Sunday, March 29, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Overcrowded And Underprepared?

The potential serious field of Republican candidates for
president is very, very large. I’m not even including in that
assessment an inevitable number of so-called minor
candidates, most of whom hold no political office, who
will seek, however briefly, the nation’s highest office.

There was a relatively large number of GOP candidates
in the 2012 election cycle, and it proved to be unwieldy,
especially because there were many candidates who took
leads in the polls or won primaries and caucuses. The large
number of debates with many debaters further confused
the Republican presentation to the voters prior to its
national convention and the final campaign that followed
to November.

Party leaders subsequently promised to avoid the problems
of 2012 as they planned for the 2016 cycle. So far, they have
indeed created an orderly, if unprecedented, tentative
primary and caucus calendar, and they have reduced the
number of sanctioned debates by half to twelve. Further,
the Republican National Committee has assigned only one
debate each to the mainstream television networks, all of
which proved biased and hostile in the last cycle. The Fox
network, in contrast,  has been assigned three debates.

Individual states can, of course, vary the dates past the
initial (and traditional) four of Iowa, New Hampshire,
South Carolina and Nevada. On March 1, 2016, there could
(as of now) be 27 primaries and caucuses on the same day,
including most of those states with the largest number of
delegates. This latter program is presumably designed to
settle the contest then and there, allowing the eventual
nominee to raise funds and set his or her agenda and
public image before the unusually early convention in June.

These new rules are an obvious rational response to the
chaos which occurred in 2012, but they are no guarantees,
especially with the large number of “major” candidates,
that new problems won’t occur. Most states are likely to
observe the new calendar rules because the penalties for
not doing so are so severe (loss of a significant portion of
their delegates being seated at the convention). The reduced
number of debates is intended to make the GOP message
clearer and less unencumbered in November.

It has not been much discussed in the media, however, how
much the new rules and calendar will alter the strategies
of the various candidates.

So far, three GOP hopefuls have emerged as leading
candidates, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush,
current Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and
current Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Senator Marco Rubio,
are expected to run; and Senator Ted Cruz has already

Potential candidates include former Arkansas Governor
Mike Huckabee, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and
former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

Other well-known figures expected to run include Carly
Fiorina, Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

Showing interest in the race is Ohio Governor John Kasich,
a potentially major candidate. Others might soon appear.

It is unimaginable that the first debate on August 20, 2015
would include all or most of these persons, although each
of them is prominent enough to have some claim to be on
the stage. The most likely requirements to be in the debate
will be polls numbers and campaign funds raised, with the
former being most likely standard.

Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina,
Donald Trump and John Kasich have not yet, and might not
by the deadline, have sufficient polls numbers to be in the
debates. Since being absent from the debates virtually
eliminates a candidate from serious contention in the race,
what can their campaigns do to overcome this huge obstacle?
What happens if one of the “major” candidates does not
make the poll number cut in July or August when debate
participants are chosen?

The primary and caucus calendar changes present major
challenges of their own. The early “four” have been
decreasing their influence in recent cycles, especially the
caucus states of Iowa and Nevada. New Hampshire and
South Carolina, however, could have notable impact on the
March 1 “Mega-Primary” Day when, as matters now stand,
so many delegates will be selected on the same day.

Mega-Primary Day presumes that the strongest candidates
will have raised the most money since political advertising
might  be the only way to reach so many states effectively at
the same time. Most retail campaigning will be limited to the
early “four” --- although the immediacy of Mega-Primary
Day might easily inhibit the usual one-on-one traditions of
Iowa and New Hampshire.

Presidential campaigns and strategies are now grappling, or
will soon have to grapple, with the consequences of the new
GOP campaign rules and calendar. I suggest that this might
produce a different scenario, and perhaps even different
result, than ones now being projected in the media.

Since most states will hold both their Democratic and
Republican primaries or caucuses on the same day, the
new calendar will also have consequences for the Democratic
presidential field and contest, particularly if that contest
becomes unexpectedly competitive (which is not the case now).

The ideological rhetoric and the ideological divisions within
each party, now front and not-so-center in the early coverage,
could give way to much more pragmatic considerations as
the 2016 campaign approaches its next stage over the summer
and autumn of 2015. That could be the biggest surprise of 2016.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is John Boehner Outfoxing His Opponents?

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has been under much
fire not only from his Democratic opponents, but from
some conservatives in his own party. The criticisms are
different, of course, and that which comes from the
liberal party is to be expected and is part of the political
“game.” Those members of his own caucus, some radio
show hosts, and a number of conservative activists,
however, are also attacking Boehner for being too passive,
too cooperative, and too agreeable to “liberal” policies.

Individual U.S. house members chronically threaten a
caucus revolt against Mr. Boehner that would replace him.

Particularly provocative to the insurgents on his right are
his immigration policies and his willingness to fashion a
budget deal with the help of some Democrats, including
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. In the past, Mr. Boehner
has opposed a government shutdown. (One did happen
over his objections, and it was a public relations disaster
for the GOP. More recently, he avoided one at the time of
the 2014 mid-term elections, with positive results, and is
attempting to do the same again this year.)

What is John Boehner up to?

I don’t know; I have not talked to him about it --- I’m just
guessing --- but I think, as the titular head of his national
party in Congress, he has been trying to avoid harming the
image of the conservative party with voters. When the
GOP shut down the government a few years ago, as I
previously mentioned, Republicans took a beating in
polling, especially among independent voters. When they
avoided another shutdown, voters gave the GOP landslide
victories in 2014, including recovering control of the U.S.

2016 is a presidential election year, and despite current polls,
I believe the Republican nominee for president will have a
a huge advantage at election time. The Democrats are on the
verge of nominating a figure for president who is not truly
popular. Moreover, the liberal grass roots have little passion
for her candidacy.

Let’s go back to 1948 for a moment. Thomas Dewey, the
Republican nominee, was the overwhelming favorite to win
the presidency that year. He led in all the polls right up to
election day. His opponent was President Harry Truman,
who was elevated to that office by the death of President
Roosevelt. His Democratic Party was seemingly hopelessly
split, and in fact, a far left Democrat, Henry Wallace (who had
been vice president) was also on the November ballot, as was
a conservative Democrat, Strom Thurmond (who ended up
winning a notable number of electoral votes in southern
states.) Mr. Truman, by 1948, wasn’t even that popular among
rank and file Democrats. Republicans controlled both the U.S.
house and senate. On paper, Mr. Dewey could not lose.

Mr. Truman then boarded a special train that crisscrossed the
nation, and he attacked a “do-nothing” Congress. In two months,
he energized his liberal base, and gained the admiration of
independents, for his pluck and for his painting the conservative
Congress as obstructionists.

I suggest that the only way a Democratic presidential nominee,
whomever it is, can win in 2016 is by persuading the nation’s
voters, especially independents and ethnic voters, that the GOP
is blocking the public interest.

In 1948, Republicans in Congress blocked new liberal legislation,
but had few post-World War II ideas of their own. Mr. Dewey,
taking his election for granted, offered no new ideas of his own
during the campaign.

Mr. Truman’s upset comeback victory was no accident.

2016, it is true, is not 1948, but Republicans could fall into a
similar psychological political trap by giving voters the
impression that they only know how to say “no.” Mr. Boehner
and his colleagues seem to be acknowledging the electoral
danger, especially with “hot button” issues such as
immigration reform and closing down the government.
With Barack Obama in the White House, they do not currently
have enough votes to override his vetoes. Mr. Boehner, it seems
to me, is saying that he will keep the government running until
January, 2017 when he and his party hopes also to occupy the
White House. Unlike Mr. Obama and the previous senate,
controlled by the Democrats under Harry Reid, Mr. Boehner
seems to be saying to the voters that the Republican Party will
be responsible and patient. They seem to be acknowledging,
with the Democratic party’s electoral college advantage, that
“Obama fatigue” might not be enough in 2016.

At the same time, Speaker Boehner was bold and decisive in
inviting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address the
Congress, something which most Americans approved.

Mr. Boehner might not, and probably won’t, satisfy some
conservatives, but his approach might also be the only way to
avoid a surprising upset at the polls. In the end, as I have been
suggesting for more than a year, the Republican Party and
many unhappy independents want to win in 2016. This kind of
grass roots “decision” was clearly visible in 2014.

Now we shall see if it will recur in 2016.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 23, 2015


I don’t want to disillusion any of my readers, but most of
what they read and hear in politics is deliberate, strategic and
ongoing propaganda. That’s not all bad. This propaganda is,
after all, the language of politics, and the secret is not only
speaking the language, but knowing how to translate it.

We now enter the “announcement” season of the presidential
campaign cycle. The “propagandismo” nature of American
political language is in one of its purest forms in this season.
Debates between candidates, and the conflict between their
differing “propaganda” messages, have not yet taken place
Media and commentary analysis challenging the propaganda
is mostly ahead. Political consultants and other advisers have
carefully crafted, after much discussion and editing, the
persona, biographical “story,” and overall image of their
candidates. The political horses are lining up to get into the
starting gates. By the late autumn and early winter, we’re off
to the big race!

Not so long ago, announcing for president was a more simple
and straightforward event. Radio, TV and the internet, as
they came along,  provide expanded platforms for the formal
declaration of candidacy, but “in the old days” when a
candidate decided to get “in”, he or she simply got “in.”
Today, there are usually a series of orchestrated steps to the
actual announcement. First, there is an often extended
period of”speculation” during which a potential candidate
gives interviews, answers media questions, and makes public
speeches in which an “interest” in running for president is
made of “hints,” “maybes,” and “possibles.” Then there is an
announcement of the formation of an “exploratory committee”
which propels a candidate into fundraising and more specific
testing of the political waters. Finally, there is the formal
announcement itself. Sometimes, a candidate only goes through
step 1, or steps 1 and 2. We are now, in most cases, ready for
those who will take step 3.

For the 2016 cycle, each major political party will have its own
schedule of announcements. Senator Ted Cruz has just become
the first to formally announce on the Republican, He will be
followed soon enough by a number of others, including
predetermined major candidates Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and
Scott Walker. Most of those who will go to step 3 have already
formed exploratory committees. There is likely to be one or
two surprise or late entries (like Texas Governor Rick Perry
was in 2012). On the Democratic side, the party and its
potential candidates are awaiting the formal announcement
of Hillary Clinton, reportedly set for April. Should she decide
not to run, the number of formal candidates would likely
increase dramatically. If she does announce, there will still
be rivals in the race, most notably now former Maryland
Governor Martin O’Malley, and possibly, Massachusetts
Senator Elizabeth Warren. Since a Democratic field without
Clinton would be considered a relatively light one, the chance
for surprise candidacies in that case would be high.

But no matter who, how many, and in which major party, the
basic form of the announcement for president will most
likely take similar forms. As I suggested at the outset, these
announcements will attempt to control the narrative of
the candidacy, and will be laden with propaganda.

The fresher and more original campaign launches,
however, will gain at least some initial advantages. It will
be instructive to observe which campaigns have figured
this out.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Campaign 2016 Update 1

Although Election Day, 2016 is nineteen months away, the
campaigns for the next cycle, especially the presidential
race is now underway. Until the end of this year, however,
news events, polls and strategies are so much in their early
stages that any observer needs to be very cautious about
drawing any conclusions. Particularly in the presidential
nomination races in both parties, the campaigns are quite
unsettled, and few contenders have even formally declared
their candidacies. With that important caveat in mind, here
are some of the latest developments in Campaign 2016:

This is the time that numerous “minor” candidates for
president begin to test the political waters, especially in the
Republican race. Most notable among these is physician
Ben Carson who has for months been hinting his intentions
and has already built a grass roots following across the
country. Donald Trump, the celebrity hotel tycoon, is a
perennial candidate-to-be, and this cycle is no different.
Mark Everson, a CPA and experienced federal bureaucrat,
has just formally announced his candidacy. Carly Fiorina,
a former corporate leader, has been actively preparing her
presidential campaign. There will no doubt be more, some
well-known and others unknown. Since Wendell Willkie in
1940, however, no originally unknown or “minor” candidate
has won his or her major party’s nomination.

It’s been a difficult period for frontrunners. Although he is
raising substantial campaign funds, and has signed on some
of the biggest names in his party, Jeb Bush is having some
apparent trouble with his party’s conservative grass roots.
His terms as governor of Florida were quite conservative,
but immigration, education and tax issues seem to be
now standing in his way. Since the first of the year, Mr. Bush
has also received a serious challenge from Wisconsin Governor
Scott Walker, a conservative with some appeal to more
moderate Republicans. Almost forgotten for the moment,
the potentially formidable New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie appears to be putting his first national campaign
together out of the limelight. Democratic frontrunner
Hillary Clinton, former first lady, senator and secretary of
state, has had an almost disastrous first months of 2015,
and her “inevitability” as the eventual nominee of her party
is now being questioned seriously. Her best asset remains
the lack of a first tier challenger, although Massachusetts
Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Maryland Governor
Martin O’Malley are receiving increased attention in the
media and on the early campaign trail.

A long period of inconclusive speculation about the
presidential campaign lies ahead in the spring and summer
of 2015. Only in the autumn as the debates begin and the
real campaigns in Iowa and New Hampshire commence
will this all-important contest of the 2016 cycle begin to take
much better shape.

Races for the U.S. house and senate are just beginning, with
challengers to vulnerable incumbents in both parties still
mostly unknown. It is expected that Republicans will retain
control of the U.S house easily in 2016, but Democrats could
make a net pick-up of seats. In the U.S. senate, more than
twice as many Republican than Democratic seats are up in
2016, but that is perhaps misleading. The number of
probably vulnerable incumbents is only 6-8 on the GOP
side, and 2-3 on the Democratic side. Nevertheless,
retirements could change that picture. It already has in
Maryland where long-time Senator Barbara Mikulski
surprisingly announced she would not run again. This seat
is probably still safe for the liberal party, but a Republican
won the Maryland governorship in an upset in 2014, and
there could be a very bitter battle for the Democratic

A young incumbent Illinois GOP congressman. Aaron
Schock, suddenly resigned recently, but his district likely
will remain conservative. New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob
Menendez is facing serious allegations in the media, but so far
no formal charges have been filed. Should he resign, his seat
would be filled by appointment by GOP Governor Chris Christie.
Allegations, scandals, normal retirements, and controversies
will almost certainly continue to appear over the spring and
summer, but it is difficult to anticipate yet any change of control
of the Congress.

Nevertheless, presidential election cycle years usually produce
surprises, political fireworks, and high media melodramas.
In the world of today, anything can happen.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Buoyant "Bibi" Back?

The votes are still being counted in Israel, but it appears
that Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu has defied
the odds, pundits and polls to stage a historic last-minute

Exit polls which are sometimes inaccurate, show Netanyahu’s
party, Likud, with a slight lead over the leftist Zionist coalition
led by Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. Actual vote counting,
with 67% tallied, show Likud leading its major party opponent
by about 4.8%. Mr. Herzog’s party was, based on final
pre-election polls, expected to gain four more seats than Likud.

No political party has ever won a majority of the 120 seats in
the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. In order to control the
government and name the prime minster, a party leader must
form a coalition from the numerous small parties represented
in the Knesset.

Netanyahu, with a dramatic last-minute promise not to allow a
Palestinian state while he was prime minister, apparently was
able to draw votes from other conservative and nationalist
parties. Mr. Herzog, at the last-minute, said the leader of the
party with which his party formed a pre-election coalition
would not serve as prime minister in rotation if they won.
Some analysts said this hurt, rather than helped, Mr. Herzog’s
prospects to form the next Israeli government.

Wednesday morning the final results will be in, and both Mr.
Netanyahu and Mr. Herzog will attempt to assemble a majority
of 61 or more members of parliament. The actual naming of
the prime minister is by the elected president of Israel after
receeiving the official result on Thursday. The person he chooses
then has 30 days to form a government. If he or she cannot, the leader
of the party which came in second then has the opportunity to
form a government. If no one can do so, the Israeli president would
then call a new election.


With the final results tallied, Likud and Prime Minister Netanyahu
have won an upset victory., having received almost 5% more votes
than their nearest rival. Likud is expected to have 30 seats in the
new Knesset, several more than pre-election polls predicted.
Isaac Herzog's coalition on the left is expected to win 24. Mr. Herzog
has formally conceded the election. One report contends that Mr.
Netanyahu now has about 67 votes from conservative and
nationalists parties for his return to power (a majority, or 61 votes
in the Knesset, are necesary). The president of Israel is
expected to ask Mr Netanyahu to form the next government.

Although most commentators, both in Israel and the U.S., have
suggested that Mr. Netanyahu's last-minute declaration that he would
not allow an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank was an
act of political desperation, it now appears that this move was planned
and calculated beforehand as the climax of his campaign. In any event,
it worked. Observers have noted that Mr. Netanyahu's government
could change its mind on this issue if the Palestinian Authority and
anti-Israel forces in the region significantly changed their policies.

The pre-election polls (and even the exit polls), as noted, were
significantly wrong in this election. It could be because most of the
polling was done by the internet, and not by telephone. Some local
observers argue that internet polling in Israel does not work well there.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Senators' Letter

The letter recently sent by 47 Republican U.S. senators to the
Iranian chief of state warned him that any executive agreement
he reached with President Obama regarding the Iranian nuclear
program would expire with the end of Mr. Obama’s term
unless it was submitted to the U.S. senate for ratification  and
subsequently approved by a two-thirds vote.

This letter has been denounced by Mr. Obama and his
Democratic supporters as interference with the presidential
prerogative to conduct foreign policy.

So who is right?

The U.S. constitution does say that the president of the United
States is to conduct foreign policy with the advice and consent
of the U.S. senate, particularly on the matter of treaties.

Seven GOP senators declined to sign the letter, and no
Democrats did.

Republicans answered Democratic critics by citing then-Speaker
of the House (and Democrat) Nancy Pelosi’s visit to President
Assad in Syria in 2007 expressly against the wishes of
then-President George W. Bush who was negotiating with Syria.

Now-minority Leader Pelosi argues that the circumstances
were fundamentally different between 2007 and 2015, but although
there were differences, the fact remains that a congressional leader
of one political party ignored the wishes of the president  (who was
from another political party) in 2007. Not only that, the U.S. house
of representatives has much more limited constitutional powers in
matters of foreign policy than does the senate. In 2015, the senate
letter (crafted by first-term Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas) was
signed by 47 members, many more than the 34 needed to block the
ratification of any treaty.

Nevertheless, the senate letter was very unusual, and it was
contrary to the practice of the traditional bipartisan foreign
polices of past decades.

President Obama has polarized the conduct of U.S. foreign policy
by publicly stating that he will take executive actions without the
advice and consent of the senate. This is not unprecedented (there
was also much polarization between the parties during the terms of
President George. W. Bush), but it is particularly unusual because it
involves a sudden change in long-standing foreign policy for
the Middle East, policy that has been observed by U.S.
presidents of both parties since World War II. Not only that,
his negotiations are in such contrast to the interests of one of
America’s staunchest allies, Israel, that the Israeli prime
minister was motivated to come to the U.S. and strongly make
the case that not only are current terms of negotiations
contrary to Israeli interests, but also contrary to the long-term
interests of the United States.

The interests of the United States are primary, but U.S. public
opinion overwhelmingly says that, in this case, U.S. interests
and Israeli interests are the same. The letter of the 47 U.S.
senators reflects that American public opinion.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly declared that he can unilaterally
make domestic policy without the consent of the Congress, and
he is currently attempting to do so. His motivation is simple ---
he can’t impose his will on a Congress whose majority
disagrees with him. But this is clearly not the intention of the
U.S. constitution which was created with three branches,
each acting as a check on the others.

Now expanding his unilateral principle to foreign policy as well,
Mr. Obama is entering further risky political territory. In time, the
U.S. supreme court will decide whether he is right or wrong,
but in the short term, it might be necessary for members of the
U.S. house and senate to make it clear they will not allow their
constitutional powers to be trampled on. Even more importantly,
perhaps, the Congress can insist that Mr. Obama convince the
public of his actions before taking them unilaterally in the waning
years of his presidency.

This was the real purpose of the letter to Iran by the 47 senators.
It took the leadership of a freshman senator, Mr. Cotton, to think
past old niceties (niceties that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Pelosi had
themselves long abandoned) and make a clear statement to the
nation and the world.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


As much as there have been more beautiful and talented
actresses in American films in the past hundred years, the
greatest “clip” of a cinema performance is, for me, the closing
moments of now-largely-forgotten masterpiece Make Room
For Tomorrow (Paramount, 1937) in which Beaulah Bondi,
playing Lucy Cooper, says farewell to her husband Barkley,
played by Victor Moore, at Grand Central Station.

Leo McCarey, the director of this film,  was one of the titans
of the early film industry, and made some of the most  popular
films of both the silent and sound movie periods. He put Stan
Laurel and Oliver Hardy together, and made their silent films.
He directed the Marx Brothers in their biggest film Duck Soup.
A devout Irish Catholic, his Going My Way and The Bells of St.
Mary’s were some of the biggest “blockbusters” of the
pre-World War II era. He won two Academy Awards for best
director. In Hollywood, he was a giant among other household
names. And today, he is mostly unknown, except by die-hard
movie buffs of past cinema.

I am discovering that this phenomenon is not uncommon in
the contemporary culture in America. We see the“forgetting”
of great masters and great works in classical music, painting,
sculpture, philosophy, fiction and poetry. The reasons are
complicated, and have political overtones, as well as purely
cultural ones.

In the case of McCarey, it is perhaps primarily political. One of
the few political conservatives in Hollywood in the 1920s and
1930s, McCarey testified before the congressional committee
investigating communist influence in the film industry after
World War II. Senator Joseph McCarthy and then-Senator
Richard Nixon became liberal villains in the 1950s for their
role in this period, although history and irrefutable evidence
has made it clear that “red” influence was rampant in both
Hollywood and the U.S. government. (Alger Hiss was both a
liar and a traitor, although some liberals still hold onto the
unsupportable belief that he was innocent), and the federal
government bureaucracy was filled with actual members of 
the Communist Party and apologists for Soviet dictator
Joseph Stalin. McCarey disagreed with communism, and
said so, but his testimony was distinctive in that he only
stated his own views, and did not point his finger to anyone
else in the film industry.

(Joe McCarthy, in particular, was a reckless and mean-spirited
man, and accused some who were innocent. His insinuations
about World War II Allied commander General George
Marshall, later U.S. secretary of state and author of the
Marshall Plan, were particularly heinous. For his excesses,
he was eventually rightly condemned by the U.S. senate, but
the fact remains that communist influence was widespread in
the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s. (Perhaps the most dangerous
instance was the circumstance that in 1940, Henry C. Wallace
was elected vice president of the U.S., and came within a few
months of becoming president in 1945 on the death of
President Franklin Roosevelt. Wallace was not a communist,
but openly sympathized with Stalin and many communist
policies. In 1944, wary Democratic leaders insisted to the
then-dying Roosevelt that he replace Wallace on that year’s
presidential ticket. The result was a new, and then unknown,
vice president, Harry Truman.  Truman became president
only days after he was sworn in. It is now a widely accepted
view that the post-World War II period would have been much
different and disadvantageous to the U.S. and the free world
if Wallace had been president.

Many in Hollywood, like Leo McCarey who were not liberal
were culturally “blacklisted” by most critics in the period after
the 1970s. Many ‘left-wing” actors and directors had ironically
been blacklisted in the 1950s and 1960s, some of them very
unfairly, but now the critical cultural establishment in
Hollywood, New York and Washington, DC, turned the tables,
and did some cultural persecution of their own (something
which continues to this day against conservatives under the
rubric of “political correctness”).

By the 1990s, however, younger critics, unburdened by
bias and retribution, began to “rediscover” some of the
great figures of the earlier era. The film Make Way for
Tomorrow is a classic case of this. This work now appears on
virtually all lists of “best” movies of all time, and deservedly
so. To be fair, the neglect of this movie was not just caused by
politics, but also by its pre-war styles and by its lack of
iconic Hollywood stars in its brilliant cast.

While I hope that any reader who has not seen this truly great
movie will now do so (it’s available on DVD), I began this piece
with only a clip from the film, its ending. Actress Beaulah Bondi
is standing on the platform at Grand Central Station in New
York, having only moments before said presumably a final
good-bye to her aging husband as he boarded the transcontinental
train to California where he will now live with their daughter.
There is no room for her there, and she must remain behind
in an “old person’s home.” They spoke to each other of reuniting
later, but she (and the audience) knows she will not see him
again. In spite of having five children, none of them is willing,
or probably able, to provide a home for both of them together.
It is the Depression of the 1930s. Social security has been enacted,
and in effect, but is controversial and will not begin payouts to
American seniors until several years later. (Conservative McCarey,
always a humanist in real life and in his films, has made perhaps
the greatest cinematic argument ever for social security and
compassion for the aging.)

But this closing clip, and the film, is much more than a argument
for caring about and for senior citizens. It is beyond liberalism
and conservatism, beyond  politics, beyond Hollywood, beyond
mere film criticism. As Beaulah Bondi waves good-bye to her
husband, now moving away in the train compartment, she utters
no dialogue. The brave and loving smile on her face, meant for
her departing lifetime companion, slowly and extraordinarily
changes to a look of profound and terrified confusion. There is
not a word of dialogue. It is not a happy Hollywood ending

Many say they cannot help but cry during this film and its
ending. But the face we see at the conclusion of this film is a
cinematic mirror that is far beyond mere politics and mere tears.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: It Was Unthinkiable

It was unthinkable until now that Hillary Clinton would not
be the Democratic nominee for president in 2016. It had been
unthinkable in 2007 that she would not win in 2008, but the
unthinkable did happen. This, of course, made the unthinkable
even more unthinkable in 2015. Surely, any observer could
reasonably conclude, she would not make the same mistakes

As I write this, Mrs. Clinton dominates the polling for her party’s
nomination by a very wide margin. She defeats any visible
Republican opponent in almost every poll (although her margins
have been slipping noticeably in recent days.) She has been until
just now the frontrunner’s idea of a frontrunner, and no one
since Dwight Eisenhower has seemed more inevitable for a party
nomination in a race for president with no incumbent running.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy is now in some trouble.
The furor over her use of a private e-mail while she was U.S.
secretary of state will almost certainly pass, but it certainly
should have passed sooner. While prima facie improper, it is not
in itself (with the information we now have) disqualifying.

It might be important to note that Mrs. Clinton’s problem is not
about making new political mistakes. Her biggest problems seem
to be about what she cannot now control or explain away, that is,
actions in her long record as a public figure. While it seemed to be
a clever strategy for her (and her husband, the former president) to
design in 2008-09, that is, to accept the position of secretary of
state in the Obama administration, her performance in that office,
and under that president, seems to have reopened and magnified
political weaknesses from her past, including her record of
judgment, her propensity for secrecy, her dependence on others
to cover up her mistakes, and the untransparent institution and
controversies of the giant Clinton Foundation which she now
heads with her husband.

It is possible, of course, that Hillary Clinton can still be the
Democratic nominee for president; and even possible that
Republicans will make such a mess of their current opportunity
so that she wins the presidency next November. There is no
incontrovertible evidence in the polls that she cannot still win.

But it is becoming clear that her Republican opponents will have
much from Mrs. Clinton’s past and present to bring up to the
voters, and should the unthinkable happen, i.e., a bitter
nomination contest in which case there would be much her
potential opponents from her own party could use against her,
With  former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley now moving
toward a Democratic nomination contest; Massachusetts
Senator Elizabeth Warren already quite popular in the party’s
grass roots base; Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders also making
noises to her left; former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, a
populist, waiting in the wings; a very possibly formidable
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also in the wings; and Vice
President Joe Biden desperate for a good reason to stay in the
race; the chemistry of the 2016 race for the Democratic
nomination could become a genuine contest in a short period of

I point out to the reader how quickly Wisconsin Governor Scott
Walker has emerged as a first tier candidate in the GOP contest;
how quickly New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has (at least
temporarily) faded in the polls. (I might add, how quickly he could
re-emerge once the debates begin.) With almost a year until the
primaries and caucuses, the Republican contest is clearly
unsettled. In the face of Mrs. Clinton’s weak performance so far,
the general lack of true enthusiasm for her nomination, and now
the recurring controversies, it might be very soon that the
Democratic contest could be also considered unsettled.

Until now, it was unthinkable to say that Hilary Clinton’s
nomination was not “a done deal.” There might still be a deal
done on her behalf, she might yet still be president, but I think
there are some very smart Democratic leaders and strategists
now suddenly at least thinking about the unthinkable.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Political Potpourri - March, 2015


The announcement that long-time liberal Maryland Senator
Barbara Mikulski would retire in 2016 is another blow to
Democratic party hopes to regain control of the U.S. senate
next year. Although Maryland has been a reliable liberal
blue state for some time, Republican Larry Hogan won an
upset victory for governor in 2014, and the conservative party
has a potentially serious candidate for the seat. On the
Democratic side, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, a rising
star in the national party, has already announced for the open
seat. At least two other liberal Maryland congressmen, Elijah
Cummings and Donna Edwards, could be formidable
candidates for the seat. Today, conservative physician Ben
Carson is running for president in 2014, and he has already
attracted unusual attention in his party’s grass roots, but
he is almost certain not to win the GOP presidential
nomination. On the other hand, Carson could be a very
formidable Republican senate nominee in 2016, especially
since Maryland has such a large black population. Not having
experience in elected office, his presidential ambitions are
now unfulfillable, but as a U.S. senator in 2020 or 2024, he
could be a much more serious candidate.


Florida GOP Senator Mario Rubio seems on the brink of
announcing for president in 2016, but state law prevents him
from also being on the ballot for his re-election to the senate
that same year. This would create an open seat, and a
potential for a Democratic pick-up. Some observers note that
Rubio might indeed choose not to run for senate in 2016, and
if he loses the presidential nomination, run for Florida
governor in 2018. Democratic (18th C.D.) Congressman Patrick
Murphy is an early favorite to get the liberal party nod for an
open senate seat, and could be formidable. On the GOP side,
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is a likely
contender. Congressman Ron DiSantis (6th C.D.) and former
Speaker of the Florida House Will Weatherford are also serious
potential candidates.


Like Senator Rubio in Florida, GOP Senator Rand Paul of
Kentucky also is up for re-election in 2016 and is also almost
certain to be a candidate for president in the same year. As
in Florida, a candidate can only run for one federal office in
the same year. Unlike Mr. Rubio, Mr. Paul would have little
follow-up prospects if he lost the presidential nomination (now
likely) and gave up his senate seat.


Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave one of the
most historic and important speeches of the decade
when he addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress.
Calling the current U.S. position in the negotiations with
Iran a “bad deal,” Mr. Netanyahu delineated a lucid and
devastating argument. Understandably, President Obama
and his White House staff were upset to have their position
so effectively undermined, and went to great lengths, both
before and after Mr Netanyahu’s remarks, to diminish them.
Most commentators, however, afterwards cited the White
House ineptness in calling so much attention to the speech that
otherwise might have not reached so many Americans and thus
had such impact. With only days left to the deadline for an
agreement, it would appear that any successful negotiation that
does not much more permanently block development of Iranian
nuclear weapons will fail. [Congressional Republicans, so often
outwitted in public relations contests with the White House,
might learn a few lessons from Mr. Netanyahu (who attended
high school in Philadelpha and college in Boston).]


Senate Democrats were successful once again in blocking
Republican attempts to vote on alternatives to U.S. immigration
policy through the funding bill for the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security. As I have previously suggested, this kind
of stalemate will continue until Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell and his colleagues find a way to prevent the
Democratic minority from blocking votes on key conservative
legislation. When the Democrats were in the majority, they
overcame such action by Republicans by abolishing the filibuster
device for similar legislation. With Republican and many
independent voters wanting the new senate GOP majority to
act effectively, it might be necessary for Mr. McConnell and
his caucus to adopt the very same rules the Democrats so
recently did.


The recent revelations that then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton used a private e-mail account instead of an official one
(as mandated by the law) has thrown her frontrunning presidential
campaign into some disorder. Most observers, including this one,
speculated that the controversy would soon blow over, but the
clumsiness of the handling of the matter by the Clinton
organization, and perhaps inherent weakness in her public image,
have given the affair some surprising legs. The fact that Mrs.
Clinton criticized the George W. Bush administration in 2007 (on
a video now being widely circulated) for having secret e-mail
accounts is making her actions all the more indefensible.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.