Saturday, June 30, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The News We Do Not See Nor Hear

The way the news media work on our consciousness in this curious
all-news-all-the-time age of ours is that only one or two news events
are presented front and center, with virtually all of the news providers
focusing on the same stories, albeit from differing angles depending on
the bias of the reporters and editors.

Natural and man-made disasters usually stand out, but political events,
domestic and international, also force themselves on to this news media

The news media, being what it has become, overplays virtually every one
of these central and dominating news stories. Sometimes the story is
relatively accurately presented; often the "facts" are distorted. Some
outlets strive to provide perspective; others dwell on sensational aspects.

Once the momentum of a news story is established, there is no stopping
it until its "coverage" is played out, and it is inevitably replaced with

Of course, numerous other news stories and events are always being
presented simultaneously, and technically compete for the news consumer's
attention, but the emphasis on presentation is usually somehow "determined"
by invisible sources, sentimentalized, exaggerated and exhausted often long
after most of the public's interest has waned.

This is probably the way it has always been, even before the telegraph, radio
and television, before cable and the internet, before all the technologies which
enable "all-news-all-the-time."

In fact, there are billions of news events, tiny and grand, important and
irrelevant, taking place on the planet at any given moment. So the dissemination
of news, always determined by subjective forces, some of them economic and
some of them political, is one of the most complicated phenomena of any
modern era, especially when there is also, in some places, authoritarian control
of the news, censorship and deliberate and repeated distortion of most news to
fit certain ideological goals.

One of the more encouraging aspects of these circumstances is the long-term
"revolt of the masses" in which individuals and like-minded groups, on a massive
scale, can ignore the powerful forces which impose the selection of news stories,
and their presentation, and seek out alternative news providers which might turn
their attention to alternative news events. This is the effect of an open market of
news, and it flourishes in our own time as perhaps it has not previously. Where
media markets are totally closed, such as in North Korea and Cuba, or partially
closed, such as in China, Venezuela and many Middle Eastern nations, the
marketplace of news is inhibited and lacks true choice.

There is a reason why I have brought up this short discussion. It is my belief that
there are always, at an given moment, a relatively large number of very
important news developments in the nation and in the world, and that the
gravity of these events is such that the "ordinary" news consumer is well-advised
to be more aware and more alert than ever before. I say this because however
distant new events may seem, more and more they, in my opinion, have direct
impact on each of us, especially over time.

I am not suggesting that every adult man and woman in the U.S. should become
obsessed with the media, and the news events which are or can be covered by
them, but I am suggesting that the notion that it is not important to pay attention
to what's going on in the world because the news we read about or watch on
television "is not about us" is plainly wrong.

Human life on earth has always been a precarious pastime. In the millions of
years of our journey to where we now are, however, including the past ten
thousand years (which we label "recorded history"), human life has mostly been
vulnerable only on a relatively "local" scale. With six billion-plus of us now
scattered and crowded over the globe, our technologies have now increasingly
diminished the localization of risk, magnifying day by day the planet-wide
risk. Oceans and seas, mountains and deserts, and immense distances once
imposed this localization. Transportation technologies and communications
technologies now promote the opposite.

It is not news headlines which challenge our way of life, nor is it the perennial
accounts of human frailty that fill our tabloids, nor even the seemingly
obvious threats to peace and prosperity which always seem with us, often
dressed and redressed in the costumes of totalitarianism, prejudice and political
pathologies. Our greatest challenges today may now be"small" stories of
events taking place out of public sight, out of of the attention of the very media
whose role it is to "see" them.

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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Taking A Deep Breath

As I wrote yesterday on this space BEFORE the Supreme Court decision 
on Obamacare:

“A complete upholding of the law will do little to improve its popularity.
In fact, public opinion, if it is upheld, will most likely intensify its
opposition, and bring out in November those who are against it,
particularly among independent voters, all seeking to vote for those who
would repeal it.”

The Court decision, somewhat unexpected by many who either support
Obamacare or oppose Obamacare, now re-emerges as a central issue of
the 2012 national elections, as it clearly was the central issue of the 2010
elections. Those elections resulted in a landslide against the Democrats
who then controlled both houses of Congress, as well as the presidency.
The national electorate was clearly in favor of repeal of this legislation,
as has been reinforced by virtually every poll since. With control of only
the U.S. house, but not the U.S. senate and the White House, Republicans
were powerless to repeal the Obamacare law. If, as some thought, only the
health insurance mandate would be ruled unconstitutional, it now appears
the Court would have found the whole law invalid. This would have then
removed Obamacare as a central issue of the 2012 campaign, and enabled
President Obama and his congressional allies to refashion the legislation to
their political advantage.

As matters now stand, however, all of the profound fiscal problems with
Obamacare, particularly its impact on federal debt, remain. PLUS, the
Court decision now unarguably makes the mandate a TAX. In fact, it is a
huge tax increase. If Obamacare were unpopular before this, it is now likely
to be even more so because it is officially a tax increase and thus, of course,
will have a negative impact on economic recovery.

Candidates for the U.S. house and senate can now be simply asked the
question: Do you support the repeal of the Obamacare tax increase? If
Republicans are skillful in demonstrating over the next several months just
how damaging to the economy and to the individual voter’s pocketbook
Obamacare truly is and will be, the political cost of the Supreme Court
decision to the Democrats will be immense.

The ball is now in Mitt Romney’s court. The GOP leaders of the Congress
have been given a political gift of historic dimensions.

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Curious Aspect About The Obamacare Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding the constitutionality of Obamacare
will have major implications and aftershocks in the law, but curiously, no
matter what the Court decides, the political consequences may be not be much
different whether or not the Obamacare legislation is completely upheld,
partially upheld or entirely struck down.

That is because this healthcare legislation is so unpopular in the nation, and so
fraught with economic problems, that the Obama administration is destined to
pay the same price for its enactment in any scenario.

A complete upholding of the law will do little to improve its popularity. In fact
public opinion, if the law is upheld, will most likely intensify in opposition, and
bring out in November those who are against it, particularly among independent
voters,. all seeking to vote for those who would repeal it

A partial upholding of the law, presumably striking down the mandate provision,
would alter the fundamental structure of the legislation, and depending on the
details and language of the Court decision, make the legislation mostly unworkable.
The incentive to abolish much of the remaining law would then be politically
strong, thus also bringing out voters in November to assure its total demise (and
a new approach to healthcare reform).

If Obamacare legislation is completely struck down, it would be a political
disaster for those Democrats who supported it, including the president and former
house speaker Nancy Pelosi and current senate majority leader Harry Reid.
Controlling the White House and both houses of Congress in 2009 when this
legislation was passed, it would mean their only truly major public policy
achievement had been an inherent failure. Given public opinion, and the
unfolding fiscal consequences of Obamacare (much higher debt and public costs),
there would be little persuasive argument to return them to office in 2013,
presumably to repeat their performance from 2009-2012.

There is considerable suspense about the Supreme Court decision. It will be
judicially very important, and much commentary will be made about it.
But there will probably little suspense about its political consequences, When
major and historic legislation is passed by a political party and signed into law
by a president, the proudly stated (and absurd) notion that there was no need
even to read its 2000 pages of details until AFTER it went into effect, doomed it
with the most important "supreme" court of all, the voters.

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

Monday, June 25, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Not THE Supreme Court Decision, But Worthy of Note

Although everyone seems to be primarily waiting for the U.S. Supreme
Court decision on Obamacare, and much is made of the already announced
decision on the Arizona immigration laws, another decision just made public,
American Traditions Partnership vs. Bullock, a case originating in Montana,
is worthy of note.

The Court has held, 5-4, that the right of corporate and union political
contributions cannot be limited by individual states. It was a restatement
of its 2010 hallmark decision, also 5-4, in Citizens United vs Federal
Communications Commission, in which the principle was first affirmed by
this highest court in the nation.

Much complaining is being made and heard these days by those bewailing
the large amounts of money being put into election campaigns across the
nation. Interestingly, in 2008 when Democrats and Barack Obama had a very
distinct financial advantage over the Republicans and John McCain, most of
these same folks had no problem with Citizens United, especially since the
ruling enabled unlimited contributions from unions, most of whom
contribute their money to Democrats and liberal campaigns. After winning in
2008, President Obama's campaign (which received and spent about twice as
much as did the McCain campaign), the successor 2012 Obama re-election
team freely speculated that it would raise one billion dollars, much more
than any Republican nominee then was perceived capable of raising.
Curiously, few of those now complaining about corporate contributions
had any problem with their former fundraising advantage. (Mr. McCain,
co-sponsor of McCain-Feingold, a bipartisan law limiting campaign
contributions, decided to accept public money for his campaign, which Mr.
Obama did not, thus unilaterally surrendering any hope of matching his
opponent's financial advantage.)

But circumstances in 2012 are quite different. Mr Obama, who has spent his
entire presidency advocating increased taxes for rich persons and large
corporations, and in implementing a great many new regulations for small
and large businesses, is falling far short of his goal of raising a billion dollars.
A recent Supreme Court decision requiring unions to get permission from
their members, in some circumstances, to contribute to political campaigns,
plus the overall shrinking of labor unions nationally, has contributed to the
Obama campaign shortfall. At the same time, the Republican Party and its
presumptive presidential nominee are enjoying significant gains in financial
support nationwide. Democrats were hoping that the Court decision in the
Montana case might reestablish their advantage at the state level.

There is a legal principle, and a public policy principle, involved in these
cases, hypocritical public posturing by some Democrats notwithstanding. That
is the principle that financial political contributions are a form of free speech,
and is protected by the Constitution. The majority of the Court has now
twice held that money contributed to political campaigns is indeed free

I think this majority opinion is clearly the right one, and one that best serves
the nation. But current practice has one important flaw that could be corrected
by legislative/executive branch action. As matters now stand, corporations
and unions can make unlimited contributions to independent political action
committees (PACs) which can then spend the money contributed for political
advertising independent of any candidate's control and without disclosure of
who is providing the money. Any collaboration between such a PAC and the
campaign it helps is strictly forbidden. This results in almost a complete lack
of transparency (knowing who contributed the funds) and accountability
(holding a campaign responsible for ads or other efforts on its behalf.) This
is obviously not good public policy, and definitely not consistent with
American principles.

This correction to campaign spending was not within the purview of the
Court decision. But it is definitely within the constitutional responsibility of
the executive and legislative branches to enact.

That repair should be the consequence of the Court's decision to uphold this
aspect of free speech, and not the wailing and complaining by those who only
seek political advantage.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


As soon as Mitt Romney had clinched the Republican nomination for
president several weeks ago, I wrote a column with my own list of prominent
persons who might be considered for vice president. I have been observing
and writing for presidential politics long enough to know it was no more
that. My list included Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, Governor Mitch Daniels
of Indiana, Governor Robert McDonnell of Virginia, and Governor Susana
Martinez of New Mexico. Soon after that, more lists appeared, many of them
including other names. The person I have thought to be the most likely choice,
Senator Portman, has appeared on virtually every list, and seems to be the first
choice of several observers.

Speculation about a vice presidential choice is one of the most inevitable, and
least useful, aspects of a presidential campaign. With the exception of 1956
Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson, only the nominee makes the choice
after a highly confidential vetting process (a process heightened after 1972
Democratic nominee George McGovern's initial choice had to resign from the
ticket after public disclosures about his health).  I say "least useful" because
almost everything written and said about who will be chosen before the choice
is announced is wrong.

Already, we have read "speculations" that former Tim Pawlenty of
Minnesota is the new frontrunner, if not the certain choice, to be picked by
2012 presumptive nominee Mitt Romney. Senator Portman, these speculations
also say, has been eliminated from consideration. Governor Bobby Jindal of
Louisiana, it is also said, is the second choice, and Governor McDonnell has
also been taken off the list. The basis for most of these speculations is that
certain politicians have "bonded" with Mr. Romney, and others have not.

It appears, however, that the vetting process has only begun, and that Mr.
Romney is only now becoming better acquainted with the men and women he
might choose.

Publications and networks, most of which have been hostile to the Republican
cause, are breathlessly reporting "unnamed sources" with inside information
about who is in and who is out. A recent such report, allegedly from high
sources in the Romney campaign, stated that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida,
and a major Romney ally, was not being vetted. Mr. Romney, on the campaign
trail, promptly refuted the report, stating that Mr. Rubio was being fully vetted.

My rule of thumb is that ANY report before the official announcement, no
matter how high (always anonymous) the sources from which it came, is to
be viewed with considerable skepticism. Ninety-plus per cent of such reports,
to be blunt, are false. (And the few which are true are lucky guesses.)

Only one person knows who the nominee will be (Mr. Romney) and only one
other person (Beth Myers, who he placed in charge of the nomination vetting
process) knows fully who is being vetted, who is not, and the status of that
process. As the date of the announcement approaches, more facts may be
known, but the final choice will be a very tightly kept secret. The whole
purpose of drawing out the process, other than the practical efficacy of the
vetting, is to create suspense, and maintain news interest in the campaign. It
is unlikely the final choice will be announced any time soon.

A lot of folks with various connections to the Romney campaign, to the
Republican Party, and even to Mr. Romney personally, will be tempted to
parade their self-importance (hiding behind anonymity) to members of the
news media by "leaking inside information." And virtually everyone (myself
included) will indulge in speculation about who the final choice will be.

But only Mitt Romney and Beth Myers will really know the facts, and they
won't be revealing anything until the final choice is made.

A little anecdote from the 2008 campaign: I was told by VERY HIGH
sources the day before Senator John McCain was to make his vice presidential
choice known that it would be then Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
Living in Minneapolis, I drove over to the governor's residence in St. Paul
that evening to see if the secret service were now protecting the residence,
as they would have to do if Mr. Pawlenty had been chosen. No secret service
were visible. In fact, they WERE quite visible accompanying Governor Sarah
Palin of Alaska (who had been chosen.)

Mr. Pawlenty might be chosen this time, or it might be Mr. Portman. It might
be someone else. But no one knows who it will be now, and until a few hours
before the announcement, no one but Mitt Romney will know.

You don't have to wait for the fat lady to sing, but it will be a good idea to
watch for which vice presidential hopeful is suddenly joined by a small horde
of figures with little devices in their ears.

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

Monday, June 18, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: U.S. Senate Races In 2012 - Take 2

I have  previously stated a number of times that, regardless of the outcome
of the presidential race, the U.S. senate would change hands in 2013.
Since that prediction, many months ago, and repeated by me since, a
Republican senator from Maine has unexpectedly retired, and although
she was a liberal Republican, she will probably be replaced by a moderate
independent who will almost certainly caucus with the Democrats. In
addition, incumbent Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, a sure winner in
November, was defeated in the GOP primary and was replaced with a
more conservative GOP candidate who has Tea Party backing. Similarly,
a Tea Party candidate in Nebraska upset an establishment Republican in
that state's recent GOP primary. A Tea Party conservative might win the
primary in Texas, and even long-time GOP Senator Orrin Hatch faces a
challenge in his own party.

Nontheless, my prediction still holds. In most cases where Tea Party
challengers have upset Republican establishment candidates, the GOP
nominee will win anyway, perhaps even in all cases. Democratic
challengers to GOP incumbents in Massachusetts and Nevada have
become embroiled in personal controversies, and I believe these
challenges will fall short. Democratic incumbents in Missouri and
Montana, open races to replace current Democratic incumbents in North
Dakota, Wisconsin and Virginia lean to the GOP this year, while open
Democratic seats in Florida and New Mexico are leaning to the Democrats
now, but could easily become toss-ups as the political season matures over
the summer.

Two currently-held Democratic senate seats, in Hawaii and Ohio, have the
Democrats favored for now, but former Republican Governor Linda Lingle
is the most successful Republican in the state's recent history, and I believe
will take the senate oath in January, 2013. In Ohio, the incumbent is one of
the most left wing senators in Washington, DC, and his challenger, currently
the state treasurer, Josh Mandel is one of the most charismatic young
politicians in the country, and has narrowed the incumbent's lead
dramatically in recent weeks. I stick by my prediction that he will win in
November, too.

There is some good news for Democrats in the 2012, too. Incumbent
Amy Klobuchar is set to win a landslide victory in Minnesota, and is
already on many lists of future Democratic presidential and vice presidential
candidates. Incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin in West Virginia, a former
governor, has quickly emerged as a gutsy and outspoken leader of the
centrist Democratic group in the senate. There are also many solid young
Democrats in the U.S. house, governor's residences, and state legislatures
who could redirect the party from it current radical misdirection.

In fact, should President Obama fail in his re-election this year, it could
prove to be a liberating moment for the national Democratic Party and its
centrist members in Congress. The last truly successful Democratic
administration, most of the eight years of the Clinton administration (not
including Bill Clinton's personal scandals), made a centrist appeal to
American voters, a direction eschewed by nominees Al Gore, John
Kerry and Barack Obama subsequently. Only Mr. Obama actually won
(in 2008),  but his administration has slumped from one crisis to another,
and was rebuked by voters only two years later in 2010.

Younger and newer Democratic candidates across the nation will take
note that the class warfare, tax the rich and increase public spending
approach has little appeal to the majority of American voters, regardless
of their party affiliation. Perhaps I am being too optimistic, but the
elections of 2014 and 2016 could then see an historic bipartisan political
shift of American public policy.

As for the U.S. senate this year, there are still nominees to be determined,
and autumn campaigns to be run. It may be where most of the political
action will be in October as the nation and its voters choose to where and
with whom they will journey for the next chapter of their history.

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Not Quite As Expected

The 2012 presidential election campaign is turning out to be not quite as
expected. The nominees are no surprise; it was almost certain that Barack
Obama would run for a second term, and likely that 2008 GOP runner-up
Mitt Romney would be his opponent in November. But the conventional
wisdom about each of these men, one type-cast as a charismatic and savvy
campaigner and the other as a boring speaker and "cold fish," is being
turned on its head as the November campaign just begins in earnest more
than two months before the two national conventions in late August and
early September.

It is conventional  to think of the remaining five months until election
day to be a long time politically. But in terms of a presidential election,
with overriding issues of the domestic economy almost always paramount,
this is may not be the case. Movements in the economy, and the statistics
about them, appear slowly. One recent example of this took place in 1992
when a down economy was already beginning to recover by the late
autumn, but it was not apparent enough to voters to save incumbent
President George H.W. Bush's re-election against challenger Bill Clinton.
Only a year before, right after the Gulf War, Bush's popularity had been
very high, but those numbers had faded quickly.

In June 2012, the U.S. economy, suffering from a prolonged downturn,
including historic levels of prolonged high unemployment, seems unable
to recover. The worldwide economic crisis, particularly acute in Europe,
appears to present even further challenges in the short turn. A recovery
could begin over the next five months, but it takes longer than that for the
evidence to be visible. Individuals and corporations do have substantial
assets currently in cash which could fuel a recovery, but little incentive to
do so. President Obama's often-stated public policies, especially of higher
taxes, bail-outs and more federal spending, and the increased public debt
of his Obamacare programs, all tend to inhibit consumer and business
optimism. New statistics indicate that U.S. families lost about 40%
of their net worth from 2007 to 2010. Almost every adult has a good
idea of their net worth, and such a massive shrinkage can only tend to
prevent pessimistic consumers from spending their available cash. In
fact, in these circumstances there is an incentive to hoard more cash and
not to spend. Similarly,  businesses will not take the risk of investing in
expansion or hiring new employees in such an economic climate.
Larger corporations, even if they are making profits, tend to reduce their
payrolls during an economic decline in order to be more efficient and raise

The stock market, which following World War II became a principal part
of what individuals consider their net asset value (through investments,
employee pension funds, IRAs and other retirement savings) generally
anticipates an economic recover 6-9 months before such a recover becomes
obvious. The other major part (and often larger part) of what individuals and
families consider their net asset value is the house they own. Real estate
values, long in decline in most parts of the U.S., continue to be significantly
down, even though the government props up the housing market with
extraordinarily low interest rates.

The value of a voter's pension or other retirement funds, and his or her real
estate property, down 40%, cannot be hidden by political rhetoric, slogans
and photo opportunities. Since all of these, plus job security, take time to
change and become evident, historically much longer than five months,
the commonplace that a lot can happen domestically before the election this
year is just very unlikely.

One area, however, in which five months IS a long time is in foreign
affairs. In 1956, dramatic world events, including the Soviet invasion of
Hungary and the Suez Canal crisis, occurred only a few months and days
before the election, propelling President Eisenhower to an easy re-election
against Democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson. Perhaps Eisenhower
would have won anyway, but the foreign crises (in which he was perceived
to be the much better leader) made it a slam-dunk.

With international hot spots now scattered all over the globe, including the
perennial Middle East crisis further complicated by the so-called "Arab
Spring" and the threat of nuclear weapons being developed by Iran; the
continued erratic and threatening activities of North Korea: the chronic
anti-Americanism coming from Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua;
and the drug wars in Mexico; and the possibility of some new crisis emerging
from a part of the world now unanticipated, the attention of U.S. voters
could be averted from their economic woes on short notice.

So far, President Obama has not generally acted in his foreign policy in ways
that assert or strengthen U.S. power and leadership in the world. In fact, his
policies have been to play down our international role, and withdraw U.S.
troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. A new world crisis might normally enhance
an incumbent president's standing with voters, as it did in 1956, but that
happens when an incumbent has shown mastery of foreign affairs, resolve and
strength in dealing with our allies and enemies. The question then is:  Would
President Obama benefit politically if a new international crisis develops in the
next five months?

Mitt Romney led through most of the Republican nomination process, but there
remained throughout that time a lingering question of his ability to mount an
effective campaign against an incumbent president, including his ability to
raise funds and his willingness to aggressively oppose Mr. Obama (in contrast
to 2008 GOP nominee John McCain's lackluster campaign). Since his
nomination was assured, however, Mr. Romney has begun to raise more money
than the Democrats, has responded quickly and effectively to the campaign
against him, and has shown a new stature. He remains a less-than-charismatic
communicator, but he has, to be fair, shown much improvement over his
failed effort in 2008.

At the same time, President Obama's 2008 image as an eloquent and
charismatic new leader has faded. His political base has weakened. His strong
support from the left, as the latest Netroots convention has indicated, has
noticeably weakened. His support among most ethnic groups is down (with
the possible and important exception of Hispanic voters). His refusal to help
the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the recent Wisconsin recall election
cannot have enhanced his support among union voters. Although Mr. Obama
made many flubs and misstatements throughout the first three years of his
presidency (as, to be fair, all presidents do), the Old Media ignored them and
virtually all negative aspects of his performance in office. Today, even the
Old Media (almost entirely liberal) is reporting more and more of Mr. Obama's
problems, even as the New Media (mostly conservative) jumps on everything
he says. Campaign year 2012 is a dramatically different political and media
environment for the Obama campaign from what they experienced in 2008
and afterwards.

All of this does not mean that Mr. Obama cannot be re-elected in 2012. He still
has, in the all-important electoral college, control of the large states of New York,
Illinois and California, as well as most of the northeastern states. He will almost
certainly win Minnesota, Oregon and Washington. But elsewhere, in numerous
key battleground states he won in 2008, he is no sure winner. In fact, he could
lose most of them. The visible confidence of the president and his campaign
team, so evident only a few weeks ago, has been replaced with alarm, if not
panic, in the face of the unanticipated strong Romney challenge and the
continued bad news about the economy.

This is not what the Democrats quite expected to happen in 2012. Nor is it
what many Republicans, thinking they would have to wait until 2017 to return
to the White House, quite expected.

Now all bets are off.

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Did Wisconsin Mean More Than The Vote?

It is possible to read too much and too little into the Wisconsin recall vote
just concluded.

I think the big victory of Governor Scott Walker probably does not, in
itself, have too much impact on the re-election effort of President Obama,
other than its demoralizing effect on the Mr. Obama's campaign for
Wisconsin's electoral votes from the Badger State. Of course, Wisconsin
was hitherto not considered a prime target for Republican challenger
Mitt Romney. In the "Minnewisowa" trio (Minnesota, Wisconsin and
Iowa), it is Iowa that is considered the most likely for the GOP to win
from the Obama electoral total won in 2008. In an understandable and
probably prudent act of self-protection, the president and his campaign
avoided showing up in Wisconsin for the Democratic candidate
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. This may indeed provoke some hard
feelings among some Wisconsin Democratic voters, but it is very unlikely
this will go beyond the state's borders. Mr. Romney's chances to win this
state are arguably better now, but if he wishes to win Wisconsin in
November, he will have to campaign very hard there.

But the near-landslide victory for Mr. Walker will have immense impact
on the public sector union movement across the nation. It is a measure of
the prior-to-the-vote success of the Wisconsin Republicans efforts to curb
the power and influence of this union that Mr. Barrett and his campaign
mostly avoided the issue during the recall campaign. The case for the public
employees union and its collection of mandatory union dues was always
controversial and weak, and now it is empty. In Wisconsin, even before the
recall vote, the union had lost half its members as the result of Governor
Walker's and the legislature's previous actions. Other state governors and
legislatures, emboldened by Mr. Walker's success, will now propose and
pass similar legislation.

Although one of the four state senators also facing recall in Wisconsin
apparently did lose, and technically this gives Democrats narrow control
of the state senate, the victory was a Pyhrric one. The state senate will not
meet again until next year when a new senate will have been elected in
November. On the other hand, the use of the recall in Wisconsin has
almost certainly been exhausted for some time. Most Wisconsin voters
have made it clear they do not welcome the expensive and polarizing
campaigns which result. Recalls are rarely successful, and now other
states will be very reluctant to invoke it, having see the demonstration of
how it can backfire on a political party which tries to use it.

The notion that American voters do not turn out very well in elections
was already shattered in 2008 and 2010, and Wisconsin demonstrated
that, if provoked, they will still go to the polls in great numbers.

Whereas it was Democratic voters who were inspired and motivated to
turn out in 2006 ad 2008, it was Republican voters who were similarly
pushed to vote in 2010. There has been some question who will be more
motivated to turn out in 2012 which, more and more, is appearing to be
an historic threshold election. That question has not been fully answered
(and thus its outcome remains in doubt), but if Wisconsin tells us
something  instructive about 2012 beyond its own borders, it is perhaps
that the so-called "rule" that the key to winning is turning out a party's
base may just not be enough this political season.

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

Friday, June 1, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Miles To Go, But......

It is obvious to everyone, either Democrat or Republican or independent;
liberal, conservative or centrist, that there have just occurred several very
bad days for the re-election of President Barack Obama.

I need not list the amazing and seemingly unrelenting number of campaign
mistakes, poor economic numbers, effective jabs by GOP nominee-to-be
Mitt Romney and errors of judgment by the Democratic candidate and his
team, that have contributed to this bad streak.

While it is true that I have predicted outright that Mr. Romney will be
elected president in November, and the Republicans will control both
houses of Congress after the election, five months remain before that
election day in November. So I caution Republicans who may welcome my
predictions, and Democrats who understandably reject them, to be careful
about reading too much into one bad week, or even one bad month, for one
candidate or the other with so much time to go.

One political truth I have learned over many decades of writing about
politics, and particularly presidential politics, is that rarely if ever do the
political fortunes of one candidate or one party go up or down in a
straight line.

I think the most significant moment for Mr. Romney this past week was his
response to a question about the heckling that had earlier been directed at Mr.
Axelrod, the president's campaign manager, who had been making a speech
far away in Massachusetts. Mr. Romney said, "What is sauce for the goose
must be sauce for the gander." He himself, he went on, had been frequently
heckled by Obama supporters, and he and his campaign were simply not
going to take it lying down. This tough and combative stance was in contrast
to the previous Republican nominee John McCain who in 2008 had seemed
to back off responding to the challenges from the 2008 Obama campaign.
While no one doubted war hero's John McCain's personal courage, his lack
of a strong campaign against Mr. Obama clearly disheartened many
conservatives. Mr. Romney has now signaled he will not be intimidated by
the Obama strategy of 2008, and now being repeated in 2012. For those in
his own party, and among independents, who have had some doubts about
Mr Romney, I think this was a turning-point moment for them, making his
conservatism and his presidential standing much more real and believable.

I think the most significant low moment for the president occurred at the
unveiling of the official portraits of George W. and Laura Bush at a ceremony
at the White House. It was an occasion that called for graciousness, humor
and generosity, as Mr. Bush had shown during a similar occasion when he
was president and Bill and Hillary Clinton came to the White House to unveil
their portraits several years before.  For whatever reason, Mr Obama this
time could not help but be ungracious to Mr. Bush in his brief remarks, and it
was obvious for all to see. (I might add that Mrs. Obama, in contrast, was a
model of good humor and generosity.)

Unquestionably, there were bigger events this past week, including economic
statistics, that were not helpful to Mr. Obama. But, in my opinion, it was the
two seemingly "smaller" matters mentioned above that revealed character
to the voters, and may in the long run have more impact.

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