Monday, April 30, 2012

2012 Is Not Like 2008 Or Any Other Election

We pundits can't help ourselves when we try to make analogies between
current and past presidential election years. To some degree, the best
analogies usually do apply. But I am coming to the conclusion, that apart
from some obvious comparisons, the conventional rules of U.S. presidential
elections will be largely upturned in 2012.

My reasons center around some simple facts and conditions.

President Obama was the first black president. He will thus be the first black
incumbent president to run for re-election. Mr. Obama won the 2008 election
primarily for two reasons. First, there was considerable "fatigue" with
Republican President George W. Bush, then completing his second term.
Second, only weeks before the November election, there was a meltdown in
the mortgage banking sector causing an immediate economic crisis. In short,
there was a conflation of seemingly unconnected circumstance which enabled
Mr. Obama to win. The election was decisive, but it was no landslide.

Mitt Romney is not John McCain. Although Senator McCain was clearly a
much-admired figure for his Viet Nam war experiences as a soldier and
prisoner of war, and for his service in the U.S. senate, he lacked ironically the
combative nature to wage a tough election campaign against Mr. Obama,
There was also perhaps no viable strategy to overcome the mortgage banking
crisis that appeared so close to the election; Mr. McCain's strategy to suspend
his campaign might have been one of the worst alternatives available to him.

Mitt Romney is also not John Kerry, Al Gore, Bob Dole, Walter Mondale,
George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey or Barry Goldwater. Barack Obama is
not George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan
or Richard Nixon. Mr. Romney is the first Mormon to be nominated for president.
Although he was a governor, he is the first nominee for president since before
World War II to come from a successful self-made career in business.

Although the U.S. economy is always going through cycles of prosperity and
recession, the current downturn is unusual for its length and its chronic high
unemployment. Previously the world's dominant economy, the U.S. faces
historic ad unprecedented trade challenges from China, India, Brazil and the
European Union. There is also a growing global economic debt crisis facing
Europe and China that has made world fiscal conditions more important to
individual Americans than ever before.

Changing rules and new technologies are increasingly and more rapidly
altering U.S. presidential campaigns. This is especially so in the key aspect of
fundraising, public relations and in identifying voters in the often under-noticed
get-out-the-vote campaigns. The internet, even more than before, has changed
American politics.

The congressional election cycles have gone through two unprecedented
(in terms of their quick reversal) "wave"elections. In 2006 and 2008, the "wave"
went to the Democrats. Abruptly, the 2010 "wave" went the other way, to the
Republicans. In 2012, Republicans control the U.S. house, and Democrats
control the U.S. senate. Not all candidates are known yet, and once-in-a-decade
redistricting has taken place, but given the national economic conditions, and the
fact that such a disproportionate number of vulnerable Democratic incumbent
senators are running, the relationship between the congressional elections and
the presidential campaign of the incumbent are extraordinarily, on their face,

The influence of non-traditional political forces on a presidential campaign has,
seemingly, not been greater. The Old Media, continuing its pattern from 2008,
has become a mostly uncritical cheerleader for Mr. Obama. This also includes
most of the figures of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. The New
Media, including radio talk show hosts, Fox News (its cable viewers total more
than all the other cable networks combined), and large-scale websites such as
Drudge and Breitbart, have become cheerleaders for the conservative movement.

Further complicating the 2012 elections are the new populist movements of
both the right (Tea Party) and the left (Occupy Movement) which have recently
emerged. As these pull against the natural gravity of the political center in
presidential election, they tend to upend traditional politic and politicking.

Finally, there is more political and ideological division in the nation since the
1930's. There was perhaps as intensive political emotion in the country in the
Viet Nam war period, or more, but the division was not so much between
conservative and liberal as it was about the specific war issue (and generational).

Of course, assuming what I am contending is true about the unprecedented
nature of the 2012 presidential election, the key and obvious question is: Who
does these circumstances help the most and hurt the most in their quest to be
elected, or re-elected, president this year?

The answer to that will become obvious right after election day, and no one
knows that answer for certain six months away, but we do have some
fascinating clues about this answer, and I will try to examine them in the weeks

Copyright (c) 2102 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What About France?

Continuing my discussion of world conditions and developments, I turn to
France and its current presidential election.

The French are very proud folks. They are rightfully proud of their beautiful
countryside, their extraordinary metropolis of Paris, their wines, their cuisine,
their museums, and their contributions to world culture in painting, sculpture,
architecture, literature, music, philosophy, film and dance. But they have an
exaggerated pride in their politics and the influence of their language. With
their large continental population (about 65 million), their large economy,
and the fact that France is the number one tourist destination in the world, this
nation continues to be one of the top nations of Europe (along with Great
Britain and Germany).

The main problem for France is that it is in protracted demographic and
economic decline. French was THE international language for more than a
century, but French has now been supplanted by English, as well as
(increasingly) Mandarin (Chinese), Spanish, Russian and Hindi. Thanks to
the emergence of Brazil as an economic power, even Portuguese is becoming
more important than French. (But don't tell that to a French-speaking person.
He or she will yell rude epithets at you in French!)

After several hundred years of absolute monarchies with strong ties to the
Vatican,  including naming Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor, Louis
IV initiated a number of European wars at the end of the 17th century, and
France became a dominant force in continental Europe along with Spain and
the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After a short-lived revolution a century later,
Napoleon Bonaparte made himself emperor of France and put France back on
the map at the beginning of the 19th century. He conquered much of Europe, and
went all the way to Moscow. By 1815, however, Napoleon had been defeated.
Later, the French empire began to shrink. Of course, France (as did her British,
Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and German neighbors) established colonies
throughout the rest of the world, bringing along her language, culture and law.
At one time, France had the second-largest colonial empire in the world (after
the British). Most colonies are now gone, although the French have made some
of her smaller former colonies to be overseas departments (states) of France with
full citizenship (and thus justifies holding on to them).

After Napoleon, France went through a protracted series of political ups and
downs, including short-term restorations of the monarchy, and a series of
republics. France was a military power at the outset of World War I, but by the
time World War II began, her military power was outmoded and weak. France
fell quickly to the Nazi blitzkrieg in 1940, and a large part of France was
partitioned into a Vichy government, subservient to Hitler, but technically
independent. This collaboration became the shame of France, as most of the
French went along (as did, to be fair, most of occupied Europe). Some of the
French, to their great credit, did not go along, and formed a network of resistance
which greatly aided the Allies when they re-took the continent in1944. Under
Charles De Gaulle, a Free French army was formed and moved to England, and
likewise contributed to the defeat of Hitler and Mussolini in 1945.

After the war, the French reorganized into a new republic, and with the help
of the U.S. Marshall Plan, recovered her economic well-being. France was a
central player in the creation of the European Common Market, and its current
successor, the European Union.

French politics continued its patterns of ups and downs. At the turn of the
century, French society was torn by the notorious Dreyfus Affair in which
long-standing French anti-semitism became a central political issue.
French leadership was part of the problematic Treaty of Versailles (1919)
in which the victors of World War I placed harsh terms on the losers just as the
world economy entered a period of prolonged depression. Political and economic
conditions quickly led to World War II, and French leaders (along with the
British) were slow and inept in dealing with an aggressive and malevolent
German dictatorship which soon combined with fascist totalitarianism elsewhere
in Europe, and once again threatened the world.

In recent years, France has seemed often to overreach itself in its quest for
world respect and influence. The French, as did the British and the Russians,
acquired atomic weapons. When it became obvious that above-ground testing
was a threat to world health, most of the nuclear powers limited themselves to
underground testing, but the French, using their overseas Pacific territories,
insisted on above-ground tests which had serious health consequences to nearby
areas and populations. France, the colonial power of Viet Nam, was forced to
withdraw from it in 1954. Soon after that, there was a traumatic separation of
France from its Algerian territory in north Africa, something which profoundly
divided the French people, and resulted in the creation of the Fifth Republic, the
present system with a strong executive. Restored as president of France, Charles
DeGaulle tried to rally visions of former French grandeur. Visiting Canada late
in his last term, he recklessly incited French-speaking Canadians in Quebec to
separate from Canada, long a member of the British Commonwealth. Although
it has remained part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, France, unlike
Great Britain, drew apart gradually from its historic alignment with the United
States in foreign policy, although again to be fair, this separation followed what
French leaders felt to be their economic self-interests (such as oil interests and
markets in the Middle East). France, like much of the rest of Europe, has seen a
huge wave of Islamic immigration that has upset past demographic and cultural
national patterns. Although France was once the European nation with the
closest ties to the Vatican, and was overwhelmingly Catholic, it has now
become rigorously secular. Modern French anti-semitism, first made public
during the Dreyfus Affair, and revived during the era of the Vichy government,
has resurfaced, as have other ethnic and religious tensions.

France is still an economic power, but like all its neighbors, large and small,
government debt, accumulated to pay for its vast welfare and entitlement
systems, has threatened its solvency. Smaller nieghbors such as Greece, Italy,
Portugal, Spain, The Netherlands, Hungary, etc., are feeling this crisis more
acutely now, and lack some of France's resources (its healthcare and
educational systems are highly-rated), but the French economy remains in
trouble. Taxation in France, compared to the U.S., is very high.

Contemporary France is in great flux. Its president, Nicolas Sarkozy, leads
with a multi-party parliament. Like most French governments since World
War II, he and the parliament are "right of center." Unemployment is high,
and the endangered Euro (the common currency adopted by most European
nations) is in considerable difficulty. For the first time since the Common
Market was founded, the survival of its successor institution, the European
Union and its Euro currency system are in doubt. Germany is now the most
stable and successful economy in Europe, but its ability and popular will to
continue to "bail out" the rest of Europe are also in doubt.

In the first round of the 2012 French presidential elections, the center-right
incumbent Sarkozy came in second, slightly behind the socialist Hollande.
They will run against each other soon in a second round election that will
determine the new president of France. Since Hollande and Sarkozy each
received less than 30% of the total vote, minor party voters will determine
the outcome. Marine Le Pen, the far right candidate, was the surprise of the
election, obtaining about 18% of the vote. The communist (far left) candidate
received about 13% of the vote. A centrist candidate received 9%. Various
fringe candidates of the right and left  got  less than 5%. On paper, Sarkozy
should get most of the Le Pen vote and narrowly win re-election, but in
reality, the far right Le Pen party would like to replace Sarkozy's party as the
major party of the right in France, so many of its voters (and leaders) might
choose not to vote for Sarkozy, and let the socialits win.  In fact, most French
political commentators have concluded that this will happen, and that M.
Hollande will win the presidency.

On the other hand, Sarkozy is outspoken and controversial, and while this
has often made him unpopular in France, he outshines M. Hollande (who is
rather bland) on the stump. Sarkozy also claims to be the only candidate who
can bring France out of her current economic slump. M. Hollande has offered
the usual leftist ideas to solve France's problems, and many observers suggest
he is not as strongly committed to the European Union as is Sarkozy. Thus, a
grand and pivotal showdown likelywill take place in France over the next few
weeks, with the smaller parties jockeying to provide the margin of difference
in the election (seeking thus to receive much influence in the new government).

[I need to interject here a word of caution and clarification for American
readers about the terms left and right, conservative and liberal, when
discussing European politics. Currently, the leaders of France, Great Britain,
and Germany are described as "conservatives," but the term is not the same
as it is in U.S. politics. British Prime Minister David Cameron, German
Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Sarkozy are considerably to
the left of their American counterparts, especially in terms of government
entitlements and welfare. Only the Czech statesman and current president
Vaclav Klaus (not to be confused with the late Vaclav Havel) would fit the
American definition of "conservative" among European leaders. Another
group of European politicians called "Euroskeptics" (the British member of
parliament William Cash has long been one of the most articulate of this
group), and who oppose much of the European Union, would also be
considered genuinely "conservative" by Americans.]

If M. Hollande wins the French presidency, he is likely to make expensive
concessions to the demands of French union workers, and this in turn may
make the pressure of the debt all the more problematic for France to resolve
its long-term problems (many of which it shares with its neighbors and
fellow European Union members.) But it is not clear, if M. Sarkozy wins,
that he would be able to muster the necessary support for the significant  and
ultimately "unpopular" changes in public policy that is going to be required
soon of all governments both in Europe and on the other side of the Atlantic

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Taking A Closer Look At Spain

Americans who live on the west side of the Atlantic Ocean, and who do
not spend much time in Europe, are often rightfully accused of being
ignorant of what takes place on the east side of this body of water. No
matter that conflicts in Europe have brought Americans into two "hot"
world wars and a "cold" war in the course of the 20th century, that the
population of Europe remains larger than the U.S., and that its economy
(at least for now united in the European Union) remains one of the world's

But as Americans are learning at the outset of the 21st century, the major
economies of Europe, Asia and (now) South America affect our economy
in a major and critical way, and it is no longer wise or useful for Americans
to be deliberately unaware of the so-called "global marketplace."

Europe, to put it mildly, is in deep economic trouble. Various continental
economies are virtually bankrupt from accumulated debt, much of that
debt resulting from prolonged social welfare economies. One by one, the
small and middle-sized nations of Europe, including Greece, Portugal, and
central European nations which are not now members of the European Union,
have faced dire crises that require the largest Euronations (most notably
Germany and France) to bail them out. Every "crisis" seems to be "solved"
in the short term, but the solutions increasingly appear to be temporary,
keep recurring and appear to be growing.

The latest nation in Europe in public economic crisis is Spain, one of the
more fascinating nation states of Europe, a nation which, having been
a dominant force in the Western World in the 15th through 18th centuries,
and previously having been ruled by the Arab empire, had declined in
influence for more than a hundred years until the late 1930's when revolts
threw off the monarchy and then a brief democracy. A fascist uprising
(1936-39) led to a dictatorship which was sympathetic to Hitler, and
resulted in the isolation of Spain until the 1970's when the Spanish
dictator Francisco Franco died, and his government was replaced with a
constitutional monarchy/democracy that increasingly rejoined Europe and
increasingly prospered.

Spain once had more colonies than Great Britain or France, but by 1900,
those colonies were mostly gone. Nevertheless, Spanish law, culture and
language was a legacy in North and South America, and in spite of Spain's
dramatic global political decline, Spanish literature, music and art held their
place as major contributors to world culture. Names of artists such as
Picasso, Miro, Dali, Gris, Tapies, Unamuno, Garcia Lorca, Aleixandre,
Baroja, Arlt, Ortega y Gasset, Otero, Jimenez, Goytisolo, Albeniz, De Falla
and Granados, are among the most prominent in the past century.

Soon after dictator Franco's death, the far right falangist forces which
flourished under his 36-year "reign" attempted to recover power with a bold
coup d'etat. The young king, Juan Carlos, who had been installed by Franco
as his "figurehead" successor, however surprised the world with a  personal
courageous defense of the young Spanish democracy, the far right was
defeated, and modern Spanish democracy was established firmly in place.
Since that time, Spanish prime ministers, freely elected, have represented
both the left and the right, with the current government led by a conservative
who recently replaced a socialist.

King Juan Carlos, after heroically defending his country's new democracy
in the early 1980's, became a national hero. His role as a constitutional
monarch was (as is Great Britain's) very limited, but his personal popularity
and stature gave stability to Spain as it prospered. He reinforced his stature
when a few years ago, he confronted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at
an international conference, and famously told him "to shut up."

As the British have learned with their constitutional monarchy, however,
royal families with their elite society and extravagant lifestyles paid for by
the state, can run into problems with the children and grandchildren, as well
as royal cousins, of even a popular monarch. This, sadly, has happened to
Juan Carlos, first with business controversies involving the spouse of one of
his children, and now, with the king's own alleged improprieties associated
with an elephant-hunting safari in Africa.

Today, as well, the Spanish nation is divided by its regions, its languages,
and its violent history. Semi-autonomous Basque-speaking and Catalan-
speaking states have arisen, with groups there calling for complete
independence. Spanish is spoken in Galicia (northwestern Spain) side by side
with Galician (which is closer to Portuguese), and immigrants to Spain pose
challenges as they do throughout Europe. Memories of the brutal Spanish
civil war still haunt Spain today.

As a long-time admirer of King Juan Carlos (and in full disclosure, his
classmate at the University of Madrid, although I did not ever meet him
personally), I am saddened by all these developments, including Spain's
economic woes and the royal family's problems. I lived in Spain at the
end of the Franco era, and revisited it after its new democracy was
established (and its prosperity revived). I speak Spanish, and am a long-time
student of Spanish culture. The new Spain, in my opinion, should be a vital
part of European long-term recovery. Its language and culture has contributed
heavily to the world we now live in. (More than 400 million persons speak

My point is that, for very good and self-interested reasons, we Americans
should pay attention to Spain, its tribulations and its still-hopeful promise.
A very recent challenge, the nationalization of the Argentine oil industry,
much of it owned by Spanish investors, has greater implications than just a
controversy between Buenos Aires and Madrid. The Spanish debt crisis
could have, probably will have, major consequences for the larger European
crisis. Whoever is elected president of the United States in 2012 will need
to pay a lot of attention to Spain. and its former colonies in South and Central
America, as they affect U.S. foreign policy and global economic well-being.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Nutty Populism In Argentina (And Perhaps Elsewhere?)

President Cristina Kirchner is the first woman elected and re-elected
president of Argentina, and the second woman to serve in that post.
The second wife of Juan Peron also served as president from 1974-76,
but was not elected. Mr. Peron's first wife Eva (widely known as "Evita")
did not serve as president, but exerted enormous influence over her
husband and Argentina politics before her premature death. All of the
Perons, husband and wives, employed demogogic populism for years to
win and keep power in this southernmost nation of South America as it
endured crisis after crisis.

Mrs. Kirchner's husband had previously been elected president of Argentina,
and Mrs. Kirchner succeeded him. She, too, has adopted the peculiar brand
of Argentine populism which utilizes both far left and far right ideologies
that stir up resentment between the economic classes in the country.

The tragedy of Argentina is that it was, circa 1900, one of the largest and
most prosperous economies in the world. Argentina has substantial land mass,
and was settled in the 19th century by a number of Europeans in addition to
the original Spanish settlers (who arrived in the 16th century). Argentina had
considerable natural resources, and a major farm economy. It was, and is,
justifiably famous for its home grown beef. In addition, a substantial culture
arose in Argentina, and this culture has contributed to world literature, music
and dance. Argentine Jorge Luis Borges was one of the greatest writers in any
language in the 20th century. The tango, the national dance, is considered a
global art form. Argentine music, fiction and poetry, painting and sculpture are
highly regarded throughout the globe.

In spite of its resources and assets, Argentine politics has allowed its early
prominence to decline into seemingly perpetual waste, demogoguery and crisis.
Its government was technically neutral in World War II, but sent aid to
the fascist Spanish government of its then dictator Francisco Franco, and was
a hotbed of Nazi activity in South America. More recently, Argentine leaders
have tried to claim The Falkland Islands (also called Islas Malvinas), long-held
territories of Great Britain, as their own. An earlier Argentine government, run
by a military junta, precipitated a war on this matter when Margaret Thatcher
was the British prime minister, a war Argentina promptly lost. Now, trying to
distract the Argentina public from domestic problems, Mrs. Kirchner has tried
to revive her government's claims to The Falkland Islands, something which has
almost no support outside Argentina. Her latest controversy, claiming to
nationalize the oil industry in her country which is owned by private Spanish
investors, has now provoked hostility in Spain (which about 200 years ago was
the colonial power ruling Argentina). Again, there is almost no international
support for the Kirchner government's claims.

Curiously, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed sympathetic to the Argentine
claims in The Falklands when she visited Buenos Aires a few years ago (at about
the same time she and the Obama administration took sides with an illegal
coup attempt in Honduras that was also supported by leftist South American
leaders Chavez, the Castro brothers and leaders in Bolivia and Nicaragua).
During his recent trip to Colombia (overshadowed by a Secret Service scandal),
President Obama made no comment either about the Argentine revival of its
Falkland Islands claims or its attempt to seize internationally-owned oil interests
in that country.

One of the constant themes of President Obama's term in office has been his
call for "taxing the rich" and redistributing wealth in the U.S. through increased
regulations and major new entitlement programs (most notably Obamacare).
Perhaps his reluctance to criticize the government of Mrs Kirchner reflects a
sympathy with her "populism" and an admiration for her techniques of shifting
public attention from real problems in her country to emotional issues that serve
as a political distraction.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Clean Up The Secret Service?

As someone who has dealt with the Secret Service through
it agents who protect the president, vice president, presidential
candidates, their families, and other high officials of government
for more than 40 years in my role as journalist, I have come to
hold this agency, and those in it, in very high regard.

Scandals involving the Secret Service, most recently and notably
the one that which brought at least 11 agents back from Colombia
after allegations of improper behavior of those agents, have raised
serious questions about the management of the agency in addition
to the obvious questions about the judgment and ethics of the agents
themselves (if they did what is alleged.) However, the allegations are
already serious enough for the preliminary action by the Secret Service
leadership to have replaced the agents in the field.

Pending the results of the investigation, conclusions about the specific
allegations cannot be made. But the recent bad publicity about the
agency does suggest that, at the very least, it's time for President Obama
to replace the Secret Service leadership. He has as much at stake in a
well-run Secret Service as anyone, and the security of not only the
protection of government officials, but the Secret Service's other (and less
well-known) vital tasks dealing with counterfeiting and federal crimes,
demands that the agency's reputation and quality of its management be
restored immediately.

Copyright (c) by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Friday, April 13, 2012

This Blunder Will NOT Go Away

The incredibly ill-advised comment by Democratic Party operative
Hilary Rosen about Ann Romney, i.e., that Mrs. Romney has never worked,
is one of those rare political blunders that will not soon disappear.

Normally, these gaffes fade from public consciousness as a political
campaign turns to other issues, but the reason that the Rosen gaffe will not
fade is that the Democrats have decided to make women's issues a
centerpiece of their national campaign this year, and every time they try
a different tack on this theme, voters will be reminded of the attack on
Ann Romney.

Why is this so? First of all, the Rosen comment was designed to diminish
Mitt Romney's wife as a political asset. Democratic strategists had good
reason to fear Ann Romney's ability to assist her husband in his quest for
the presidency. She is actually a remarkable woman who has many of the
communication skills her husband has not yet demonstrated. But Ann
Romney was not yet well-known to most Americans. A partner in what is
obviously a very successful long-term marriage, mother of five sons, and a
superb political campaigner for her husband, she is also a long-term
cancer survivor and lives with multiple sclerosis. The only truly smart
strategy by Democrats was to ignore Mrs. Romney as best they could, but
certainly not to attack her.

Now the whole country has been introduced to Mrs. Romney in a very
positive way. Hilary Rosen, having blundered so badly, furthermore, could
not stop, and continued her attack, trying to say that Mrs. Romney does not
understand the concerns and problems of women who work. Ann Romney's
life story, now known by virtually every voter, makes that claim seem
ridiculous. Finally, Ms. Rosen made a weak apology, and said, "Let's talk
instead about the substance of this issue." But what is the substance of the
issue? The real substance is that the Democratic campaign strategists had
intended to assert that Mitt Romney and the Republican Party were
conducting a "war on women," and thus aggravate a gender gap in the
November election.

Democratic spokespersons, from President Obama, Mrs. Obama, the DNC,
the national campaign chair, et al, on down, have now thrown Ms. Rosen
"under the bus," and they will now no doubt avoid attacking Ann Romney,
but they cannot continue their strategy of raising the specter of the "war on
women" without automatically reminding everyone of their attack on women
who stay at home and raise their children. Not only is this now in the
national political consciousness, the Republicans, as they have already
demonstrated, will skillfully remind voters of it.

The "war on women" was a cynical strategy to begin with, but it was not
without a certain cunning, and it might have fit the promotion of the overall
Democratic pro-choice on abortion issue and other feminist issues. To be
fair, there are several valid issues concerning working women and mothers
who also work. Mr. Romney and the Republicans, with polls showing them
trailing among women voters, might have been kept on the defensive, and
been forced to spend valuable campaign time and resources trying to woo
independent and centrist women voters to their side in November.

Now the roles have been reversed. Ann Romney has become indelibly a
sympathetic and appealing political figure, not only as a potential first lady ,
but as an eloquent spokesperson for a very large segment of women voters
in America (including perhaps many uncommitted women voters who might
have previously been inclined to vote for Mr. Obama, and not her husband.)
If the Romney campaign adds to this the argument that the Obama
administration policies are the real reason women workers, wives and
mothers are suffering in the current economy, the true "war on women"
could be seen to be being waged by liberals and Democrats, and not Republicans
who are trying to "raise all boats" by adopting policies that will turn a chronically
sour economy around.

Years from now, when various campaign blunders in U.S. history will be
discussed by political scientists and historians, the attack on Ann Romney
and "the war on women" strategy, I suspect, will be cited as one of the classic
and most egregious miscalculations of them all.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Whither The House of Representatives? Whither The Whole Election?

Because redistricting has not yet been finalized in all 50 states, and the nominees
of so many U.S. house races have not yet been determined, predicting the outcome
of the 2012 congressional races must be done with great and provisional caution.

As the highly respected Rothenberg Political Report suggests in its latest issue,
about 190 seats currently held by Republicans seem secure in 2012, and about 170
Democratic seats seem secure. This leaves about 70-plus seats currently too close
to call.

No matter who wins the presidential election, and because the 2013 U.S. senate
seems likely to be controlled by the Republicans (if for no other reason due to the
fact that more than twice has many senate seats now held by Democrats are up
for election this November), control of the U.S. house next year will almost
certainly be critical to the direction of U.S. domestic policy for the next four years.

If Mr. Obama is re-elected, but the senate and the house are controlled by the GOP,
that will act as a huge brake on any more radical plans the president has. If Mr.
Romney wins, and both houses of congress are Republican, we are likely to see a
roll-back of the Obama agenda (including Obamacare), and the institution of many
of the conservative economic ideas into national policy in the first term. The least
likely outcome, but always a possible one, would be the re-election of the president
and his party's control of both houses of Congress. In that case, the nation is in
store for a wholesale transformation of the American government to a welfare and
entitlement state.

The political prediction business, of which I am an inveterate practitioner, is
always fraught with danger. In 2008, I got it wrong. The voters, having already
expressed fatigue with the Bush years in 2006, were goaded by the mortgage
banking crisis, into cleaning house. And who could blame them?

In 2009, however, it was obvious (at least to me) that the "Obamacare"
legislation was, at the very least, a huge over-reach, improperly pushed
through the Democratic Congress, and quickly unpopular. The landslide
national election of 2010, in which the Republicans regained control of the
U.S. house and made important gains in the U.S. senate, was relatively easy to
predict (although my earliest predictions were poo-poohed by both those on
the left and the right).

At the outset of the 2012 national election campaign, this one with a
presidential election as well, I suggested that the Republicans were likely to
lose a few house seats, almost certain to gain control of the U.S. senate,
and more likely than not to win back the presidency. This was before
redistricting, recruitment of most challengers to incumbents in both the
senate and house races, and the GOP nominee for president unknown.

So where are we now that we know the Republican nominee, and the names
of most of the candidates for the senate, and redistricting almost complete?

The answer, of course, is hidden in the prospects of the state of the economy
in September and October when the bulk of independents, non-aligned and
centrist voters make up their minds about who to vote for.

The administration will go virtually to any lengths to persuade voters that
the economy is recovering (and recovering robustly). If the facts support
them, and that includes large numbers of Americans going back to work in
the next 90 days, a soaring stock market, and a dramatic rise in U.S.
manufacturing and production, it would not take a rocket scientist to predict
the re-election of the president, and many victories (not now predicted) in
congressional races. If, on the other hand, the real unemployment numbers
do not decline substantially (I don't mean the officials statistics; I mean the
real numbers); gasoline prices remain near, at or above current levels; the
stock market and real estate market declines, small business optimism
evaporates; and the high cost of "Obamacare" becomes more obvious; then
the 2012 election will continue the trend of 2010.

Selfishly, I hope the former scenario takes place. That would be good
financially not only for myself, but for almost all Americans. But the facts,
as I see them, signal a scenario more like the latter. Once again, "Obamacare"
acts as a huge drag on economic recovery. The more we learn about the
details of this legislation (Mrs Pelosi warned us about this), the more radical
and inappropriate this so-called reform of U.S. healthcare becomes clear.
If the U.S. Supreme Court rules this legislation unconstitutional, it solves
the problem of putting it into practice. It does not solve the Obama
administration's political problem arising from having tried to foist it on
the country. If the Court rules it is constitutional, it will provoke taxpayers
to the polls (as it did in 2010) to elect a Congress and a president to repeal it.
Thus, I am suggesting the exact opposite of some Democratic strategists who
contend that either way the Democrats win. To the contrary, this ill-conceived
legislation brings Democrats a no-win outcome no matter how the Court decides.
(Although the Constitution and public policy are much better served if the Court
rejects it.)

At each level of a national campaign, there are those who point out sagely that
two years, and then a year, and then six months, are a "political lifetime," and
that predictions are, yes, very risky business. We are now six months or so
from election day. Events do intervene. Surprises almost always happen. The
tinderbox of world politics often explodes when you least expect it. But the
shape and form of the 2012 elections are now coming into clear view. Certain
unchangeable conditions remain. This election will be primarily about the
voters evaluation of the incumbent president's performance during the past
three-plus years, about whether economic conditions are better or worse than
they were on January 20, 2009, and whether we as a nation are more or less
secure than we were on that date as well.

The reader does not need me, or any other pundit, to tell him or her the
answers to these questions. I have some thoughts on the subject, and will
gladly share them over the next few months in this space and elsewhere, but
the best prognosticator of the 2012 U.S. elections resides in the place where
the reader lives.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mr. Santorum Withdraws. What's Next?

Former Senator Rick Santorum has bowed to reality, and withdrawn
from the Republican contest for the party's presidential nomination.
This in itself is to be applauded, and the presidential campaign can now
move more appropriately to its next stage.

Mr. Santorum won in eleven relatively small primaries and caucuses, all
of them in the South and Midwest. He did have the second highest number
of delegates to date, but he was not ever truly in a position to win the
nomination. What he did win he gained through hard work, especially in
Iowa, and primarily with his appeal to a particular range of social
conservative voters.

Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul remain in the race, and will probably continue
until Mitt Romney, now the prohibitive frontrunner, actually reaches 1144
delegates, the number necessary for his to win the nomination on the first
ballot. That will probably take place some time in late May or early June.

Mr. Gingrich now rightly claims to be the last major conservative person in
the race, and when the totals are made, will now probably come in second to
Mr Romney. He might even win at least three remaining states, and thus
qualify to be nominated at the convention in Tampa. Mr. Romney and Mr.
Gingrich were the two candidates of the highest stature to actually run for
president this year, so this conclusion makes sense. Furthermore, by casting
himself as the true conservative remaining in the race, and by suggesting Mr.
Romney is the "moderate," I think Mr. Gingrich actually is helping his
opponent by reinforcing Mr. Romney's acceptability to independent and
centrist voters (perhaps as high as one-third of all voters) in the general
election against Barack Obama. That is perhaps not Mr. Gingrich's intention
at this point, but that is, I believe, the real result.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gingrich and Ron Paul, the other remaining candidate, can
continue to offer their ideas for the party platform. Mr. Gingrich, as I have
often pointed out, is the best Republican "idea man" of his generation, and
Mr. Romney and his team would do well to welcome and incorporate the
best of Mr. Gingrich's ideas into the platform in Tampa and in their campaign.

It is true that Mitt Romney did not start out as a "movement conservative,"
and came later in his political life to some of the most cherished conservative
ideas, including opposition to abortion and calling for complete repeal of
"Obamacare." But it seems to me that he is now irrevocably committed to these
and other conservative principles, and if elected president, would be a genuine
conservative president. Whether he would be the strong "reform" president
that many in the conservative base want to take office in January, 2013, will
depend on how successful Republicans are in keeping control of the U.S.
house and winning back control of the U.S. senate in this autumns elections.

With their presidential nomination all-but-settled, Republicans would be
well-advised to turn their attention to the many close races upcoming in the
congressional elections. Is 2012 to be a continuation of the conservative
landslide national elections of 2010, or a return to the Democratic control of
the Congress won in 2006 and 2008?

There is no question, their bravado public optimism notwithstanding, that
serious Democratic and liberal political strategists are very worried about the
autumn campaign coming. The economy remains unsettled, unemployment
extraordinarily high, gasoline prices rising to politically unacceptable levels,
the stock market quite volatile, and the public statements by the incumbent
president increasingly out of touch with the electorate. This does not mean
necessarily that the Democrats will lose in November, but it does mean that
independent and centrist voters are less and less inclined to go their way in
the balloting.

Copyright (c) by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Who Gets It and Who Does Not

It is unambiguously clear to any political observer who does not have
partisan preferences, and even to most who do, that the 2012 Republican
contest for the party's presidential nomination is over. Mitt Romney will
be that GOP candidate against Barack Obama in November.

On Sunday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich acknowledged as much
in a forthright and professional way. He also said that if, as he expected,
Mr. Romney were the nominee, he would do everything he could to assist
his election as president. This is what serious and mature politicians do. It
is what Mr. Romney himself did, as soon as he realized he could not win
the nomination in 2008, by promptly endorsing John McCain and then
working hard to help Mr. McCain in his November campaign.

Rick Santorum has apparently not reached the same conclusion as Mr.
Gingrich has, and continues his campaign, now risking that his hard work
in Iowa and his late emergence as a contender will be forgotten, and his
conduct from here on will be regarded as pathetic and a self-caricature,
possibly ending in two weeks in his home state of Pennsylvania where he
might well be humiliated by losing there.

Mr. Romney, for all intents and purposes, has moved on to the next level,
i.e. his contest with Mr. Obama. He had planned a massive ad buy
immediately in Pennsylvania, but in the face of the illness of Mr. Santorum's
daughter, he suspended these ads until the former Pennsylvania senator
returns to the campaign, presumably at mid-week. He thus demonstrates
a professionalism and personal stature that, alas, Mr. Santorum so far has
failed to show. (This, too, will likely not be lost on Pennsylvania voters.)

Ron Paul also remains in the race. He has not won a single primary or
caucus. Nontheless, he has consistently made his points about the economy,
and that was his purpose. He has indicated he would not, having lost the
race for the nomination, now turn and run for president as an independent.
He has had foreign policy disagreements with all the other GOP candidates,
but now at the end of his political career, he appears ready to bow out

Hillary Clinton retired from the 2008 Democratic nomination contest
although that race was much closer than the 2012 GOP race is now. She
might have contested some of Mr. Obama's delegates at the Democratic
convention, but the resulting bitterness and acrimony would have likely
doomed the Democrats' chances in November.

Electoral politics is a profession and a business. Those who are successful
in it know how it works best, and how, with room for individual personality
and imagination, a politician conducts himself or herself in a manner that
commands respect and admiration.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter And Passover, 2012

After several months of the first formal segment of the 2012 presidential
election, the next segment now begins. This occurs just as we go into the
the very special Easter and Passover holidays, and it's a good time to step
back, and take a brief respite from all the political news, and be thankful
for the many blessings all of us have in these difficult times, including our
friends and families, and the nation which enables us to live in such
freedom and opportunity.

To my many faithful readers, my continued thanks for their continued
support, for their attention to the myriad of issues of our day, and for
their vital concerns for the problematic times which are ahead.

My best holiday wishes to all.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Some Reality About The Republican Convention in Tampa

The Republican convention in Tampa in August will not feature smoke-filled
rooms and a brokered nomination for president.

The only smoke produced will come those delegates and media who enjoy
cigars. Those smoke-filled rooms will be far from the convention floor.
(Tampa is a center of U.S. cigar production.)

Well before Tampa, Mitt Romney and his political team will have taken
complete control of the convention. My conservative tallying has Mr. Romney
at a minimum of 1250 delegates at the end of the primaries, more than a
hundred more than he needs for a first ballot victory. That's a minimum.
The actual number will probably be closer to 1400. Mr. Santorum, if he wishes,
may be placed in nomination. Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Paul, not having won at
least five states each, are not eligible by the rules to be placed in nomination at
the convention. Unless Mr. Romney's team are complete amateurs and
incompetents, they will design that first ballot to end promptly and orderly,
make all the other presentations on the four-day program enhance the Romney
campaign agenda and themes, and have their nominee make his acceptance
speech timed precisely to be delivered at prime time.

As for speeches by Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Paul and Mr. Santorum, that should
depend on how they act between now and convention time. At a minimum,
they should warmly endorse Mr. Romney. As history has demonstrated, a
nominee who allows a less-than-enthusiastic former opponent to speak at
the convention is courting disaster. Senator Ted Kennedy's speech at the
1980 Democratic convention, after a bitter nominating battle between him
and a renominated Jimmy Carter, overshadowed the unpopular president
who then lost to Ronald Reagan that November. Incumbent President
George H.W Bush let his major opponent for the GOP nomination in 1992,
Pat Buchanan, make a major speech at the convention that year (the so-called
"cultural war" speech). That speech is generally credited to contributing to
Mr. Bush's defeat in November by Bill Clinton because it turned off so many
independent and centrist voters from the GOP candidacy.

(SIDE NOTE: I was present on the floor of that 1992 convention when Mr.
Buchanan made that speech (having just obtained a one-hour floor press
pass), and distinctly remember how inflammatory it was. I had met
President Bush's son George W. Bush five years before, and saw him on the
convention floor, trouble-shooting for his father, while Buchanan was
speaking, and distinctly remember him telling me how upset he was at
Buchanan's remarks.)

While Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Paul have already muted their criticism of
Mr. Romney, and appear to have accepted the likelihood of his nomination,
Mr Santorum has not done so. It's a free country, and Mr Santorum has the
right to make a complete political ass of himself, something at which he
seems quite successful. Unless Mr. Romney and his convention team are
suicidal, they won't let the former Pennsylvania senator near the podium in
Tampa. (They could send him to a smoke-filled cigar store in Tampa to
huff and puff the local wares.)

As President Obama and his convention team will almost certainly
demonstrate in Charlotte, North Carolina a week after the GOP convention,
these events are totally-choreographed public relations shows for the
nominees of their party. The Democrats have already shortened their
convention by one day, and the remaining three days will undoubtedly
showcase Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden as faultless champions for the course
of America's next four years. Four years ago in St. Paul, Mr. McCain and
his team showed how this can be done. Mr. McCain's primary opponents,
Mr. Romney and Mr. Huckabee did not speak in prime time, and when
they did, it was brief and in warm support for McCain. Mr. McCain lost in
November, but it was not because of the GOP convention in St. Paul in

The idea of a brokered convention in Tampa was an illusion. Mr. Santorum
apparently still believes it can happen. His illusion has now become a
delusion, and he has increasingly become a figure of political ridicule. From
the beginning I said he was not ready for prime time, that his rise came
about solely because he was the last social conservative standing.

Now virtually everything he says about Tampa and Mr. Romney is self-parody.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

One Blunder After Another After Another

President Obama attended Harvard College, but apparently he did not do any
homework in American history. His latest blunder is to "warn" the Supreme
Court about overturning his pet project, Obamacare. This legislation is probably
the most unpopular act of Congress since Prohibition, and easily more
far-reaching in the damage it will do to the American economy in general and
American healthcare in particular.

It would seem that the Obamacare "mandate" alone is unconstitutional on its

Did President Obama go to high school? That's where every American learns
there are three branches of government. Mr. Obama says that if the Court
overturns Obamacare it will be an unprecedented overturning of congressional
legislation. What a strange thing to say since that is what the Supreme Court
hiatorically has done since 1803!

I suspect that no Supreme Court justice, even the most liberal who is likely to
vote for constitutionality, finds President Obama's comments appropriate,
welcome or proper.

As for the most important constituents, the voters. it is another and egregious
example of why the sooner this term is over the better.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.