Tuesday, February 25, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Obama Abdicates?

It is now becoming very clear that the true legacy of
President Barack Obama’s terms in the White House
might not be his disastrous “Obamacare” legislation
that was costumed as reform. Instead, Mr Obama might
be remembered as the first modern president to
abdicate. That is, to abdicate the role of the United
States in the world.

The latest announcement that Secretary  of Defense
Chuck Hagel proposes to cut back the U.S. military to
pre-World War II levels is only the latest evidence in
a relentless pattern of the Obama government to
change our relationships of world alliances, withdraw
from world conflicts, and ignore global security threats.

We should not be surprised. These are the views of a
relatively small but vocal and mostly academic liberal
group of Americans, views which are neither new nor
original, but which have not been part of the mainstream
of American politics.

These kinds of views first surfaced, in more modest form,
in President Jimmy Carter’s White House. Cutting the
defense budget was always the goal of the left wing of the
Democratic Party (as it has also become a goal of the
libertarian wing of the Republican Party), but the
accompanying inevitable loss of U.S. influence in the
world, and risky diminishment of U.S. national security,
meant that it could not attain true popular support in the
nation, especially after September 11, 2001.

Today, however, there is an ambivalence in public
opinion about America’s role in the world as a superpower,
especially after our experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and
the volatile conditions of the Islamic states of North
Africa. Deteriorating conditions in North Korea and in
our relationship with an emerging China superpower, and
the rise of anti-American totalitarian states in the Caribbean,
Central and South America, further feeds the anxiety of
Americans in an increasingly more complex and dangerous
global environment.

With no further appearance before the American electorate
ahead, and an unpromising mid-term election imminent,
Mr. Obama has apparently decided that there is no time to
lose in making clear what he has always believed --- that is,
it is time for the United States to step down from its leading
role in the world.

Recently, the world has observed the abdication of some
elderly European monarchs (who had only ceremonial power)
in favor of their children. One senior monarch, perhaps the
most famous in the world, has not done so. Queen Elizabeth II
has assigned some of her duties to her aging son, the Prince of
Wales, but she will not abdicate. She remembers the only
British king to do so, her uncle Edward VIII who renounced
the throne “for the woman I love” in 1936, thus propelling her
father to become King George VI. History shows that Edward
VIII, later the Duke of Windsor, was ill-prepared for even the
limited responsibility of leading his people as the Nazi threat
engulfed the continent and the world (in fact, he was a Nazi
sympathizer and perhaps a traitor). Queen Elizabeth’s father,
a shy man and a stammerer, however, stepped in with steady
courage. Britain, once the world’s super power, faced invasion
and extinction, but the British people, with the aid of its
former colony, the United States, prevailed. As in  and after
World War I, Great Britain and the U.S. became close allies in
the post-war and Cold War period.

Even as the U.S. and Europe moved into a more competitive
relationship after the end of the Cold War and the rise of
the European Union, the ties between the U.S. and United
Kingdom remained strong. Similarly, from the outset of the
creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Jewish nation was
our best ally in the Middle East.  Now, the Obama
administration has been moving away from these alliances
(all the while proclaiming their solidarity). The U.S. alliance
with Taiwan (nationalist China) was a bipartisan hallmark
of the Cold War. Today, mainland China increasingly has
asserted her influence in the Asian region. While this is
understandable, it presents the U.S. with certain conflicts of
its national interests. A voluntary and dramatic decline of U.S.
naval and air power is a clear public statement in that part of
the world.

So the primary legacy of President Obama might be his
policy of a New Isolationism, an abdication of U.S. power
“for the philosophy I love.” Long after “Obamacare” could
be forgotten, this is what his presidency might well be
remembered for by historians --- and by his successors who try
to repair its consequences.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Great Paradox of U.S. Presidential Elections

There is a lot of vocal lamenting these days about the
Republican Party’s lack of a positive political message
as it heads into the 2014 national midterm elections and
the 2016 presidential election.

The answer to this assertion is that a political party rarely
does have its own policy message when campaigning to
replace its opposition in power.

When a party in power falters, voters are less interested
historically in the program of the opposition party, and
more likely to be responsive to the negative criticism
about, or relief from, the party in power’s record. This
was true in presidential election years 1920, 1932, 1952,
1968, 1976, 1980, 1992 and 2008 when the party of the
incumbent was replaced by the opposition party’s
candidate. Whether it was criticism of the policies of
Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman,
Lyndon Johnson, Jerry Ford (Nixon). George H.W. Bush
or George W. Bush, the result brought in a new party

In 1960 and 2000 by contrast, the winning party did have
a message more than, or other than, pure criticism. President
Eisenhower had been popular, but John F. Kennedy
promised charisma and a “New Frontier” (and narrowly won).
President Clinton ended his presidency more popular than he
began it, but George W. Bush offered “compassionate
conservatism” and no personal scandals (and he did not win
the popular vote).

2016 will likely be an example of the former, and more
common, transition, if there is to be one. As we head into
the second half (and lame-duck phase) of President
Obama’s presidency, he is beset with serious economic and
political problems --- continued ambivaence in the economy,
the extreme disaster of his Obamacare legislation, lack of
progress on major policy reforms in education, and lack of
success in many of his foreign policies. There is a growing
“Obama fatigue” just as there was an acute “Bush fatigue”
in 2008. The “Reagan revolution” was not apparent in the
1980 presidential campaign, nor was the Obama move to the
left apparent in the 2008 campaign. Earlier, the New Deal
itself only emerged after Franklin Roosevelt took office.
Dwight Eisenhower was elected in 1952 on his promise to
“go to Korea” and on his popular reputation from World
War II; Eisenhower’s policies only came into view after his

Future presidents do not usually want to show their policy
hands before taking office. They usually succeed because
economic and/or foreign policy conditions have failed during
their predecessor’s  administration. This clearly seems to be
the case as the nation begins to move to its next presidential
administration in 2016.

Hillary Clinton is the early prohibitive favorite for her party’s
nomination, but this is primarily because she is by far the
most well-known, at this point, of any other Democratic Party
contender, and because she might be the first woman
president. Her “policies,” however, cannot be much different in
substance from President Obama’s, especially since she was a
major part of his first term administration. If she criticizes
Mr. Obama’s policies, she splits her party. She can only imply
that her administration would fix Mr. Obama’s mistakes.
President Obama has attempted to move national policy
significantly to the left with his “tax the rich,” high regulatory
and Washington, DC-directed policies. Mrs. Clinton’s political
history is really not much different. As first lady early in her
husband’s presidency, she was credited with an even more
extreme reform of healthcare than Obamacare. She was a very
liberal senator from New York. Her record as secretary of
state includes Honduras, Argentina, the Middle East and
Benghazi. (Mrs. Clinton might well be nominated, and she could
be elected, but history indicates that those who consider her
being the first woman president to be her “sure” ticket to the
White House, might be underestimating the impact on voters of
her ties to the outgoing administration.)

On the other hand, none of her major Republican rivals stand
yet for some major new direction of policy other than a
general impression of a more conservative approach,
i.e., lower taxes, fewer regulations, less federal spending,
less federal mandates of policies from Washington, DC, and a
return to better relationships with Israel, Great Britain,
Canada and the nations of South America.

It is true that Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio do
represent more abrupt rightward direction if any of them
were elected president, but for that very reason, they are
probably unelectable if nominated, and thus very unlikely to
be nominated. Although outspoken “hard” right conservatives
always complain about the Republican Party nominating more
center right candidates, they are the ONLY candidates who can
win presidential elections. Since World War II, the GOP has
won with Eisenhower, Nixon (in his second race, running as a
moderate), Reagan, and two Bushes. Nixon in his
first race against Kennedy and Goldwater against Johnson had
too conservative images. Ford, Dole, McCain and Romney were
more center right, but ultimately weak as presidential candidates.

If the economy remains troubled in 2016, and  U.S. security and
prestige in the world seems diminished, the Democratic
presidential nominee will be on the defensive. Mr. Obama’s
successful model in such circumstances in 2012 was to first
injure the image of his Republican opponent, and second, to
identify and motivate his voter base at the polls while hoping
the GOP did not do as well. It worked. Will it work for Mrs.
Clinton or any other Democratic nominee in 2016?

If Chis Christie, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush or some new GOP figure is
to win in 2016, we will know a lot more about what they are
against than what they would do as president. That might not
seem “right” or “fair,” but that’s how it usually goes, as I have
pointed out, in U.S. national politics (and it applies, as I have also
pointed out, equally to Democrats and Republicans).

If Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama
had run explicitly on the policies they in fact did pursue in the
White House, they very likely would not have been elected

This is the great American presidential election paradox.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 17, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: U.S. Clown Shortage?

Dr. Steven Hayward, the conservative commentator, is the
fastest political wit in the West (he teaches at Pepperdine
University), and he beat me to the political punch on the
announcement, just published in the New York Daily News,
that the World Clown Association has revealed a dramatic
fall-off in its membership (reportedly down from 3500 to 2500).

Dr. Hayward is a bit more partisan than I would be, suggesting
that many congressional and White House Democrats could
fill in for the shortage. My take on the clown crisis is that both
parties might be well served if some of their members
realized they are in the wrong profession, and would make a
mid-life occupational change and fill in at Ringling Brothers,
Barnum and Bailey Circus and other circuses still performing
across the country.

The problem, according to circus officials, is that the clown
population is aging, with fewer and fewer young persons
attracted to the profession. Since I have been a circus buff
since childhood, and have even known a few professional
clowns, I also know that clowns are fine performing artists
who work hard to bring laughter and tears to their audiences.
That might pose a problem for any political clowns who might
want to turn professional, since the political variety are most
well-known for their primary goal of getting attention (and not
doing hard work).

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Bumptious Boehner Bashing

There is wave of bumptious Boehner bashing now going on
following Speaker of the U.S. House John Boehner’s agreeing
to a “clean” increase in the U.S. debt ceiling. A small number
of Republicans joined with all but two Democratic house
members to pass the increase which was then sent on to the
U.S. senate where it also passed with all Democratic senators
voting for it and all Republicans voting “no.”

Democratic leaders immediately praised Boehner for “coming
to his senses,” and many radical Republicans criticized him
for “caving in” to the Democrats.

I find both the praise of the Democrats and the criticism of the
radical Republicans to be more than a little ludicrous in the
face of the facts.

What are those facts? First, Republicans do control the U.S.
house, but not the U.S. senate. Democrats have no interest in
compromising (i.e., agreeing to spending cuts in return for
GOP passing the debt limit increase), so the ONLY outcome
of Mr Boehner’s and his GOP colleagues’ refusal to raise the
debt limit would be another government shutdown. What would
be the certain result of another government shutdown? It would
be, as it always is, a negative reaction by most voters as the 2014
mid-term elections approach only a few months away. Second,
the  Republicans now clearly have significant momentum and
a huge advantage as the Democrats’ Obamacare legislation
continues to roll out disastrously. This has caused most neutral
political observers to suggest that not only is the GOP likely to
win back control of the U.S. senate (based on current polls), the
conservative party is also likely to pick up seats in the U.S. house
(where they already have clear control). Democrats are
DESPERATE, I repeat, DESPERATE, for their opposition to
give them an issue to divert attention from their Obamacare
debacle, and shutting down the government at this time would
have done exactly that.

The praise of Boehner by Democratic leaders is therefore
only a pro forma (and reluctant) act; in private, any Democratic
strategist who knows even the basics of U.S. politics, knows
that Speaker Boehner has outplayed them on the 2014 chess board.
It might not yet be “check mate,” but the liberals have lost their
queen (Obamacare), and now some rooks and castles
(a government shutdown).

Last autumn, when the debt limit increase previously appeared,
so many house members insisted on voting against it despite
not having the votes in the senate, nor occupation of the White
House to sign it, that the government was in fact shut down.
The result was a significant public reaction, especially by
independent voters, against the Republican Party and its 2014
candidates. Mr, Boehner, who had been forced then to resist the
debt limit increase, finally prevailed with a compromise, and
the negative reactions not only went away, but was transferred
to the Democrats as the Obamacare roll-out debacle unfolded.
Recognizing that their speaker had been right all along, his
members gave him a standing ovation following the vote.

So what changed in the few months between last autumn and
now in February that would prompt house Republicans to vote
against a debt limit increase and thus shut down the
government? The answer is that nothing has changed, other
than the Republicans were on their way to an historic victory
next November that could probably only be endangered by
shutting down the government.

We then ask the question: Who are these Republicans who are
calling for Speaker Boehner to be dumped because he did the
smartest and most effective thing he could do in the present
circumstances? Remember, only a few Republicans actually
voted for increasing the debt limit. One hundred ninety-nine
did not. No GOP senators voted to increase it. The debt
limit increase issue totally belongs to the Democrats. Any 
attempt to suggest otherwise is ludicrous. No one, including
Mr. Boehner, is disagreeing in principle with those
conservatives who oppose the debt limit increase. The only
disagreement is how to go about eventually stopping it.

I suggest that the only way to do this is win back control of
the U.S. senate in 2014, and if possible, increase control of
the U.S. house. Then, in 2016, conservatives will need to
win the presidency. It is really the only way to do it.

So the TRUE question is: Did Speaker Boehner’s strategy
help or hinder those who truly want to lower the debt limit
rather than continually raising it?

The answer clearly is that Mr. Boehner has enhanced his
party’s chances to win in 2014. Those who want to “dump”
him therefore must not want to win next November.

That is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the
“dump” Boehner effort which is bumptious at best.

John Boehner is not the brilliant idea man, nor the superb
debater, that his predecessor Newt Gingrich was, but he has
shown himself to be an effective leader of his party while
they controlled only one house of Congress. While others
have shouted out slogans of ideological “purity,” he has
been the person who has had to manage the day-to-day
work of his caucus and his party.

Unlike the Democratic caucus in the U.S. house, the GOP
caucus has been chronically splintered.

Others have previously described Mr. Boehner as the only
“adult” in the leadership of either side in the U.S. house,
and certainly in his party. There are many Democrats who
understandably disagree with his philosophy, but I think he
has gained the respect on all sides in his legislative body.

My final question is:  If the player on your side of a match
is a chess master, do you suddenly take him out and replace
him with a noisy kid?

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 10, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "Indo-America" Rising?

The continent to our south, and I include in that the nations
of Central America as well, has endured a problematic
history since the incursion of European explorers and
conquistadores at the end of the fifteenth century.

The main European powers involved in the history of the
western hemisphere were the Spanish, Portuguese, French
and English. None of them were very admirable colonisers,
but the worst of them perhaps were the conquistadores of
the Spanish empire.

Particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the
Spanish imposed highly exploitive, cruel, and murderous
regimes throughout Central and South America, leaving
behind defective cultures of law and human rights.

The French, Portuguese and English empires, as I pointed
out, treated the hemisphere’s native peoples badly as well,
but they also mostly exited the continent by the very early
nineteenth century. The English particularly left behind a
culture of language, law, and governance that enabled the
United States and Canada to develop into major and
successful sites of then nascent industrial revolution and
democratic capitalism, and to become world powers.

In the U.S., the continent to its south is officially called
South America, but is often referred to as Latin America or
Hispanic America.  The latter two are misnomers since
there is nothing “Latin” about the culture, and more
than half the population, who live in the continent’s
largest nation, Brazil, speak Portuguese not Spanish.
As John Gunther pointed out in his 1941 classic Inside
Latin America, the Peruvian statesman Victor Hara de la
Torre had a better name for the continent --- “Indo-America.”
This term includes the dominant (though submerged)
peoples of the continent, the indigenous Inca, Aztec and
Mayan  and other Indians who had migrated (presumably
from Asia) to the Western Hemisphere long before it was
“discovered” and invaded by Europeans. This reality is
often ignored by North Americans and Europeans who have
forgotten the history that Spanish and Portuguese cultures
were forcibly and cruelly imposed on these native societies.
More recently, the Mexican poet-diplomat Octavio Paz
described in his great work The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950)
how an alien Spanish culture was superimposed on the
native Mexicans, but that the Indian culture survives in the
modern Mexican character. 

The liberator of several South American nations was Simon
Bolivar, a revolutionary idealist who ousted the Spaniards
by the mid-nineteenth century, but who was unable to
consolidate his policies and ideas into successful regimes.
The nations he liberated, failing to industrialize and
otherwise modernize, soon lapsed into endless coups with
oligarchal regimes of caudillos and dictators.

After more than a half century now of catastrophic
governments, it has been forgotten that Argentina, the
southernmost South American nation, had been by far the
most successful society on the continent. This was probably
because Argentina had been settled by a much greater
variety of Europeans, not just Spaniards. With its large area,
and numerous natural resources, Argentina was at the outset
of the 20th century one of the ten most powerful economic
nations on earth. Buenos Aires, its capital, rivaled London,
Paris, Vienna and New York as a modern and vibrant urban

The disaster that befell Argentina, and the lack of political
evolution that infected the rest of Central and South America,
had many causes, but there is little question that the Spanish
oligarchal culture of suppression of native peoples, ruthless
exploitation of local resources, and predominance of military
power lingered long after Spain had been ejected from the

For a fascinating overview account of the national stories of each
South American country from the late nineteenth century through
the mid-twentieth century (up to the outset of World War II) the
reader might want to look at that now forgotten classic Inside 
Latin America by the great American journalist John Gunther in
1941 (an updated version, changing "Latin" to "South" was
published in 1967). Gunther’s account has an obvious bias to
American interests, but he performed a Herculean task by
interviewing virtually every major political and business figure,
young and old, in each South American, Central American and
Caribbean country (be they on the right or the left), and giving a
rather fair account of them, even of the then overt Nazi
sympathizers attempting to establish a significant “fifth column”
of pro-Axis sentiment throughout South America. (It needs to
be remembered, that many German, Italian and, yes, Japanese
immigrants had come to various parts of South America from the
late 1800s on, and many had risen to positions of significant
economic, political, military and cultural influence by 1940.)

President Franklin Roosevelt took a special interest in South
America, declaring a “Good Neighbor” policy (1933) as a
restatement of the Monroe Doctrine (1823) which had discouraged
European interference in hemispheric affairs.  (The name and
idea of this policy was originally made by Henry Clay in the
mid-nineteenth century.) This foreign policy intensified as
World War II approached, and as the Nazi regime in Germany
and the fascist regime in Italy attempted to arouse their emigre
communities in South America to take their side in the
approaching world conflict.

Thus, the Soviet communist empire’s attempt after World War II
to meddle in Cuba, Grenada and many South American societies
through local communist parties was only the next wave of
attempted outside exploitation of South America, and the
current attempts of Iran to establish itself in Venezuela and
the other South American totalitarian regimes in Bolivia,
Nicaragua, Bolivia, and elsewhere is the latest wave of this

The historical role of the United States has not been unblemished
either, with a history of large corporations treating nations
south of its borders as “banana republics,” and with frequent
U.S. government interference in South American local politics.

During the Cold War, the U.S. also took an active role (using its
Central Intelligence Agency) to subvert apparent communist
takeovers in Cuba, Guatemala and Chile. Most recently, the
Obama administration tried (unsuccessfully) to use its influence
to enable a leftist Honduran president to try to stage a coup
(2010) to remain in power.

The primary problem throughout South America is that extreme
poverty still affects large portions of its population, populist
demagoguery and military regimes still often prevail, and a true
middle class remains limited in its growth and political power.
The continent’s largest and potentially most prosperous nation,
Brazil, appears to be (at last) emerging from its history of
oligarchy, inflation, and lack of development. Argentina, a shadow
of its promise only a century before, remains mired in
neo-Peronism, a pseudo-populist will-o-wisp that has robbed
Argentina of its great potential for so long.

The first human settlers on South America were the native Indian
tribes of Incas, Mayans, Aztecs and others (who themselves had
probably emigrated from Asia long before). Although the Spanish
invaders brutally suppressed the peoples from Mexico to Chile,
the Europeans often intermarried with these native populations,
as well as brought slaves from Africa, and today much of South
America (especially in Brazil) is racially and ethnically much
more mixed than almost any other continent.

One of the saddest chronicles of Western civilization is the
five hundred year history of the chronic political failure of
“Indo-America” --- in spite of its notable contributions to world
literature, film, music, art and architecture. In the same time
frame, its northern hemispheric neighbor, the United States,
emerged as the world’s economic and military superpower ---
and champion of international freedom, human rights and
national self-determination.

Perhaps there is now renewed optimism that, led perhaps by
the prosperity and maturation of Brazil, Indo-America can
leave behind its chronic coups and dictators, and at last realize
Simon Bolivar’s dreams and aspirations for his long-suffering

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 3, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The All-Important 2014 U.S. Senate Races

The 2014 U.S. senate races have now entered their active
phase. There are nine months until election day. Of course
much can happen between now and then, but the shape of
the numerous competitive contests is beginning to appear.

As of now, it would appear that there are five likely senate
pick-up for the Republicans, including Montana, South
Dakota, West Virginia, Arkansas, and now Louisiana.
Nothing is certain, but with the Democratic leadership
persisting in defending Obamacare, continued high
unemployment, uncertain financial markets, and a
problematic international economic and military
environment, it is difficult to see how these vulnerable
Democratic senate seats can be successfully defended.

Furthermore, four senate seats currently held by
Democrats, in Alaska, North Carolina, Iowa and Michigan
seem especially endangered at this stage of the campaign.

At risk, but still “Democratic-favored,” are seats in
New Hampshire, Minnesota,  and Colorado. (If Scott Brown
enters the New Hampshire race, that contest would become
a “toss-up.”)

A pick-up of six Democratic seats would be necessary in
order for the GOP to take control of the senate.

Democrats also have pick-up opportunities as well, in
Georgia(where they have an excellent candidate), Tennessee,
Kentucky and South Carolina, but if a conservative wave
develops, these opportunities might be missed.

(It is important to note that prior to the 2012 national
elections Republicans were expected to make gains in the
many close election contests that year, but, in fact, lost two
a net of seats. That outcome was attributable to the strong
showing of the Democratic presidential candidate at the top
of the ticket, much better Democratic GOTV efforts, and
several “flawed” GOP senate nominees who lost races many
thought should have been won.)

What is different from 2012, however, is that there is no
presidential contest, and that intraparty challenges to
incumbent GOP senators seem to lacking voter traction so
far. Since the number of Republican incumbents up for
re-election in 2016 will greatly outnumber Democrats ( a
reversal of the past three cycles), any hope of GOP control
of the senate would be lost for many years if the
Republicans do not succeed this year.

The “Tea Party” wing of the conservative party, however,
remains potent in several states, and until the GOP nominees
are finally chosen later in the year, the outcomes of several
races are in some doubt.

Some GOP hopes are wishful thinking. Although Ed Gillespie
is an excellent Republican candidate in Virginia, it is difficult
now to imagine any scenario by which incumbent Democratic
Senator Mark Warner is defeated.

But Obamacare is taking its toll on Democrats this year,
and several incumbents are beginning to separate themselves
from the White House and senate leadership on this issue.

But other issues are important in this cycle, too. Control of
the U.S. house seems to have been so far ceded by the
Democrats who are seeing some of their most senior and
powerful members retire. (Several Republican house members
are also retiring or running for higher office.) The economy in
general will, as always, be a major factor this year, especially
if another “wave” election develops (as happened for the
Democrats in 2006, and for the Republicans in 2010).

As I have pointed out for some time, the competition for control
of the U.S. senate is the principal political battleground of the
2014 national midterm elections. I will continue to provide updates
as developments occur.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.