Monday, May 20, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: TV Debates Could Be The Key

As the date of the first Democratic presidential TV debate
approaches, it is becoming clear how this event might likely be key
to the initial sorting out by voters of the overlarge candidate field.

As now scheduled, the debate will take place in Florida on June 26
and 27 with as many as ten candidates on the stage for each night.

There are 24 “major” candidates now declared and actively
running, and most of them have, or will be, qualified for that
debate, resulting in some candidates being left off the stage even
if they have qualified.

Since  appearing in the first evening or the second evening of
debate, a certain unintended consequence will happen --- that is,
the chance impact of which candidates appear together.

What if, by the luck of the draw, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders
appear the same night? Or if they appear on different nights?
What if Pete Buttigieg and Robert “Beto” O’Rourke are on he
same night? Or different nights? What if Kamal Harris and
Elizabeth Warren share the stage? Or don’t?  Which current
underdogs will appear on which night, and in what combinations?

These questions don’t cover all the factors of how the public will
respond to the debaters, but it is an important unpredictable
element --- because TV debates often work significantly in
the viewer perception of contrasts between the skills and
personalities of the participants.

As the DNC has ruled, the determination of who will appear
on which night will be by chance, not by standing in the polls or
money raised.

Debate skill and projection of personality will also be important
factors. But if chance also determines who appears on which night
of the second debate the following month, voter sentiment might
remain undefined, and the large field might be at least partly
preserved into the new year and the first primaries.

This is the crux of the big question now, a month before the first
debate, about the nature of the Democratic contest --- will the
nominee be determined early, or in the primaries, or at the

A consequential question is whether or not the timing of selecting
the Democratic nominee matters to the ultimate outcome in
November. That question is obviously open to debate, and cannot
be answered now.

But with the Democratic Party apparently so divided on policies
(if not ideology), the potential of the TV debates to create voter
attitudes and enthusiasm or opposition remains very high.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Food And Dining Out In 2019

[On occasion, as a special feature for The Prairie Editor subscribers, 
I invite the venerable food critic Leo Mezzrow to write a column on 
a culinary topic. This one is about the state of the restaurant business 
today, and where to dine out in the Twin Cities of Minnesota and its 
environs. While my readership is national and worldwide, a 
significant number of readers either live in the area now, once lived 
here, or visit this now booming restaurant community. So I hope 
readers find  the list useful. ------ THE PRAIRIE EDITOR]

by Leo Mezzrow

The restaurant business, like so many other aspects in our American
culture, is going through a great deal of change. Some of this change
is good, and some of it is not so good, and most of it is being driven
by technology and economics. Some of it is also affected by changing
dining public tastes which, like all aspects of public fashion, are brief
and easily altered. While technically national inflation is deemed low
by financial institutions, prices seems to be rising notably for those
who dine out --- caused primarily by rising labor and food costs. Chain
restaurants, both low and higher end, seem to be affected the most,
but it can also impact the small neighborhood ethnic restaurant. Other
factors include increasing local regulations and rising local taxes,
especially in large urban cities. In short, it is a tough business getting
tougher. Somehow, however, the quality level generally of  U.S.
restaurants, and the food they serve, continues to rise.

An excellent example of this phenomenon is taking place in the Twin
Cities of Minnesota where, in less than a decade the local food culture
has blossomed. The seeds of this were sown in the decades before by
innovative local restaurateurs and their young talented chefs. Most of
those pioneers are gone now, and there were relatively few of them,
but they deserve much credit for provoking rising expectations in the
dining out public, especially among the young who have grown the
”foodie” population to a significant size. Interest in “good” food and
dining out has always been strong in the largest U.S. cities, and
certain smaller cities such as New Orleans and San Francisco, but
cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul have come to the new
culinary party later.

Below is a list of my favorite newer Twin Cites restaurants (listed
alphabetically) with brief descriptions of their cuisines.  I have only
included those which I have visited. These are not food reviews,
and readers can do an internet search for addresses, phone numbers,
hours and days open, and menus. This list is current, but restaurants
do close, so  I recommend an internet search before going, Every
dining experience is unique, as are each diner's expectations, so I
can't guarantee the good time I have had. Prices will vary. Some
readers might also know other restaurants which are their favorites.

I will try to update this list on another occasion. Bon Apetit!

[NOTE: This list does not include my favorite area restaurants 
which are longer-established such as TILIA, 112 EATERY, 
about them another time.]


CAFE ALMA (innovative American)
CENTRO (Mexican)
COSTA BRAVA (Spanish tapas)
ESKER GROVE (innovative continental)
GIULIA (upscale Italian)
HAI HAI (Asian fusion)
THE LYNHALL (innovative American)
POPOL VUH (innovative Asian)
TAVOLA (Italian)
TULIBEE (innovative Nordic)
MOMO SUSHI (Japanese/Tibetan)
P.S. STEAK (upscale continental steak  house)


COMMODORE (Continental)
LOUIS AT COSSETTA (upscale Italian steak house)
PAJARITO (Mexican)


LATITUDE 14 (innovative Asian)

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

Thursday, May 9, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is GOP Senate Control At Risk In 2020?

In addition to re-electing President Trump, retaining control of the
U.S. senate is critical to Republicans in the 2020 election cycle.

On paper, that control  is clearly at risk --- since more than twice as
many conservative seats than liberal seats are up for re-election, and
three of those GOP incumbents have already announced they are
not going to run again.

But paper is not reality, and only a few GOP seats are likely to have
serious contests in 2020. The seats of the three retiring GOP senators
are in heavily GOP states, as are most of the other GOP senators
running for re-election.

With A 53-47 current lead, the GOP can also afford to lose 1 or 2
net seats. Republican are already considered likely to take back a
set that was unexpectedly won by a Alabama Democrat in a 2018
special election when the Republican nominee was so controversial
that many Alabama conservative voters stayed home.

Two Republican incumbents are considered especially vulnerable
next year --- Arizona Senator Martha McSally and Colorado Senator
Corey Gardner --- but Democrats so far have been able to recruit a top
challenger only in Arizona (former astronaut Mark Kelly) In Colorado,
they have not yet done so.

In fact, in several contests strong potential Democratic challengers
have not yet been recruited with a number of possible strong liberal
candidates either choosing to run for president or taking a pass
in 2020. These include Texas, Colorado, Georgia,  and North Carolina.
Republicans likewise have not yet recruited formidable challengers to
potentially vulnerable liberal incumbents in Michigan and Minnesota
--- although there is at least one strong GOP potential candidate in
each of these states.

One Democratic incumbent senator, Tom Udall of New Mexico, is
also retiring, but like his retiring GOP colleagues, his is likely to 
remain a safe seat for his party.

The basic environment of the 2020 battle for control of the U.S.
senate has been known for some time. but Democratic prospects
for this contest, as well as the one for the White House have until
recently appeared to be favorable.  For the present, however, the
historically large (and likely unwieldy) number of Democratic
presidential candidates, and a weak recruitment of Democratic
senate challengers has clouded that optimism.

The growing difficulty in the U.S. senate races is that time is running
out. The nature of a U.S.senate race today, especially in states of even
modest size, requires almost all challengers to either raise a lot of
money early or be able to self-fund with considerable resources. There
are exceptions such as the 2018 Utah senate candidacy of Mitt Romney
to succeed retiring Senator Orren Hatch. But even the exceedingly
well-known Romney was running in a very conservative state, and was
in a position to self-fund if he had to do so

Control of the U.S. house in 2020 remains a complicated matter.
Democrats must defend a large number of seats they won in 2018 by
relatively small margins, several of them in districts won by Donald
Trump in 2016. Court-ordered redistricting continues to favor
Democrats, and their surprising strength among suburban women
in 2018 might continue in 2020. On the other hand, President Trump
was not on the ballot in 2018, and the booming economy with
historically low unemployment (particularly among blacks and
Hispanics) had not been as realized then as it is now --- at least  for
the time being. In 2018, Democrats did an excellent job of recruiting
challengers. In 2020, the onus of  this task falls to the Republicans.
Unlike senate races, candidates for the U.S. house have more time,
in most cases, to enter a race. For these and other reasons, a useful
assessment of the the battle for U.S. house control needs to wait for
more time to pass.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Another Day, Another Democrat Running For President

Until the Democratic TV presidential debates begin in late June,
the most notable political news appears to be the seemingly endless
announcements of candidacies of Democrats with ostensibly
serious credentials. After the entrance into the race by former
Vice President Joe Biden (at gate number 21), it might have been
supposed to be the end of it, but already we have two more,
including Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, and the prospects of
several more. Stacey Abrams of Georgia and Bill Di Blasio of New
York are signaling their interest, as is Steve Bullock of Montana.
Andrew Cuomo of New York is writing op eds laden with hints.
Friends of Michelle Obama say the former first lady cannot be ruled
out. Given the sudden rise of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who
knows what other obscure urban mayors or state legislators are
dreaming of instant 2020 political celebrity.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) now says the first two
debates will have no more than twenty participants, ten on successive
days, in each. It set rather low bars for qualification. Seventeen have
already qualified, two are almost qualified, and each of the remaining,
including all those still unannounced, would probably qualify by the
deadline two weeks before the first debate.

As I wrote previously, the DNC has tied its own hands by declaring a
boycott of the Fox network (for being too conservative), and thus
provides candidates excluded from the debates, and even those included
but low in the polls, with an incentive to remain in the race past their
otherwise normal shelf life --- resulting potentially with an excessively
large number of candidates on the Democratic state primary ballots.
If the latter occurs, the risk is that no candidate will have enough
delegates to secure the nomination before the July, 2020 Democratic
national convention in Milwaukee --- and that a bitter battle there
might split or dishearten the party’s already fractious voter base.

Some might argue that  a contested Democratic convention, which
hasn’t happened for more than 70 years, would give the liberal party
much needed TV coverage and inspire voter interest, but the record
shows that large divided Democratic fields in conventions of 1920
(44 ballots) and 1924 (103 ballots) produced losing tickets in
November against the Republican nominees. Moreover, no party
nomination field has ever been as large as the one for the 2020
Democratic contest.

Conventional wisdom, furthermore, has been mostly wrong so far in
the 2020 cycle. Bernie Sanders, the upstart of 2016, was said not to be
able to hold on to his base, Joe Biden was said likely to fade after he
formally announced. Robert “Beto” O’Rourke was said to be the
“charisma” candidate. A small-city mayor (Pete Buttigieg) was said
to have no chance to gain traction. More radical candidates (Elizabeth
Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker), it was said, would do well in
initial polls.

The current cycle, however, is taking several contrarian turns, with
Sanders and Biden showing resilient voter appeal, Buttigieg stealing
the charisma “show” from O’Rourke, and more radical candidates
(other than Sanders) trailing in the early polls. Some preoccupation
with impeaching President Trump also is not resonating with most
of the liberal party base, nor is much of the issues lurch to the left.

I have previously pointed out that President Trump has serious
problems for his re-election, particularly in the all-important
electoral college, including the rust belt states he won (Pennsylvania,
Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin)  and southern states he won (North
Carolina and Florida). I said he had few prospects of picking up states
he had  lost in 2016. Now, only a few months later, his prospects have
improved in most of the states he narrowly won in 2016 (particularly
Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida), and he has new
opportunities in some states he lost (Virginia, Nevada and Minnesota).

Most polls show Mr. Trump below 45% approval and above 50%
disapproval. Virtually all of the polls, however, are composed of
“eligible” voters or “registered” voters. The major poll which is
composed of “likely” voters shows Mr. Trump at about 50% approval
(currently at 50-47% approve). Polls of likely voters are usually much
more accurate. The establishment media is embracing the former,
and dismisses the latter. (Of course, they were certain Hillary Clinton
would win in 2016.)

Current conditions could easily change, Sanders and/or Biden could
fade. O’Rourke or Harris or another candidate or two could suddenly
catch on. The debates could change the whole picture of the contest.
Disclosures could force a candidate to withdraw. News, domestic or
international, could change the political environment. Trump could
lose some of his support.

But until now, conventional wisdom and establishment media
speculating don’t seem to be working.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 29, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Democrats' Presidential Debate Dilemma

The Democratic National Committee(DNC) has put itself into a
political conundrum of its own contrivance, and unless it resolves this
dilemma, it could negatively affect the liberal party’s attempt next
year to recapture the White House and defeat Donald Trump.

The circumstance of an historically large field of candidates in itself
is not necessarily problematic. Republicans in 2016 ended up with 17
major candidates at the outset of their national TV debates. GOP
officials like to say that their rules and control of the debates made
them successful, but it was probably more that the series of debates
took place on all the networks, and their ongoing spectacle attracted
large audiences which, thanks to a TV entertainment-savvy candidate
led to his upset win of the GOP nomination and his surprise victory
in November.

Before going further, a bit of presidential debate history.

The first formal TV debate occurred in 1960 between Vice President
Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy. Kennedy’s appearance is
credited with boosting his eventual narrow victory, although polls of
radio audiences who only heard the debate thought Nixon had won
the debate encounter. The TV network then, and subsequently until
2016, controlled the format of the presidential debates, selecting the
locations, moderators, questions and rules of the debate. After the 2012
GOP debates which provoked a roller coaster of “winners” from debate
to debate, and charges that moderators were biased, the Republican
National Committee (RNC), as well as the DNC, decided to assume
some control. The 2016 GOP field required each debate to be in two
segments (to accommodate the number of candidates), and the RNC
insisted on input on the moderators. Since all the major five networks
(NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and FOX) had at least one debate, the
candidates  had to observe the rules, or risk being excluded from them.

The 2020 presidential debate cycle will begin in late June, 2019 with a
Democratic debate in Florida. Currently, there are likely to be more
than 20 “major”candidates in their field. Sixteen have already qualified
for the TV debates, and up to a half dozen more could qualify by June.
The DNC is setting up the rules for these debates, but one decision it
has made could end up self-sabotaging their own efforts.

Claiming that Fox News is biased against Democrats, the DNC has
announced it will not sanction any debate on the network. Inasmuch
as the other four networks are widely believed to be hostile to President
Trump, singling out the more conservative Fox  network has seems
ludicrous on its face. But the DNC would penalize any presidential
candidate who appeared in a Fox debate, presumably by excluding
them from the other debates.

Fox has quickly responded to the DNC by offering individual
Democratic candidates “town hall” programs of their own. Since Fox
has very large audiences, these town halls have so far been quite
successful, most notably perhaps the one with Bernie Sanders. Other
Democratic candidates are lining up for their own town halls --- which
constitute major free political advertising.

There is nothing now to prevent Fox from scheduling their own
presidential debate, albeit without DNC sanction, sometime in the
autumn or winter. Although they could be penalized, candidates lower
in the polls have little to lose and perhaps much to gain by defying the
DNC and appearing in the Fox debate. Bernie Sanders currently is a
Democratic frontrunner, and presumably need not fear DNC penalty.
If the DNC tried to exclude him from a debate, after what it did to him
in 2016 when he ran against Hillary Clinton, there would be massive
outrage and a  civil war among Democratic voters in response that
would threaten the Democrats’ chances in November. Senator Sanders
has already had success on Fox, and could appear in a Fox debate
therefore presumably with impunity. What would the other major
Democrats then do --- boycott Fox and allow Sanders and several other
candidates the free advertising of a  debate by themselves?

The decision by the DNC to boycott Fox seems ultimately arbitrary
and untenable. Fox is no more biased than any of the other networks,
and in offering Democratic candidates town halls ostensibly less so. Its
large audience base makes its air time desirable to any candidate, high
or low in the polls.

It is overwhelmingly tempting now, as former GOP White House press
secretary Sean Spicer and others have asserted, for Fox to schedule a
presidential debate later in the year, with or without DNC sanction. If
some candidates boycott it, it will only increase the audience size and
interest in it, especially if Bernie Sanders and/or other major candidates
appear in it.

It would seem to be good sense for the DNC to drop its boycott of Fox.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 22, 2019


The so-called “road to the White House” is strewn with potholes this
cycle, and no one is getting there at full speed with their gas pedal
down all the way.

Both parties have road crews out this spring trying to repair the road,
but so far it’s difficult to stay ahead of new potholes appearing to
disrupt the political traffic.

Since the Republican nomination is so far firmly held by incumbent
President Donald Trump --- and his assumption of vindication
following the issue and publication of the redacted Mueller report,
and since he already occupies the White House, the road’s potholes
are primarily an obstacle for the historically very large field of
Democratic challengers. (But Mr. Trump has his own set of
potholes ahead.)

Early assumptions made in late 2018 and early 2019 have mostly
been upended already, and the Democratic Party itself seems to
have decided the potholed road isn’t worth the trouble --- and
seem ready to take a detour to the house on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Their problem is that there is no known map to guide them on
such a detour, and they risk ending up in a political cul-de-sac with
no timely exit.

The surprise election of Donald Trump in 2016 has seemed to usher
in a suspension of many political rules and cliches both in the U.S.
and across the world.

A Jewish TV sitcom comedian (with no political experience) has
just been elected president by a landslide in historically anti-semitic
Ukraine. Upsets from the left and right have recently taken place in
Brazil, Italy, Austria, Mexico and elsewhere in Europe and South
America. Hitherto popular leaders in France, Canada, Spain,
Germany and Turkey are seeing grass roots uprisings challenging
their power. Citizen everywhere seem to be upset, impatient and
politically impertinent.

I think it is time to recognize that the U.S. presidential political
rule book will be of little use this cycle. A new strain of political
microbes seem on the move globally, and there is not yet a way for
political establishments to thwart them.

Even the re-election of Israeli Prime Minster Bibi Netanyahu’s
government recently reflects voter agitation with conventional
political wisdom. Accused of wrongdoing, challenged by a united
group of respected generals in a new party, considered by many
older voters to have been in office too long, Netanyahu was written
off by hostile U.S. and Israeli media as a sure loser. And indeed,
many older Israeli voters who had supported him in the past did not
vote for him. But unexpectedly, young voters did vote for him, and
his party not only gained seats, but won more than any other party
--- which was unpredicted.

The first U.S. presidential TV debates, less than two months away,
will clarify some voter attitudes toward the large number of
Democratic candidates, but even that won’t stop the surprises.

The 2020 political road is likely to be bumpy all the way.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 12, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What's Already Different About 2020

The 2020 presidential election cycle has recently begun in earnest,
and already there are visible differences between this unfolding
campaign cycle and 2016, as well as earlier cycles.

Some of these differences are obvious. Except for Donald Trump
and Bernie  Sanders, the other major candidates did not run in
2016 --- although some of the Democratic hopefuls had
considered running, or did run, in earlier cycles.

In 2016, the largest field was on the Republican side which initially
included 17 major candidates. In 2020, it is the Democrats who have
the large field --- in fact, it already has 18 formally-announced major
candidates, with 3-5 more expected to enter,

In recent decades, primaries and caucus have become increasingly
important, replacing smoke-filled rooms, favorite sons, and political
deals. Even the winner-take-all of a state’s delegates is no more.

In those recent decades, a tradition of Iowa being the first caucus,
and New Hampshire holding the first primary was observed by both
parties. This appears to be continued in 2020, but moving up of large
state primaries, most notably California, from later in the cycle,
might de facto replace them as some individual campaigns ignore
Iowa and New Hampshire for the larger treasure of delegates to be
won in California and Texas which will vote soon after.

State presidential caucuses have smaller voter participation, often
dramatically and undemocratically so, and for the 2020 cycle, two
states, Minnesota and Washington, have already abandoned their
caucuses for primaries. This trend might well continue.

Absentee balloting for cause has long been practiced, but many
states have adopted early or mail-in voting, or absentee voting
without cause. Same-day voting registration is taking place in more
states. These changes are causing election night results, as many
were in 2018, to be inconclusive until the following day. A reprise
of Bush vs. Gore 2000 could happen again.

The 2020 cycle could be one where third party candidates might
affect the outcome. There will be Green, Libertarian and Socialist
candidates as usual next year, but at least one notable independent
candidate, business executive Howard Schultz, has said he will run.
If many voters are unsatisfied with both major party nominees,
third party and non-voter totals could be significant.

Super-delegates, especially in the Democratic Party, played a very
significant role in 2016, but a new rule bars these delegates from
voting on the first ballot at the national convention, They will be
able to vote on the second and subsequent ballots. It is unclear
how his reform will play out.

In an attempt to force President Trump to release his tax returns,
a few states are trying to require candidates to make their tax
returns public in order to be on the November ballot. This
controversial move will almost certainly go before the U.S. supreme
court before taking effect.

At the outset of 2015, Jeb Bush was  an early favorite, and Chris
Christie the candidate with lots of charisma.  Neither got very far
once the debates and voting began. This cycle, Joe Biden (not yet
formally announced) leads in most polls, and Beto O’Rourke was
pegged as the charisma candidate. Already, Bernie Sanders is
challenging Biden in the early polls, and Pete Buttigieg is proving
so far to be a challenge to O’Rourke’s appeal. Once the debates
begin, other candidates could catch on.

Campaign funds, as always, play a role early in presidential
campaigns, but the ease with which most of the Democratic
candidates have initially raised $5 million or more, and the large
number of candidates, might diminish the psychological impact of
fundraising. In 2016, Donald Trump had the personal resources to
self-fund, and won. 2020 candidates who can do the same also can
lessen the impact of early fundraising of those candidates who
don’t have big personal resources.

Both parties face defections from their traditional voter bases in
2020. A preview of this occurred in 2018 when many suburban
women voted Democratic and many Hispanics voted Republican.
Next year could see further GOP erosion in the suburbs, and further
switching of Hispanic, Jewish and black voters to the GOP.

In the 2020 cycle, there is much incentive to garner media attention
early, especially in 2019. This is likely to tempt presidential
campaigns to take chances and make bold moves and statements.
Some will be successful, and some will backfire. All of them increase
the element of surprise and unpredictability into the campaign cycle.

So far, President Trump does not have even a remotely serious
challenger to his nomination. Barring the unforeseen, he will be on
the ballot in November, 2020. His proven ability to provoke, anger,
shock or please various groups of voters is perhaps the primary
carryover from the last presidential election.

Otherwise, 2020 goes into much new political territory.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 5, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Our Era Of Unrelenting Contempt

In the name of tolerance, a great deal of intolerance is being dished
out to the American public, most of it via media venues which profit
in various ways by its relentless agitation and incessant noisy racket.

Nowhere perhaps is this phenomenon more audible and visible than
its presence in the 2020 presidential campaign cycle already well
underway. At first, it might have been supposed that the verbal,
physical and legal confrontational rancor would be mostly between
the two major political parities and their nominees --- with a
continuing emphasis on attacking the incumbent president.

An apparently record number of nominally serious candidates for the
challenging party’s presidential nomination, however, has quickly
produced efforts to attack certain candidates and push them, or keep
them, out of contention --- from forces within that party itself.

A lament, has subsequently been heard about about the lack of civility,
fairness and clarity in the rhetoric and tactics of the political combat
now taking place.

The truth is, it is time to say, that politics in America has just in fact
returned to its bare knuckle origins. We tend to forget that at the very
beginning of the republic the discourse of U.S. politics was personal,
defamatory, often slanderous, and usually contemptuous.  No one was
spared --- not even George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Abraham
Lincoln. As the nation grew in size, population, and economic and
military power  in the 19th and early 20th centuries, its political
discourse became only slightly less contemptuous --- that is, until
mass communications in radio and television began to moderate its
tone when identified speakers voices and faces were seen and heard.

With the sudden advent of the internet and social media, anonymity
returned and so did the contempt. As with other forms of public
violence, mass attention could also be obtained by many of those
who eschewed anonymity for public displays of revenge, ugly
put-downs and sensational ex post facto political allegations.

The laments about this state of public affairs do not hinder it in
any way --- and so it not only continues, but grows louder, more
vicious, and more uncivil. Furthermore, it now appears to know few
if any allegiances, alliances or restraints.

It is not going away any time soon. In fact, it will now grow louder,
especially as the 2020 political cycle now underway. proceeds toward
election day eighteen months ahead. Even when that election
determines winners and losers, it will not fade away, as the precedent
of the 2016 aftermath has established.

One profound consequence of all of this is, and will continue to be,
that some of the most qualified and talented men and women in our
nation will simply and understandably avoid or pass on contributing
to public life, elected or appointed.

Nothing, of course, is permanent in human affairs, but the politics of
contempt will not go away until it so exhausts voters that public opinion
finally reasserts itself and declares, like a parent to a spoiled child, a
firm and unchallengeable “NO!”

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Latest Political Developments

Special prosecutor Robert Mueller, after 22 months, has filed a lengthy
report to U.S Attorney General William Barr, and found no evidence of
crime or collusion on the part of President Trump, his family, or top
staff in regard to alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election
---  according to the attorney general’s own public summary of the report.
Although numerous Democrats, many in the mainstream media, and a
few remaining “never-Trumpers” in he GOP have decried the report, it
has been widely received initally as vindication of the president and
those closest to him. Details of the report have yet to be released.

Two-term Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Udall of New Mexico
has announced he will not run for another term in 2020. His seat had
been considered a safe one in the next cycle. Two long-time Republican
incumbents, Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Pat Roberts
of Kansas had previously announced their 2020 retirements, but unlike
Tennessee and Kansas, New Mexico is a considered more of a
battleground state between the two major parties. Nevertheless, lacking
any announced candidates for the now open seat, Democrats would be
favored to retain it. All current New Mexico members of Congress are
Democrats, although current state GOP chair Steve Pearce was, until
2018, a Republican congressman from this state.

The U.S. House of Representatives, voting almost identically as they
had to oppose President Donald Trump’s recent declaration of a
national emergency on the U.S.-Mexican border, failed to reach the
required number of votes necessary to override the president’s veto
of their action. It was Mr. Trump’s first veto since taking office in 2017,
and his executive order remains in force.

The finalization of the departure (popularly known as Brexit) of the
United Kingdom (UK) from its membership in the European Union
(EU) has run into bureaucratic, political and procedural delays that
threaten fulfillment of the earlier British voters’ decision to leave the
continental alliance. UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative
Party is divided over the issue, and the House of Commons has
repeatedly rejected her negotiated arrangements with EU member
nations for the departure. The biggest, but not the only, obstacle to
parliamentary approval is the relationship of Northern Ireland, a
part of the UK, with the Republic of Ireland and other remaining EU
member states.  Mrs. May has obtained a delay of the formal April
separation on the condition that parliament agrees to it, but she has
already conceded that she lacks the votes even for that. At the same
time, parliament has voted that the British cannot leave the E.U.
without a negotiated plan for separation. This “no exit” scenario
threatens not only to provoke the prime minister’s resignation, but
even might precipitate, Brexit opponents claim, a new national vote
on Brexit itself.

Mayor Peter Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, a hitherto unknown
seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. president, reportedly is
drawing some crowds and attention as he travels across the country
to introduce himself to voters. At 37, he would be the youngest person
elected president if he won, the first openly gay president, and the
first sitting mayor elected. (Presidents Cleveland and Coolidge served
as mayors early in their careers, as did presidential nominee Hubert
Humphrey.) A former Rhodes Scholar, he was deployed by the navy in
Afghanistan, and is currently a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve,
He received earlier notice when he unsuccessfully ran for DNC chair
in 2017.  Buttigieg graduated with honors from both Harvard and
Oxford Universities. A polyglot, he is reportedly fluent in Italian,
Spanish, French, Arabic, Maltese, Norwegian and Dari.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All fights reserved.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Surprise Coming In Democratic Nomination?

With well-known names of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders holding big
leads in early polls, and massive media publicity being given to Robert
(“Beto”) O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, is it even
possible that the eventual Democratic nominee will be someone else,
perhaps a virtual unknown now in early 2019?

There will be at least 20 nominally credible Democratic candidates
trying to oust President Trump in November, 2020, even more than
the 16 who competed for the Republican nomination in 2016 when the
“impossible” happened, and Mr. Trump won an historic upset.

Recent history suggests that a surprise is quite possible, albeit very
difficult to predict with the names we now know.

There are now two relatively distinct themes within the Democratic
contest. One is the continuation of the more radical views of Senator
Bernie Sanders in his confrontation with Hillary Clinton in 2016. She
had represented a more pragmatic and traditional liberal policy
view, and had narrowly prevailed after a bitter primary/caucus
campaign cycle. Sanders had been a career-long socialist, but almost
took over the Democratic Party’s policy agenda.

The second theme so far in 2020 is really a continuation of the more
gently progressive agenda of the Clinton wing of the party, but this
cycle is voiced by former Vice President Joe Biden (who has yet to
formally announce his candidacy).

All of the other candidate represent so far variations of these two
contrasting themes --- although most of them lean to favor the more
radical issues of Medicare for All, open borders, abolition of the
electoral college, free college tuition, and the Green New Deal that
grew out of Sanders‘ 2016 presidential campaign.  The Biden wing
of the party stresses environmental, gun control, pro choice, regulatory
and traditional entitlement issues that contrast with the conservative
Republican agenda. All sides in the Democratic nomination race seem
truly united on only one subject --- their visceral opposition to Donald

As in 2016, there are important secondary and personal issues that
differentiate the candidates. Mrs. Clinton would have been the first
woman president, but had various controversies arising from the time
she was First Lady and, later, Secretary of State. Sanders, a socialist,
then 75, had only briefly been a Democrat. In 2020, with so many
more candidates, the secondary and personal issues are even more
numerous and complicated. Actual age, or generational age, could be
an issue for Sanders, Biden and Warren in the senior range, and  for
O’Rourke, Peter Buttigieg, and Tulso Gabbard in the youthful range.
Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson have no elective experience.
Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Karen Gillibrand, Julian Castro, Jay
Inslee, are unknown outside their states.  Harris, Klobuchar, Terry
McAuliffe (not yet announced) and Andrew Cuomo (also not yet
announced) have controversies arising from their political past. And
most of the remaining hopefuls are virtually unknown.

Yet Barack Obama and Donald Trump, only a short time before their
first presidential races were unthinkable as nominees, much less as
presidents. Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Wendell
Willkie, and Harry Truman emerged suddenly as serious presidential
contestants. The recent record for early frontrunners is very mixed,
to say the least.

The debates, as they have been for over half a century, are often key
to a presidential nomination and election. Little is likely to be
resolved until they are underway.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.

Monday, March 18, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Joe On The Brink Again

Thirty-four years ago, in 1985, I made a prediction in a community
newspaper I edited and published in Minneapolis. Although the
publication featured local news and city politics, from time to time I
wrote about and editorialized about national politics. Three years
earlier, in 1982, I had predicted that a then-unknown Colorado
senator, Gary Hart, might emerge in 1984. Although he didn’t win,
he did emerge. By 1985, I thought I would try again for the next
election in 1988.

Another young and unknown senator had caught my attention. His
name was Joe Biden. First elected to the U.S. senate in 1972 when
he was only 29 (he could take office only because his 30th birthday
was before the day he was to be sworn in), he almost didn’t serve
because his wife and daughter were tragically killed in an auto
accident just after the election. (He once told me that his grief
made him decide to resign before being sworn in, but that
Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey at a December meeting for
incoming new senators persuaded him to take office.

Two of his young sons survived the accident, and eventually he
remarried, had another daughter, and settled in as a senator from
Delaware. I had read some about him, and he seemed to be a fresh
face and voice in his party.

So I wrote a front-page editorial about Biden, and predicted he could
emerge as a serious contender for the 1988 Democratic nomination,
and might even be elected president. At some point, Biden came to
Minnesota for a speech, and I met him for the first time. It turned out
he had already been thinking about 1988, and soon announced his
candidacy, emerging as the most serious opponent to Democratic
frontrunner Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. But fate once
again intervened, and Biden was diagnosed with a serious double
aneurism that forced him to leave the race in 1987.

Biden recovered, and once again settled into a leading role in the
U.S. senate where he first became chairman of the judiciary
committee (where he led the effort to block Robert Bork’s
appointment to the U.S supreme court), and later chairman of the
foreign relations committee. In 2006, a newly-elected senator from
Illinois sought now senior Senator Biden’s counsel on senate
matters --- and Biden then served as a mentor. The new senator’s
name was Barack Obama.

In 2008, Democratic nominee Obama chose Biden to be his vice
presidential running mate.

In 2016, after two terms as vice president, Joe Biden was inevitably
one of the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination along with
Hillary Clinton. But once again, tragedy stepped in as Biden’s eldest
son Beau, the Delaware attorney general with a bright political future
of his own, died of cancer.  Overwhelmed with grief, Biden chose
not to run.

Now 76, Biden leads in numerous public opinion polls for the 2020
Democratic nomination. With many younger Democratic hopefuls
moving to the left, he maintains the premier reputation as a liberal
moderate or centrist. His years campaigning across the nation for
Democratic candidates has made him numerous friends among party
activists, and no other Democratic candidate can match his foreign
policy experience. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
another major moderate figure, said he would not run if Biden does,
and now has withdrawn.

There is now widespread belief that Biden will announce his
presidential candidacy sometime in April. If he does, he will almost
certainly be a frontrunner along with Vermont Senator Bernie
Sanders, the runner-up for the 2016 Democratic nomination.

Sanders was then an early voice for the drift leftward in the liberal
party, and that is where most of the many lesser-known Democratic
hopefuls are clustered, months before the first TV debates in June.
A few candidates have cautiously floated their more moderate
credentials, but with Bloomberg out of the race, Biden would likely
attract voters in the party’s still very large older liberal base.

Biden’s age is not the only issue of his candidacy. Four decades of
elected public service are also in play in what is almost certainly
going to be an epic battle to be the candidate against Donald Trump.
This time, I’m making no predictions, but I am nonetheless aware
that some predictions (perhaps even those thirty-four years old) can
come true when you least expect them to do so.

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

Thursday, March 14, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: How "Uncle Sam" Invented Our P.R. Culture

Those who read and study history know that much of the distinctive
political and cultural phenomena of today had  their origins in an
often-forgotten past. That past might have lacked modern technologies,      
but in U.S. history particularly, with its revolutionary political
and economic systems that were fashioned in the 18th century and
grew in the 19th century, a very rich soil for innovation existed. 

The early 19th century was especially notable for invention of all kinds
as the Industrial Revolution took hold in Europe and the U.S. and
reshaped and reformed human civilization. The invention of steam
engine for ships and the locomotive almost overnight expanded mass
mobility and transportation. The invention of photography, the telegraph,
motion pictures, typewriter and the telephone made “mass”
communications possible for the first time.

It was inevitable that extraordinary personalities would emerge as
inventors, entrepreneurs and innovators in such an environment, and
they did. Some are vaguely remembered today, such as Thomas Edison
and Alexander Graham Bell, but most are forgotten. I recently wrote
about Peter Cooper as an example of this historic memory loss.

One of the most remarkable characters of the 19th century in the U.S.
is now mostly remembered in the symbolic American figure known as
“Uncle Sam” for which he was the model at the height of his fame in
the early 1870s.

Dan Rice had been born Daniel Maclaren in New York City in 1823. 
After a series of entertainment jobs, he created the first American
circus. He is now considered not only the father of the American
circus, but also of vaudeville, a format he pioneered. Prior to the Civil
War, he was probably the mot well-known person in the country. He
created “the greatest show on earth” before his late rival, P.T. Barnum
got in the circus business. He is generally considered the physical
model for the iconic figure of Uncle Sam.  (Photographs of Rice show
him to be the spitting image of the early Uncle Sam cartoons.)
Mark Twain and Walt Whitman were among his biggest fans. By
1867, he was so famous, he ran for president. His good friend,
Horace Greeley, was the Democratic nominee for president in 1872.

Dan Rice was the first U.S. pop culture megastar.

In many ways, he invented modern American public relations. An
inveterate self-promoter, his public persona reached deeply into early
American life. He popularized “French cuffs” in the U.S. He was a
famed circus impresario, actor, director, animal trainer, professional
dancer and songwriter. He originated several idiomatic phrases
which are still in use, including “one horse show,” Hey, Rube!”
and the political term “getting on the bandwagon” (the latter
from his invitation to 1848 presidential candidate Zachary Taylor
to appear on one of his circus wagons).

Rice eventually became involved in politics, announcing his
candidacies for U.S. congress, senate, and president --- although
he withdrew from each of these races before the voting began.

The end of his story, sadly, is similar to many of those who have
achieved great fame and celebrity a century later. By the late 1870s,
changes in the traveling circus, led by Barnum and others, caused a
decline in Rice’s fortune and popularity. He had to close his circus
and its winter headquarters in a suburb of Erie, PA. He stopped
performing and retired. He died in New Jersey in 1900, virtually
penniless and forgotten.

Perhaps Dan Rice is the first cautionary tale of modern American
public relations, an industry he did so much to create, but his story
of brilliant talent, innovation, singular celebrity, and ultimate
decline remains one of the extraordinary and most American
narratives in our history. It should not be forgotten.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: An Uncivil War Coming?

We are in the “in or out” political season, as certain ambitious political
individuals decide if they are going to run for president or not in the
2020 cycle.

The latest count has 14 “name” candidates formally in the race for
the Democratic nomination for president --- with up to a dozen
more possibly getting into the contest. Also declaring their
decision NOT to run were about a half dozen prominent Democrats,
the most well-known of whom were Hillary Clinton and former New
York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Running for president, and qualifying for the party TV debates, is very
tempting to an ambitious but nationally-unknown politician, but it
requires money and campaign staff, and not just self-confidence and at
least something of a credible political resume.

Long before Donald Trump appeared, it was an established fact that
publicity was a key element for any political figure to emerge from the
gelatinous gray mass of daily media coverage. Most of the candidates,
those already announced and those likely yet to announce, face the
challenge of how to successfully promote their candidacy and stand out
from the overlarge crowd. A few others, including Joe Biden, Bernie
Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are already well-known,but maintaining
their current relatively high poll numbers remains a constant challenge.

There were about 16 “name” Republican presidential candidates in
2016, and Donald Trump was not among the favorites until the TV
debates. His strategy was pooh-poohed by most political “experts” and
media commentators, but as Barack Obama did in 2008, he was able
to defy conventional wisdom, and prevail against better-known rivals.

Joe Biden and Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, one already a frontrunner and
the other a media favorite from his unsuccessful 2018 Texas senate
campaign, have yet to announce. When and if they do, they are likely
to be immediately significant factors --- as would New York Governor
Andrew Cuomo, who is reportedly considering a candidacy.  But there
are a notable number of lesser-known figures, in and not-yet-in, who
might suddenly, or after the debates begin in June, come to the forefront.

What is very unlikely to happen is what happened in 1896 when the
keynote speaker at the Democratic convention --- not a candidate for
the nomination --- so electrified the delegates that he was nominated.
(Although he lost the general election that year, William Jennings Bryan
went on to be the Democratic nominee two more times.)

The Democrats have established a number of conditions, procedures
and rules, some of them new, which make an early winner unlikely.
Chief among them is removing the large number of superdelegates
from voting on the first ballot at the national convention, the prohibition
of winner-take-all in a given state’s primary or caucus, the new
early frontloading of major state primaries, the DNC decision
apparently to put all candidates who qualify on the same stage at the
same time (this might yet be changed), and, of course, the sheer
number of candidates.

The proportional allotment of delegates based on popular vote,
undercuts the traditional favorite son or daughter advantage of those
from larger states.  A case in point is Kamala Harris of California who
has been lining up endorsements by many of her state’s leading
Democrats, but who will have to share the huge bounty of her state’s
delegates with her major competitors. The same will be true of other
large states with native sons or daughters who are running for

At some point, some in the large field will go beyond the common
Democratic theme of attacking President Trump,and begin attacking
each other. Party decorum and unity advocates abhor this strategy,
but it is inevitable in a political environment when  a first-term
congresswoman feels at ease in attacking most of her party’s
leadership, past and present, including former President Obama.

This is certainly not a cycle, in either major party, for candidates who
are verbally squeamish.  The voters are likely in for an “Uncivil War”
throughout the campaign   The allegations, namecalling, pillorying,
churlishness, and other incivility of the past two years are likely to
have been only a practice run.

Into this political miasma, step the candidates for president of the
United States. It could well be the kind of cycle when some of the
“ins” --- in retrospect --- will wish they had stayed ‘out.”

Copyright (c 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Presidential Medical Secrets

President Donald Trump recently had his annual medical check up,
and his physician reported he is very fit. Considering his robust daily
schedule, there is no reason to doubt the report, but the president will
be over 70 when he runs for re-election next year, and many of his most
serious potential Democratic opponents will also be over 70, and even
older than he will be.

In the past, presidential medical condition reporting has often kept
important information from the public, beginning perhaps with the
case in 1893 when President Grover Cleveland, shortly after beginning
his second term in office, was diagnosed with a mouth tumor, requiring
immediate surgery. The public was told that Cleveland was going on a
fishing trip to Cape Cod on a private yacht.

In fact, the yacht “Oneids” secretly anchored off Long Island, and with
six of the nation’s top surgeons aboard, the tumor was removed. The
president’s trademark bushy moustache subsequently hid the evidence
of the surgery in the weeks hat followed after Cleveland reappeared in
public. The incident was only revealed years later, after the president
died, by one of the surgeons.

A quarter of a century later, President Wilson suffered a debilitating
stroke while in office, and the information was kept secret from the
public for the remainder of his term --- as his wife assumed de facto
control of the White House, and the government.

Two decades after that, the news that President Franklin Roosevelt
was dying was kept secret by his physicians during his fourth election
campaign. He died shortly after his inauguration in 1945 after he chose
Harry Truman to be his vice presidential running mate in 1944,
replacing the incumbent Vice President Henry Wallace who was an
open admirer of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy ran for president and won, although he and
his physicians knew he had then-fatal Addison’s (kidney) Disease.
Today, this disease is treatable, but then it was fatal, and if he had not
been assassinated in 1963 and had run for re-election 1964, he might
well have not lived out his second term. Kennedy was also heavily
drugged to alleviate his pain from the disease throughout his short
presidency, a fact also kept from the public.

During his time in office, President Ronald Reagan had cancer surgery,
but it was not revealed as such in public.

Wilson’s, Franklin Roosevelt’s, and John Kennedy’s ailments clearly
affected their performances as president.

With so many senior men and women running for president in 2020,
and the extraordinary daily physical demands made by this job, it
would seem important to have  an objective assessment of each
candidate’s physical condition before the election season begins in

In 1893, President Cleveland and his advisors worried that news of his
illness might negatively affect the stock market. Today, and going
forward, such a physical disability in the White House would likely
affect much more than that.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


There are not a few skeptics about the political spectacle we are all
about to witness as an historic number of candidates compete to
become the Democratic nominee for president.

On one hand, there are those who think the political process ahead
will be instructive, substantive and useful in the eventual choice of
the Democratic nominee. On the other hand, there are the skeptics
who think most of the campaign will be little more than a bizarre
unreality show pitting publicity and other self-promotion gambits
against each other in an outpouring of sloganeering, manipulative
propaganda, and cynical deceptions.

The latter, the skeptics, also point to the excessive media bias on
both the left and the right as proof that only a minimum of authentic
information will be made available to the voting public, especially
before the first candidate debates in May and June.

So what can a voter do to avoid a spectacle of campaign duplicities
which might lie ahead?

I think a few key matters to look for when attempting to assess the
numerous candidates this cycle include personality, originality,
excessive promising (especially of new entitlements), experience,
and communication skills.

Let me detail each of these with some specifics.

Personality is always important. Not every candidate will have what
is called “charisma,” but a successful winner of a presidential
nomination almost always has an attractive and distinctive manner
and appearance.

Inevitably, the winning nominee brings some original aspect to his or
her campaign, either in strategy, fundraising, communications, or
choice of issues.

Politicians invariably make promises --- most of which are not kept.
Democrats, who usually favor increased government activity, often
promise more or new entitlements without credibly explaining how
they will be paid for or sustained. Free college education, Medicare
for All, and the Green New Deal each have huge price tags. Voters
need to hold candidates accountable for how they will pay for what
they promise.

Although it is clear that many Democratic voters are looking for new
faces, successful political management experience remains a
valuable trait for serving as president. Critics of both Barack Obama
and Donald Trump cite each of them for lack of such prior experience.
This is not about the age of a candidate. An older candidate might lack
experience, and a younger candidate might have a excellent resume.

A president has many roles, including initiator of domestic policy,
director of foreign policy, commander in chief of armed forces, and
spokesperson of the nation. Each of these require good if not
exceptional communication skills if a president is going to inspire
confidence and persuade citizens to follow his or her lead. Abraham
Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan
excelled in communicating their successful presidencies, although each
were very different. Harry Truman was effectively plain spoken, and
John Kennedy was eloquent. Unsuccessful presidents often
communicate unsuccessfully.

These are just some suggestions for how to navigate the turbulent
nomination contests ahead, especially for Democrats who must
choose from such a large number of candidates. There yet might be
a contest for Republicans --- who would need to apply no less scrutiny
of their choices.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


He was America’s first public philanthropist. He made the first steam locomotive.
He invented Jell-o. He was one of the handful of men who was responsible for
the first transatlantic cable.  He put the first elevator shaft in a building, and did it
before the elevator was invented. He was the nation’s early equivalent of a
billionaire, who was an ardent abolitionist and also promoted the cause of Native
Americans.  At 85, he ran for president of the United States. He still is the oldest
person ever nominated by a notable political party. He lost (but probably affected
the outcome of one of the closest elections in U.S. history).

Yet few, outside his home town, remember his name.

Peter Cooper was born in New York in 1791. (George Washington was in his
first term as president.) He died in 1883. He was one of the greatest American
capitalists of the 19th century, and an historically important innovator, but what
made him a true visionary was his original and compassionate notion that,
having made a fortune, he needed to give much of it back to the community in
which he lived. Born in modest means, he routinely gave his money to
institutions and causes for the poor and for political reform. In 1876, at the
age of 85, he ran for president of the United States as the nominee of the
National Independent (Greenback) Party, He received only 1% of the vote, but
many of his then radical ideas later became normal standards of public policy

His most enduring and visible contribution was a building, the Cooper Union,
which was completed in 1858. It was then, and is now, a school of architecture,
engineering and fine arts. It was intended for the poor of New York who
otherwise could not attend classes. Then, as now, no one paid to attend the
school’s classes. The only requirement was superior intelligence. Men and
women could attend, as could the young and old. It also provided the only
public library in the city of its kind, open to all. Since the day it opened,
there has not ever been a vacancy in its classes. It lists great artists and
architects, famous engineers and a Nobel prize winner among its graduates.
Over the years, its faculty and students became more and more
distinguished. Today, with 600 students, it is one of the finest schools of its
kind in the nation.

But Peter Cooper had a second purpose in mind with his Cooper Union. In
the building’s basement, he constructed a Great Hall, then holding 1100
persons, that was to be a forum for new and exciting ideas.

The most famous speech given there was, of course, Abraham Lincoln’s
two-hour address on the evening of February 27, 1860. Lincoln, at that
moment, was the darkest of dark horses for the Republican nomination
for president in 1860. The new party which had replaced the Whig Party
in 1856, now had a chance to elect a president, because the crisis of the
slavery issue had split the Democratic Party into a northern faction and a
southern faction. New York Republicans, however, thought that their
governor, William Seward, then the frontrunner for the GOP nomination,
could not win the general election. They planned a series of speeches, to
be given by prominent Midwestern Republicans, to find a candidate who
could win. Among those they invited, was Lincoln,  a successful railroad
attorney who had served one term in Congress, but had lost an 1858 senate
race in Illinois to Stephen Douglas (who by 1860 was the almost certain
Democratic nominee for president). Lincoln, however, could not come to
New York for the scheduled autumn, 1859 speeches at the New York
YMCA, but was able to come in February, 1860. By that time, the
organizers had moved the venue to the larger Cooper Union, opened only
a year before.

Lincoln’s speech is arguably the most important political speech in
American history. Not as poetic as the more famous Gettysburg Address
or his Second Inaugural, his bold Cooper Union speech destroyed the
pretense of the intellectual argument for slavery, and electrified his
Cooper Union audience. Lincoln had also cagily arranged for copies of
his speech to be distributed to the press, and within a few days, he was a
political sensation in the North and among Republicans. This speech
almost certainly made him the eventual nominee and president.

Cooper Union continued to be a forum for important American speeches
and ideas throughout the 19th century, the early 20th century, and to the
present time. After Lincoln’s speech, Susan B. Anthony, Horace Greeley,
Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert Ingersoll, Victoria Woodhull and
Thomas Huxley spoke there, In recent years, Bill Clinton has spoken there.

When I got out of graduate school and moved to New York in the early 1
970’s, I lived for a while in the lower east side, and passed Cooper Union
to and from work every day.  I did not ever go inside, although I knew it
was an historic building still in use. Later, I learned about Lincoln’s
speech there, but I still did not know until much later the full story of the
school and its remarkable founder, Peter Cooper --- a man who changed
history in so many ways.

Copyright (c) 2007 and 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 15, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Twenty-Four Years Ago.....

Twenty-four years ago, I was the part-time executive director of a
non-profit, non-partisan foundation that had two main functions --- first,
holding periodic national conferences on timely public policy issues,
and second, hosting and escorting foreign public figures in the U.S.,
primarily those who were part of the United States Information Agency
(USIA), and later U.S. State Department, international visitor program.
I had co-founded the foundation in 1989 with my friend, the late Julius
Smith, a prominent attorney and local public figure.

Our first project was a  national symposium on low-income housing in
1990 with the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack
Kemp as the main speaker. I had gotten to know him in my full-time
job as a journalist who covered national and presidential politics, and
he graciously agreed to come to Minneapolis for our event. We also
invited prominent local and national Democrats, as well as non-partisan
low income housing activists and developers. The symposium was
about a then somewhat controversial subject, and running it was quite a
learning experience. We did not get much media notice outside

For the next five years, the foundation’s primary activities were with
international visitors. Over the years, we hosted locally or escorted
around the U.S. more than 500 foreign elected officers, public officials,
businesspersons, journalists and cultural figures from almost 100
nations.  It was an eye-opening experience, but a story for another time.

Early in 1995, I felt it was time for another symposium. As an opinion
journalist and reporter about national politics, I had formed some views
about the importance of the so-called “political center” in
American public life.  I sensed that a national symposium discussing
“Locating the new political center in America” might be useful and
timely. Once again, using contacts I had made as a journalist, I invited
some prominent centrist U.S. figures to participate, including members
of President Bill Clinton’s administration, leaders of major centrist
organizations, including the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a
centrist think tank from where Mr. Clinton had emerged earlier,
prominent Republicans including then Speaker of the U.S. House
Newt Gingrich, and well-known independent and third party figures.

Although my roster of invited speakers was perhaps initially ambitious,
some surprise events propelled the symposium into unexpected
national prominence as its mid-December date approached.

First, it was the third year of President Clinton’ first term, and it was a
problematic time for his administration. A year before, Newt Gingrich
had engineered an historic realigning mid-term election, and
Republicans took control of the U.S. house for the first time in four
decades. Gingrich’s policy initiatives (many of them centrist) had put
Clinton on the defensive, and there was talk of some challenging the
president’s upcoming 1996 renomination or running as a third party

Perhaps the most prominent of these potential revolts came from a
group known as the “Secret Seven” that included prominent centrist
Democrats former Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, New Jersey
Senator Bill Bradley, former Governor Richard Lamm of Colorado,
former Congressman Tim Penny of Minnesota, and former Senator
(and 1984 presidential candidate) Gary Hart, as well as former 1980
independent presidential candidate John Anderson and independent
Maine Governor Angus King.  Former Republican Connecticut
Governor Lowell Weicker was later listed in the group (causing it to
have a new media name, “the Gang of Eight”). Each of them were
self-described centrists unhappy with the leadership of both parties.
It was also rumored that Bradley and Weicker might run for president
in 1996.

When I asked Tim Penny to participate in the symposium, he quickly
realized that the event could be an ideal way to formally launch the
“Secret Seven” plan to push the major parties toward the political
center. I agreed to let members of his group headline the symposium
dinner, The luncheon keynote speaker was to be Speaker Gingrich
who I had gotten to know years before when he was a relatively
unknown congressman.

Although only three of the Secret Seven spoke at our symposium in
Minneapolis, it was major national news. Suddenly, our efforts to gain
a bit of publicity for the symposium exploded into front-page headlines
across the nation and in nightly network news stories. Some of our
invited guests who had been reluctant to commit to coming to frigid
Minnesota in December now virtually begged me to participate.

The second unexpected event, older readers will recall, was that our
symposium date ended up in the middle of a contentious government
shutdown pitting President Clinton against Speaker Gingrich. As the
the event approached, my staff and my friends all advised me we were
going to lose Gingrich as our keynoter. When I contacted him with
foreboding, I was pleased to learn that he fully expected to appear,
provided we could arrange for his live televised remarks by satellite
from a studio in Washington, DC to our event.  We scrambled to do
so, and some of generous  sponsors came up with the extra funds to
make it happen. Needless to say, Speaker Gingrich’s live remarks at
our symposium drew a standing-room-only crowd and national media.

Steve Scully of C-SPAN had grown up in Erie, PA, as had Tom Ridge
(then governor of Pennsylvania and a speaker at several of our
symposia), and as I did. I don’t think Steve and his colleagues needed
much persuading to televise our event. Usually, C-SPAN broadcasts a
program such as ours only once, but because of the government
shutdown, they lacked timely material --- so sessions of our
symposium were broadcast repeatedly for several weeks. 

(I realized C-SPAN’s impact when I made my next visit to Washington,
DC a few months later, and I was actually stopped in the streets several
times by persons who had seen me speak at the symposium!)

Al From and Will Marshall, the leaders of the DLC came and spoke, as
did Elaine Kamarck representing the president and Vice President Al
Gore. My friend Mike McCurry, the presidential press secretary (whom
I had met in 1988 when he was press secretary to Bruce Babbitt, then
running for president), graciously arranged for representatives of
President Clinton, including former Governor George Sinner of North
Dakota, to hold a press conference responding for the White House to
Speaker Gingrich’s remarks at the symposium.. Ross Perot’s 1992
campaign manager Orson Swindle participated as did Michael Lewan,
former chief of staff for Senator Joe Lieberman (later Democratic vice
presidential nominee), policy guru Grover Norquist, former President
George H.W. Bush senior staffer Jim Pinkerton, Ross Perot’s pollster
Gordon Black, several other DLC staffers, and many national and local
figures. Over the next decade, we held a number of successful national
conferences, but thanks to our outstanding 1995 participants, an
excellent symposium staff, and a huge attendee turnout, this one was a
high point of the foundation’s symposium history.

National pundits, including David Broder, Michael Barone, Tony Snow,
Jack Germond and Jules Witcover, weighed in, as did most of the nation’s
major newspapers, Also Time Magazine (which had  broken the initial
“Secret Seven” story), U.S. News & World Report, The Weekly Standard
and so many others, I stopped counting. The TV networks --- ABC, CBS,
NBC, PBS, CNN, UPN, CONUS --- showed up in force,, as did many
national and local radio programs. Participant and presidential scholar
David Kozak wrote a long piece about the symposium in Presidential 
Studies Quarterly. Virtually overnight we had become a big national story.

Why have I imposed on the reader with this little account of a
now-forgotten symposium that occurred twenty-four years ago?

We have just endured a government shutdown that matched a
controversial first-term president and a powerful speaker of the house.
Elements of both major parties are alleged too extreme, and after a
period of passivity, the political center and its issues appear to be
reasserting themselves. In 2019, many specific issues are different from
those in 1995, but many broader issues of taxes, spending, accountability,
transparency, and bureaucracy remain in the forefront.

After 1995, Bill Clinton moved decidedly to the center, and soon
compromised with and adopted several of Newt  Gingrich’s policies.
Budgets were balanced. There is no “Secret Seven” today, but there
are major figures in both parties, and independents, who speak out to
refute extreme views,  unsustainable policies, political correctness, and
just plain bad ideas.

In 1995, virtually the entire national media embraced the news story of
a potential political revolt from the center, and did it mostly fairly..
In 2019, a similar story is being treated by many (but, to be fair, not all)
in the media as almost a threat to national security

The political center is like the earth’s magnetic pole --- it keeps moving
according to forces in the core of public opinion --- just as the magnetic
pole is moved by forces from the earth's core.

Where is the U.S. political center today?

The answer might tell us more about 2020 than any poll numbers.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Flipping A Coin With More Than Two Sides

The media appetite for measuring the prospects of individual
candidates for president has probably not ever been greater,
especially with so many nominally serious candidates in the
field for the 2020 Democratic nomination.       

At the same time, the attempts at ranking and measuring the voter
support for these candidates have probably not ever been so fraught
with obstacles and uncertainty.

The first obstacle was already apparent as the 2016 votes were tallied,
and its historic upset not anticipated in the interpretation of the polls,
even those published on the eve of election day. As has been pointed
out in their defense, many national polls were relatively accurate in
measuring the final overall popular vote (carried by Hillary Clinton).
But the presidential election is constitutionally an electoral college
contest state-by-state, and the nation-wide polls did not predict the
actual result.

Polling today has many problems beyond just pundit interpretation,
including locating voters willing to be polled, finding them available,
determining if they are likely to vote, and accumulating a sample size
that will result in an accurate measurement. Finally, at this very early
stage, polls reflect name recognition and little more. Only some of the
many expected to run have formally announced their candidacies, there
have been none of the all-important debates, and for now at least, the
first presidential caucuses and primaries are a year away.

Depending on a decision by the New Hampshire secretary of state, the
first-in-the-nation primary could be moved up a month or more, and if
it is, presenting extraordinary technical difficulties for the Iowa
caucuses which are supposed to precede New Hampshire.  To make
matters even more complicated this cycle, the largest-in-the-nation
primary, California, has been moved from June to just after New
Hampshire. There is a reasonable possibility that individual campaigns
might downgrade Iowa and New Hampshire, and concentrate their
early efforts in the much larger state and its much bigger number of
delegates. A decision by New Hampshire won’t be made before
September (7 months from now). The earliest debates in Iowa are
tentatively set for August.

In recent presidential election cycles, eventual nominees showed their
strength only after debates and primaries/caucuses began, and that
occurred with usually far fewer serious contenders than apparently
will compete for the Democratic nomination this cycle.

To further complicate assessing the whole field, the first big surprise
was the emergence of a serious possible independent presidential
candidate, Starbucks CEO and billionaire Howard Schultz. The leftward
march of so many Democratic Party hopefuls has not stopped, but party
strategists were reminded that their party still has many centrist liberal

About a dozen major Democratic candidates are now officially in, but at
least another dozen or more are likely to announce their candidacies,
including the man who leads in all early polls, former Vice President Joe

A characteristic of many (but not all) recent cycles, especially for
Democrats, has been the emergence of previously less well-known
candidates.  Eugene McCarthy in 1968, Gary Hart in 1984, Howard Dean
in 2004 and Bernie Sanders in  2016 each made waves, yet fell short. On
the other hand, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama won nomination and
election. It is interesting to note that, although the favorites won the
Democratic nomination in 1968 (Hubert Humphrey), in 1984 (Walter
 Mondale), in 2004 (John Kerry), and in 2016 (Hillary Clinton), they each
lost in November.

The most well-known Democratic presidential candidates in this cycle
are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg
--- all senior in age. The same is true for Hillary Clinton who has not
ruled out another run. But there are at least 20 younger and less
well-known probable candidates. How can such a large field be usefully
polled or otherwise ranked at this time?

The answer is: It almost certainly can’t be.

Months from now, at least one or two candidates, perhaps a few more,
will emerge. Until then, polls are mostly meaningless (if not misleading),
and predictions are like flipping a coin with more than two sides.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Caselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 8, 2019


Many punditry and other media daggers are already slashing away not
only at Howard Schultz, the independent billionaire centrist likely to
run for president, and at Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City
mayor who is also a centrist and a billionaire (but running as a Democrat)
--- their rhetorical daggers are aimed at any centrist, liberal leaning or
conservative leaning candidate, as an obstacle to the self-styled crusades
either to defeat Donald Trump’s re-election next year or to keep him in

The decibels are louder on the left in this matter for  the simple reason
that the net loss of the large and critical number of centrist, moderate
and independent voters would likely hurt a Democratic nominee who
embraces the party’s currently fashionable radical agenda more than it
would hurt the president at the ballot box in November, 2020.

The anti-centrist campaign makes the usual arguments, including the
assertion that the current national political environment is so polarized
to the left and right; that centrists, moderates and independents don’t
know what they want because they have no ideology; and of course that
centrist are too few to elect one of their own. Each of these assertions
contains some validity, that is, a certain intense left-right polarity does
exist today, centrists are not usually ideologues, and this group of voters,
while large, probably cannot prevail with a candidate of their own on a
third party ballot in a general presidential election.

But, as with so much media bias these days, the anti-centrist arguments
distort reality and ignore critical facts.

Centrists, independents or moderates (some of these voters fall into two
or more of these categories) often avoid ideology because it frequently
results in stalemate of public policy. Ideological orthodoxy often
precludes political compromise. The way the national U.S. political
system works, compromise is a vital component of transforming policy
ideas into working solutions.

As for the argument that centrists, independents and moderates are too
few to elect one of their own, its presumption depends on the fact that
no independent has ever won a presidential election (Teddy Roosevelt
came the closest, finishing second in 1912). But Ross Perot did briefly
lead both his major party opponents in the polls in 1992 (and got almost
20% of the popular vote. determining the winner). Until 1960, no
Catholic had ever been elected president;  until 2008, no Afro-American
had won; and until 2016, no woman had been nominated by a major
party. And speaking of breaking precedents, until 2016, no one like
Donald Trump had ever won the presidency.

The sudden emergence of centrist political figures in this cycle, however,
is more than just about  a centrist candidate winning. It is perhaps more
about the fact that one major party has seemingly been moving too far
off center. To be fair, it could also be argued, as both Mr. Schultz and Mr.
Bloomberg do, that the other political party is led by too controversial a

In any event, the political canter in the U.S. appears to be reasserting its
veto over political party extreme movements.

Senators Joe Manchin, an atypical and moderate Democrat, and Susan
Collins, an atypical and moderate Republican, are examples of centrist
forces in the U.S. senate, and there are numerous similar examples in the
U.S. house. Several centrist state governors of both major parties also
defy ideological and parochial stereotyping.

There are occasions when centrist figures occupy the White House, such
as during the Eisenhower and the Clinton administrations. And inevitably,
voters reject candidates they perceive as too off-center as they did in
1964 and 1972.

So let the media daggers slash where they may. I suggest that, like stage
weapons in theater plays, they try to create an effect, but are only made
of harmless rubber. The drama of the 2020 presidential cycle, so far only
a comedy, is only in Act One.

Let’s see how this show plays out.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Minnesota Special Election Upset

A blue wave hit Minnesota in 2018 when all the statewide races were
won handily by Democrats (called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party
or DFL in this state). State Republicans had hoped for better results in
2018, following Donald Trump’s surprise performance in 2016 when he
almost carried the state. But the DFL organizational, fundraising and
GOTV superiority carried the day as the liberal party won back control
of the state house, won all the constitutional offices, two U.S. senate
seats, and picked up two previously GOP congressional seats. The only
good news for the conservatives was their pick-up of two previously
DFL congressional seats and an expected win in a state senate special
election for a seat they previously had held. (The rest of the state senate
senate seats were not up in 2018.) The GOP now held a tenuous one-seat
majority in the state senate.

When new DFL Governor Tim Walz subsequently chose a DFL state
senator to join his cabinet, most observers expected the resulting special
election on February 5 to be won by a DFLer, especially since the
son and grandson of the incumbents who had held the seat for decades
immediately announced his candidacy.

The northern half of the district included part of the city of Duluth,
and had elected a DFL state representative. The southern half was rural
and had a GOP state representative. Donald Trump has carried the
district in 2016, and although there was no state senate race in this
district in 2018, when the two house race totals were combined, the DFL
had won by only 33 votes.

The GOP promptly endorsed and nominated the local GOP state
representative for the senate seat. A popular local figure, an electrician
and a member of a local trade labor union, he even obtained the rare
support of a few local labor unions for a GOP candidate. Yet he had to
overcome not only the well-liked family name of his opponent, but the
traditional advantage of superior DFL and big labor union GOTV
efforts. This formidable GOTV apparatus had, in fact, enabled the DFL
to head off a serious intraparty primary challenge only weeks before
the special election.

With so much at stake for the new DFL administration’s legislative
program (the GOP had only a one-seat seat majority), the DFL poured
considerable resources and effort into the campaign.

Hoping the DFL nominee’s youth and lack of experience, and the fact
that he did not live in the district prior to the election, would keep the
race competitive, and knowing that President Trump had carried the
district by almost 10 points in 2016, enabled the state senate campaign
effort, under Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and his chief
campaign strategist Mike Campbell, to try for an upset, realizing that
their tenuous one-seat majority would become a much more
comfortable three-seat majority if they won.

Unknown and unpredictable factors were possible lack of support by
the DFL faction which had supported a woman challenger who
narrowly lost the party primary, and the notorious Minnesota winter
weather which is often at its snowiest and coldest in early February.
A factor favoring the DFLer was the fact that the DFL part of the
district traditionally outvoted the GOP part by about 10%. A factor
favoring the GOP was the presence on the ballot of a Legalize
Marijuana Party candidate who might likely draw votes from the DFL.

As it turned out, it was a relatively cold day, with little snow, and the
third party candidate received 2% of the vote. But apparently the DFL
political dynasty in the district could not hold for a third generation.
The GOP candidate, Jason Rarick, won by almost 1000 votes, 52% to
46%. No doubt his legislative experience and labor union ties helped,
as did the lack of experience and carpetbagging of his opponent, but
it was also a major political upset for the DFL which had only months
before swept almost every race, demoralizing the state Republican
Party and its supporters.

GOP strategist Campbell said after the results were in, “It was a
realignment of voters in outstate Minnesota. The DFL had won the
district for decades, and we were the underdogs, but we won back
a lot of working people in the distract.”

Mr. Gazelka, now the de facto leader of his party in the state, and
Senator-elect Rarick have provided local conservatives with
something to cheer about, but whether it will soon revive the state
GOP party, still reeling from 2018, is unclear as 2020 and new
elections loom.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Why Schultz Disrupts The Democrats in 2020

The news of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s quite possible
presidential candidacy signals to the recently-energized radical
wing of the Democratic Party that their hitherto unchecked,
media-encouraged turn to the left, as advocated by Bernie
Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Maxine Waters,
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cory Booker and others ---at first
heralded in 2016, seconded in the 2018 mid-terms, and now
promulgated by many Democratic presidential aspirants ---
will no longer go unchallenged on the liberal side of U.S. politics.

Former Democrat Schultz’s challenge is particularly serious
because he can put himself separately on the November, 2020
ballot in all states, and give centrist Democrats and many
independents a choice between a controversial Democratic
nominee and Donald Trump. 

Radical Democrats are likely correct in assuming that a Schultz
independent candidacy, or another one with his resources, could
doom their chances to defeat President Trump next year.

Another maverick billionaire is running for president, in 2020.
Michael Bloomberg is running, as of now, for the Democratic
nomination. LikeSchultz, Bloomberg is a centrist. As such, he is
competing against the ideological tide in his newly-adopted party.
In New Hampshire a few days ago, Bloomberg spoke in sharp
contrast and critically to his radical rivals, emphasizing his issues
 of climate change and gun control, and dismissing the currently
fashionable radical issues of higher taxes, Medicare for All, and
other entitlement programs he considers unsustainable.

With so many Democratic rivals to his left, Bloomberg’s strategy
seems to be to win the mainstream and moderate Democratic
primary voters while his opponents split the party voters on the
left. But if former Vice President Joe Biden enters the race, he
might also take many centrist party voters from Bloomberg.

As the political season advances, Mr. Bloomberg might wish he
had chosen the independent route as Mr. Schulz has done.
Although both men are very successful businessmen, Bloomberg
was an outstanding mayor of New York City, and has proven
himself as an effective political executive in problematic
circumstances. But he faces a daunting challenge as a rare
centrist/moderate in political party careening to the left.

Meanwhile, Howard Schultz has indicated that he has already
carefully prepared for an independent campaign, and seems to
judge the negative response to him by Democratic leaders as a
reinforcement to his 2020 campaign strategy. He clearly poses a
potential dilemma for the more radical wing of the Democratic
Party, but it is very early in the cycle, and how the primary/caucus
component of the presidential election plays out remains to be
seen and heard.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.