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.

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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.

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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
president.

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.”

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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
earnest.

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.

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