
about his personal life. Denying the allegations, Mr. Moore
has claimed a last-minute smear campaign against him, but
he has become so "radioactive" for his social policy views
and his diatribes against his own party that now even some
of his most high profile supporters are abandoning him.

To their credit, most in the national and local Republican
party have denounced his candidacy. It is very, very difficult
for any fair-minded person to defend him, recent allegations
notwithstanding.

It is time for Alabama to say goodbye to his candidacy.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 10, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Can The GOP Lose The U.S. House In 2018?

Many pundits are currently speculating about the political
control of the U.S. house in January, 2019 (following the 2018
national mid-term elections). Conventional wisdom now
says that it is quite possible that the Democrats could retake
control of this “people’s body” of the Congress.

Previous conventional wisdom was that Republicans had a
“lock” on control until at least 2023 when a the first U.S. house
after reapportionment takes office. That opinion was based on
the GOP voter advantage in currently-drawn districts.

Fueling the new guesswork is the notable number of retiring
conservative incumbents --- although most of those retiring
represent safe districts for their party. There likely will be
liberal gains in the next U.S. house --- although there are a few
good prospects for GOP gains, e.g. in Minnesota’s CD-1 where
the liberal incumbent is retiring to run for governor.

So which conventional wisdom is more likely to come true?

First, it must be said, any outcome is possible. Despite their
current large majority (241 to 194), the party in power often
loses many seats in the first mid-term election after they win
the presidency. On the other hand, as I recently pointed out,
the 2017 off-year elections revealed no dispositive evidence that
the Democratic victories in two “blue” states, and in the mostly
“blue” urban areas were an omen for next year. Michael Barone
further points out that the watershed “upset”election of 2016
is probably the “new normal.”

If the current debate and formulation of a new tax policy does
not result in a new tax code, as was promised by Republicans
in 2016, and combined with a failure to repeal and replace
Obamacare, also a major GOP promise, I think much of the
conservative congressional district advantage is severely
weakened. Prospects for Democrats to regain control would
then be significantly advanced.

Nonetheless, the speculation is rather premature. President
Donald Trump’s disruption of the Obama policy legacy and,
indeed, of the whole Washington, DC political culture, has
only begun. If it continues, and it is seen as an improvement,
a contrarian outcome in 2018 is possible. If his leadership
becomes mired in more stalemate in the Congress, or Mr.
Trump himself falters, next year would be a good one for the
opposition party.

More important now, I think, than any speculation about who
wins or loses in 2018 is keeping an eye on the quality of
recruitments by the two major parties for competitive seats,
the usable money they are raising (the net amounts after they
pay their fundraising consultants), and the voter ID/GOTV
strategies they are employing in the close contests. Also
important will be the opposition approach to Donald Trump.
The current strategy, as I and others have pointed out, is not
working beyond the liberal base. A refusal to take a new
strategic course may not make much headway in the “new
normal.”

When we know who is running against whom, what the
Congress accomplishes in the coming weeks, and the state
of the economy in the spring and summer of 2018, there
will be time enough for making all the political guessing
we can muster.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Not So Fast!

There has been unrelenting disheartening news for liberals,
Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans since last year’s
general elections, so it should come as no surprise that the
results of the off-year 2017 elections would provide some
over-reactions on both sides --- the Republicans before the
election, and the Democrats (and their establishment media
pals) afterwards.

To both sides, I caution: Not so fast!

Conservatives not only won an upset presidential election
in 2016, but have also won most of the special elections since
then. The political map, for the time being, has been
transformed, but in advance of the 2017 municipal elections
and especially in the Virginia statewide elections, some
Republicans got ahead of themselves and assumed they were
stronger politically than they actually were.

The establishment media is now indulging, as well, in an orgy
of overstated liberal comeback and positive omens for 2018.

Democrats have every reason to be pleased by their wins in
November, 2017, but they did not win any upsets. New Jersey
and Virginia are solid “blue” states, both won by Hillary
Clinton in 2016, and with Democrats holding most major
statewide offices. Liberals won most of the urban races, but
this is their political stronghold.

In Utah, conservative, pro-Trump Jim Curtis won another
special congressional election replacing a conservative
incumbent who had retired. He won by the usual landslide
in that district. In Erie, PA, with its primarily Catholic, blue
collar, mainly Democratic-registered voters, Republican
challengers for mayor and country executive came close to
to winning upsets, despite the large Democratic registration
advantage in the city and county --- but Donald Trump
carried Erie County in 2016 when the state went for the
president.

Some in the media are trying peddle the notion that the
2017 elections were a big defeat for Donald Trump. There
is, however, no real evidence of this. Most of the venues, as
I have pointed out, were anti-Trump to begin with, In the
pro-Trump areas, he continues to be strong as before.

In other words, nothing is really changed. There are still a lot
of Democrats, especially in the urban centers and on the two
coasts. They still do not like Donald Trump. They might be
frustrated, but they can still be turned out, as was just
demonstrated in Virginia, even for a lackluster candidate.
Former working class Democratic voters who voted for Mr.
Trump still like him, and continue to vote for the GOP.

One more note: Off-year elections often do not predict trends
in following mid-term and presidential elections.

Victories are victories. Democrats should be pleased by most of
the 2017 results, but should be careful about misinterpreting
WHY they won those races. They might make a big mistake if
they see their wins as proof that the old liberal tactics are still
valid, including “identity” and “redistributionist” politics.

On the other hand, most state Republican parties have ignored
developing their constituencies in large and medium-sized
cities, and should not presume they can do well there without
the hard political work and investment necessary. Nor should
conservatives and the GOP presume it will do well in 2018
and 2020 if it does not keep its promises made to voters in
2016.

I think the most important results of 2017 are some of the many
new political faces, men and women, who ran for office for the
first time. Not all of them won this time, but as we know so well
from history, some of our most  important political leaders
did not win on their first try.

Are there new Abe Lincolns (lost his first race) on the horizon?
Probably yes, but they will come later.

For now, it’s on to 2018. Let the political games begin.

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Copyright (C) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reerved.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: When Are Words Important?

[This first appeared in Intellectual Takeout --- see link at right]

‘Tis well said again;
and it is a kind of good deed to say well;
and yet words are not deeds.

               William Shakespeare in King Henry VIII

As someone who has spent virtually his whole life in the
labor of words, spoken and written, prose and poetry
and political commentary, I could hardly assert that what
a person says and writes is not important. Language is
something all of us share and participate in, and there is
no doubt that speaking well and writing well begins as a
gift, and when nurtured and developed, is something to be
grateful for and admired.

But words alone do not make most machines work properly,
nor do they fix them. We do not eat them. they do not make
our bodies grow. Words have an important part in every
human life, but they do not make decisions, and act on
them. Self government in democratic republics such as
ours employ words, but words are not what happens. Words
have a place, but they are not the  place themselves.

I say all of that as an author and as a person whose working
tools are words. I say this as  someone who writes a great
deal about politics and government.

We happen to live at a moment in our nation when our
president’s best qualities are not what he says, particularly
“off the cuff,” responding to criticism, or in his inimitable
signature “tweets” in the social media. To many, especially
his opponents, his language is unfit for a president, provokes
disdain and embarrassment, and arouses dislike. To his
supporters, his words and comments are inspiring as
rebuking the political establishment and the fashion of
“political correctness,” but few, including those who support
him, would assess his words as eloquent or polished or
temperate.

Curiously, most of his prepared speeches, when faithful to
their text, are quite good. That is the result of a talented
team of speechwriters. Except for Abraham Lincoln, most
presidents have had speechwriters, and in the cases of
Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan,
they are remembered well for their prepared speeches ---
although each of them were graceful and able speakers on
their own.

President Trump is not a naturally graceful or eloquent
public speaker. But since he operates now in politics, that
does not mean he is not often an “effective” speaker.
The 2016 Republican presidential debates  were a case in
point. Mr. Trump won most of those debates. His support
grew after each of them. The judges of a formal debate
would not have graded him well --- and certainly not the
winner. But the real judges of those debates were the
Republican voters, and they determined that he spoke best
about the issues which were on their minds.

In the general election, this phenomenon continued as the
Democratic nominee uttered platitudes and other
predictable comments while Mr. Trump continued to
disrupt conventional wisdom and “safe” conversation.

Elected president, Mr. Trump has continued to speak in
much the same manner that he did during the campaign.
He, as the saying goes,  drives most Democrats “crazy” ---
as he does some Republicans. The most common criticism
is that “he does not speak like a president should.”

In fact, it must be said that Donald Trump does not speak
most of the time like any president of either party before
him did.

As the universally astute and timelessly canny Mr.
Shakespeare wrote in the quote above, however, words are
not to be mistaken for deeds. This is especially important
to note when discussing the work of government and public
policy. Politicians are frequently notorious for how they employ
words --- words that sound good and reassuring and even
eloquent, but all too often lead to no action, no decisions, and
no change.

In that regard, President Trump seems almost prodigious in
his accomplishments so far, especially in reversing, undoing
and changing the policies and actions of his predecessor
Barack Obama. Mr. Trump has, in a very short time, disrupted
not only the status quo of the previous liberal administration,
but also not a little quantity of what previous Republican and
Democratic administrations did.

My admonition to readers to pay more attention to Donald
Trump’s actions than his words is not meant to change anyone’s
ideology, or to make anyone agree with him. It is, however,
intended to remind all --- friend of Donald Trump, his foes, and
those who have not yet made up their minds about him --- that
beneath the flurries of words, some very serious political
actions and transformations are taking place.

Mr. Trump’s unprecedented upset of the large field of his own
party’s candidates, and then his defeat of Hillary Clinton was
not some inexplicable accident. Nor was Mr, Trump’s strategy
that of some brilliant advisors. Donald Trump made most of it
happen himself,, often against the advice of his own staff and
friends.

This does not mean that Donald Trump will be a successful
president, nor that he will be re-elected in 2020. He has only begun
to govern in a volatile domestic economy and a global period of
uncertainty. His disruption of U.S. political establishments
might fall short or fail outright. His and his party’s policy
promises might remain stalemated.

It does mean, however, that his words, tweets, and hypersensitive
need to hit back at his critics, are not the determining factors in
his conduct of the presidency. Failure to understand this, in my
opinion, only fuels his continued domination of the political
marketplace, and his hold on the key voters who want something
to get done now in Washington, DC.

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Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.