Friday, October 30, 2015


It’s ”report card” time  as the presidential debate season is
now well underway. Each commentator, be they a journalist,
an academic or a political operative pass out their
subjective equivalents of “A, B, C, D” or “F” as a response
to each candidate’s performance. Like almost everyone else,
I have been doing it, too.

But I am now wondering how useful these shorthand personal
evaluations (and that is what each one ultimately is) to a
process when there can be such divergence between the
self-styled “sophisticated” appraisals and how they are
actually being received and understood by the great number
of voters who make the only grading that truly counts --- with
their votes in the primaries, caucuses and then in the general

I think these reservations are particularly pertinent in a
campaign cycle when the party establishments and the media
establishments seem so distant from the various voter groups
and bases.

In the Republican third debate, with almost entirely the same
cast of candidates as in the first two, there was, I think, only
some limited variance in the performances of the contestants.
Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie,
Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Rand Paul
and Mike Huckabee performed variations on themes and
styles already established. Of course, certain of them seemed
to do better or worse than previously, and the media predictably
and understandably looked for “gotcha” comments, weak
personality projections and other moments to build a reportage

There is nothing the matter with this if it reflects with some
accuracy what the viewers/voters think. But if the polls. focus
groups and grass roots unrest have any value, I think our
“report cards” might be more off the mark than we would like
to think they are.

Let me illustrate with specific examples. After the first (and so
far only) Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton was declared not
only the winner by most pundits, but re-installed as the
inevitable nominee. Yet there were signs that Bernie Sanders
had done better than reported. After the third GOP debate, there
is almost a universal declaration that Jeb Bush’s candidacy is
finished. The left-wing flagship, The New York Times, then
editorialized that Chris Christie should give up, notwithstanding
that he had seemed to give three straight excellent debates, with
his performance in the third debate possibly being his best so far.
Many say Ben Carson, who now leads in some polls or is second
in most others, is “too laid back” or “uninformed” to continue to
be in the first tier. Another cliche is that Carly Fiorina does well
in the debates, but fades in public regard afterward. John Kasich
is trying too hard, and not connecting, goes another pundit
narrative. He had been a media favorite after the first debate.
Marco Rubio, many now say, is coming on strong, especially
after he “demolished” his mentor Jeb Bush in a particular
exchange. Mike Huckabee is a nice guy, but too “hokey.” And so
on and so on.

Needless to say, all these commentators are supposed to say
something, so I am not suggesting they are not doing the job
expected of them, nor am I saying they are necessarily wrong.
But, as we saw initially in the 2012 cycle, there is now an
ultimately contrarian “rotation” of favorites in large candidate
fields over several months. In smaller candidate fields, such as
the Democratic field this cycle, when the frontrunner has so many
controversies and such high unfavorables, isn’t it premature to
declare the race over just because Joe Biden decided not to run?

The Democratic field is not going to get much smaller. Martin
O’Malley might kick himself if he pulled out too soon, as perhaps
Tim Pawlenty did in 2011. The Republican field, however,
probably has to get smaller, sooner or later, so that voters see
how the GOP finalists (whoever they might be) do under the
pressure of the interaction of the party’s best candidates (again,
whoever they might be).

The presidential debates are important and likely critical. Mrs.
Clinton might win her party’s nomination after all. Donald Trump
and Ben Carson might fade. Jeb Bush, at some point, might
withdraw. But so far, the 2016 presidential cycle seems determined
to defy easy predictions.

The reason for this is not capricious. The reason for this is the voters.
Each of us who comments on and tries to analyze this election might
want to remember this enduring and central fact of our political life.

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Remembering Jack Kemp

Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke have just published a
major biography of an iconic conservative figure entitled
Jack Kemp: The Bleeding-Heart Conservative Who Changed

Normally, I would pass on reviewing such a book because,
in full disclosure, one of the authors is a good friend and my
long-time editor at The Weekly Standard (where I have
contributed articles since 1997). Jack Kemp was also a friend
and policy mentor to me in the 1980s and 1990s.

The book, however, is so timely and I have enough first-hand
knowledge of part of the time frame of this book that I am
going to write about it anyway. My readers can assess any
bias I might display, but I think I can make some fair, and
hopefully useful, comments about both Kemp the person
and the book itself.

I did not know Jack Kemp in his early years as a famous
football quarterback, nor during his first years in Congress,
but I did meet him in the early 1980s when he was already a
conservative figure in Washington, DC.

As Barnes and Kondracke’s account relates, Kemp inspired
the formation of the Conservative Opportunity Society (COS)
group in the Republican house caucus. It was through one of
the leaders of that group, then-Minnesota Congressman Vin
Weber, that I met the congressman from Buffalo, New York.
Other members of COS included Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott
and Bob Walker. Kemp was its statesman and close to all its
members. Then-Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney remained
formally outside the group, but allied with its objectives and

I had originally been from Erie, PA. Its congressional district
was very much like Kemp’s ethnic blue collar Buffalo district.
(For this reason, Kemp was more sympathetic to Tom Ridge,
then Erie’s Republican congressman, than were most of the
more hard-line conservatives of COS.)

I was, at that time, transitioning from my boyhood liberalism
to a more centrist and non-partisan domestic political view,
and despite my undergraduate days at the Wharton School at the
University of Pennsylvania, my economic views were more
academic and theoretical than informed by the real world. I was
fortunate, then, to befriend Kemp, and I spent several hours during
his visits to Minnesota and my visits to Washington learning from
him about the notion of supply-side economics in his unique and
socially compassionate context. This was especially refreshing
to me who had previously assumed that conservatives were
somehow opposed to civil rights and indifferent to the poor.

Kemp had been a professional football quarterback with the
Buffalo Bills, and understood from daily experience on the field
how misguided racial prejudice was. He represented a blue
collar urban district, and he understood first-hand the concerns
and views of working men and women.

The juxtaposition of conservatism, compassion and pragmatic
economics was something new to me, and Kemp’s enthusiasm
and intelligence on these matters was not only appealing but
inspiring. This “supply-side economics” was to become, as
Barnes and Kondracke recount it, Jack Kemp’s lasting legacy in
public life.

My more liberal readers will now, I know, roll their eyes at the
mention of “supply-side economics,” having listened to and
read the propaganda from liberal economists that this policy
does not work, and has not ever worked. One of the premiums
of this biography is that its authors show incorrect this view is.

I might interject here what I have always understood (thanks
to Kemp) about the “supply-side” notion. Its critics say that
tax cuts, one of its main principles, do not work. But they leave
out the other and necessary part of a successful “supply-side”
equation, that is, the necessity for decreased public spending
to accompany the tax cuts. Although Presidents Reagan and
George W. Bush did cut taxes, they also did not always cut
federal spending. Their policies did ultimately produce
positive economic results, but were constrained by sometime
increased public spending (demanded by liberal congressional
Democrats). President Kennedy, a Democrat, also cut taxes
in 1962 with a positive ensuing result, as did President Clinton
at the end of his term (by adopting many of the supply-side
policies of Speaker Newt Gingrich and his caucus). Kennedy,
in particular, was by today’s standards a foreign policy hawk
and an economic conservative, but most Democrats, in their
myth-making about him, want to forget this.

Barnes and Kondracke’s book is much more than account of
economic theories. It offers detailed and very fair accounts,
carefully researched, of the key period from the early 1970s
through the 1990s when conservative economics (also espoused
by Ronald Reagan) changed the U.S. political environment.
Kemp was a overly-trusting generalist, an instinctive
“quarterback” on and off the field, and he made mistakes,
especially in later years when served as secretary of Housing
and Urban Development (HUD), and later in 1996 when he was
the GOP nominee for vice president on the ticket with Bob Dole.

In 1990, soon after  President George H.W. Bush appointed him
to his cabinet as HUD secretary, I co-founded a non-partisan,
non-profit foundation to present national symposia to discuss
public policy issues. It was determined that the first symposium
would be about low-income housing, something I and my
co-founder had some experience with in the national “new town”
movement in Minnesota. We asked Kemp to be our keynote
speaker, and we invited numerous local and national liberal
low-income housing experts and advocates to participate in a
a dialogue with him. Kemp showed up with several of his top
HUD staff, and earnestly tried to talk about his HUD plans.
The truth be told, most of of those who did not share his
political views ignored or rebuffed his efforts for a genuine
and sympathetic dialogue. It was a lesson for me, who had
previously leaned center left, of the closed mind of many
liberal activists. It was also symptomatic of the many
obstacles that were put in Kemp’s way during his stewardship
at HUD where many of its own entrenched employees refused
to consider innovation an reform.

After HUD, Kemp co-founded the respected conservative think
tank Empower America and continued to try to influence policy
and politics. As with his earlier life, I had little contact with
Kemp in those final years, but I trust that Barnes and Kondracke
have given as balanced and accurate account of them as they did
of Kemp’s major period in public life when I knew him.

Jack Kemp was a warm but sometimes discrete figure, stubborn,
self-involved but also selfless, complicated, optimistic, unwilling
to attack his opponents, idealistic, and someone who conducted
his public life outside ideological stereotypes and political cliches.
He was Lincolnesque in his views about civil rights, and a leading
figure in the development of pragmatic free market economics.

He ran for president and vice president, but did not win higher
elective office than congressman. He held few titles, but his
influence went beyond his own time, as Barnes and Kondracke
point out, to our own time and probably beyond. This is a
valuable and informative book.

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

Monday, October 26, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is Jeb Bush Looking For An Exit?

So far, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s campaign for
president in 2016 has been underwhelming. He has raised
substantial campaign funds, and he has for the most part a
first-rate campaign staff, but his performance as a candidate
has not raised his standing in the polls (which he earlier led),
nor his standing with political observers (many of whom had
anticipated him as the Republican frontrunner going into the
primary/caucus season in early 2016).

With the third GOP presidential debate only a few days away,
the pressure grows sharply for Mr, Bush to turn in a much
better performance than he did in the first two. He isn’t helping
himself either by complaining about his opponents, especially
Donald Trump and Ben Carson, each of who lead him in most

As far as I know, no one has ever successfully won the
presidency by complaining about his opponents. On the other
hand, Mr, Bush has put forward some excellent economic
plans, including a very serious free market plan to eliminate
the unpopular and unworkable Obamacare legislation without
incurring much hardship to those who need a new federal plan.
Mr. Bush’s resume is as good, or better than that any of his
rivals, and his experience as chief executive of the large state
of Florida was impressive. Nor was temporarily downsizing
his campaign staff and expenditures without good sense,

His primary problem so far seems to be a lack of notable
skills as a campaigner, including those of a debater. A
further frustration for his supporters and those of the other
experienced candidates is that three non-politicians with no
previous elected experience, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and
Carly Fiorina, are leading the GOP field by a large margin at
the present time.

The irony of his situation is that Mr, Bush, by virtue of his
fundraising, staff and name recognition, is best-suited to
endure through the present environment and possibly
re-emerge three months from now when the all-important
state primary and caucus voting begins. This is exactly what
Florida Senator Marco Rubio and New Jersey Governor
Chris Christie are doing with far less resources.

When challenged by reporters, Mr. Bush is ill-advised to say
“blah blah blah.” And when ruminating over the campaign so
far, it does him no good to deride those voters who are giving
his less-experienced opponents higher poll numbers. He is
well-advised to continue to come up with good economic
solutions to the nation’s toughest problems, and to work on
his communication skills. He might not be able to become a
William Jennings Bryan or a Ronald Reagan on the stump, but
he can and should improve his campaign manner.

I hope Mr, Bush did not believe, when he entered the 2016
contest, that his nomination was inevitable or fore-ordained (as
perhaps some of his supporters believed). Winning a major party
nomination for president is always very hard work, and this cycle,
it appears to very hard work indeed.

Mr. Christie, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Kasich are also very credible as
future leaders of the free world in this cycle, and it would appear
that the one of them, including Mr, Bush, who wants it most, and
will work for it the hardest, has the best chance for the prize.

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

Friday, October 23, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekend Update 7

It was the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who
so indelibly made the point that "a house divided cannot 
stand." If there is to be a likelihood that there is to be a
"newest" GOP president in 2017, the current conservative
caucus in the U.S. house of representatives ought to think
long, short and very hard about resolving their differences to
a credible degree before the conservative party goes before
the voters of the nation seeking to re-elect their majorities in 
the Congress, and to put one of their own in the White House.

(Updated October 25)

 The "catastrophic" storm came and went, and thankfully, 
it did not cause not major damage or loss of life. The
winds were reduced from 200 M.P.H. to 140 M.P.H. and less
at landfall, and affected mostly uninhabited areas.)
Let’s all of us take a moment for a personal prayer, or its
non-religious equivalent for those who don’t “pray,” of
concern for our neighbors to the south (on the west coast of
central Mexico) who are about to endure the landfall of the
“most powerful storm” ever recorded in our hemisphere.
Hurricanes and cyclones of about 75-100 mile per hour (MPH)
are very destructive; this storm has winds recorded at 200-225
MPH. “Catastrophic” in such a case is almost an
understatement. The largest cities in its path are Puerta
Vallarta and Monterrey, and the area is mostly the province of
Jalisco, a region of much inland character and coastal beauty.
It was the locale of Mexican writer Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo,
the nation’s most famous and haunting novel. Let us hope that,
by a some miracle of nature, the worst of this storm bypasses
most inhabited areas.

The Benghazi congressional hearings have reinforced the
notion that facts have little to do with much public opinion in
the current election cycle. Earlier, a dumb and inexcusable
bridge closing in New Jersey was employed by Governor
Chris Christie’s political and media opponents to try to harm
his political prospects, even though no facts have emerged to
connect him directly to the scandal. Now, the frontrunning
Democratic candidate for president has been able to stonewall
culpability for breaking the law with her e-mails by pretending
that the facts of her case are not facts. The facts of the Benghazi
affair, after many hours of testimony, have been reduced to
30-second excerpts which portray Mrs Clinton in the best
possible light. The mainstream media has proclaimed that,
after 11 hours of testimony, she made no mistakes, and “won”
the confrontation. Those biased in the media apparently have
figured out that it no longer is necessary to confuse the voters
with facts.
One of many paradoxes in the unfolding 2016 election cycle is
that one of the richest persons ever to run seriously for
president is receiving so much free media that he does not
have to spend even a dime of his own billions for his campaign,
and he yet remains notably ahead of most of his opponents,
many of whom have raised large sums of campaign dollars.
Political consultants usually stress fundraising as the number
one task of a candidate (much of these funds, of course, go to
pay political consultants), but that does not seem to be the
primary requirement in 2016. Businessman Donald Trump has
upended this political cliche, and so has physician Ben Carson
who is in second place. Meanwhile, former Florida Governor
Jeb Bush has raised the most money in the GOP field, and he
languishes far behind in the polls.

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: 2016 Campaign Update 1

Vice President Joe Biden finally made his decision about the
2016 presidential race, and he announced he will not run,
declaring that it was simply too late for him to mount an
effective campaign against frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Pundits and other political observers are already positing
less transparent reasons for his decision, including his
possible failure to secure President Obama’s public
endorsement or that the Obama administration has decided
to thwart the FBI investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s e-mail
controversy and potential criminal charges against her.
Earlier, moderate Democrat and former Senator Jim Webb
withdrew from the race, implying he might run later as an
independent candidate. This leaves Mrs. Clinton and Vermont
Senator Bernie Sanders as the two remaining major
contenders for the nomination. Mrs. Clinton currently leads
Sanders in national polls, but trails him in some state polls.
Mrs. Clinton unfavorables remain very high, and recently
she has trailed many possible GOP opponents in national
and state polls. With most primary and caucus filing deadlines
now past or soon to pass, the Democratic race has settled into
a contest between Mr Sanders and Mrs. Clinton.

Businesman Stewart MIlls, who almost upset Democratic
(DFL) incumbent Congressman Rick Nolan in Minnesota’s
northwestern 8th district, has announced he is running again
for the seat. Citing his own polls that show Mr. Nolan weak in
his 2016 re-election effort, and his own determination to learn
from his 2014 run, Mr. Mills promised to go all-out in his
second bid. Mr. Nolan is still favored at this early point, but
the race has clearly moved closer to a toss-up next year.

Canadian political dynasty heir Justin Trudeau, 43, won a
major victory in the recent Canadian parliamentary elections,
and now succeeds Prime Minister Stephen Harper whose
conservative government led the United States’ northern
neighbor and largest trading partner for the past 9 years.
Several decades ago, Justin Trudeau’s father served as Liberal
Party prime minister for 15 years. The younger Trudeau
literally grew up in the Canadian prime minister’s residence.
Mr. Trudeau, in his first remarks after his victory, promised
a closer relationship with the U.S. Since his party is very
similar to the U.S. Democratic Party, this is likely to be true
for the next year or so while President Obama is in office.
While some American commentators are suggesting the
liberal trend in Canada has positive implications for
Democrats in next year’s U.S. elections, it is much more
likely that since the Canadian voters were fatigued with the
Harper administration after 9 years, the implications
actually favor the Republicans who will be running against
8 years of the controversial Obama administration. One
area where stark changes might come from Ottawa is in the
area of foreign policy. Trudeau has already said he will
withdraw Canadian forces from the anti-ISIS effort in the
Middle East.

The contest to fill the vacancy of retiring Speaker of the U.S.
House John Boehner will be decided by a GOP conference
vote on October 28. At present, there is only one major
candidate, a reluctant Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan
who was literally begged by many of his colleagues to agree to
run for speaker. Mr. Ryan, chairman of ways and means and
the father of young children had no initial interest in the
problematic speakership that is especially troubled by a divided
conservative GOP house caucus. Saying “I will take arrows in
the chest, but none in the back,” Mr. Ryan laid down firm
conditions, including new house rules and a virtual unanimity
for his candidacy. It does not appear that any of the announced
other candidates for speaker have enough votes to win.

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

Sunday, October 18, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The "New" Global Politics

There is, every few years, a “new global politics,” or perhaps more
precisely, a “newest global politics.” The point is that human life on
this planet, growing more numerous and living longer, is a very
complicated web of forces --- not only those which are obviously
and historically nationalistic, but those which are economic  and

Recorded history, compared with how long our species has
inhabited this planet, is quite brief, perhaps 10,000 years or so,
with only 5000 of the most recent years accompanied by records
in written language. Photographic and sound-recorded history is
even briefer, less than 200 years. The phenomenon of the internet
is only about 25 years old.

Thus, with about seven billion-plus human beings located in various
sites, large and small, urban and rural, “developed” and
“undeveloped,” we find ourselves at a most curious and seemingly
undecipherable moment. Of course, each era in human history has
its curious and unique aspects, and a person living in any of those
eras of the past, from the earliest to the present, is in a similar
relationship to his or her own time, that is, wondering not so much
about their present, but more about their future. It was one of my
favorite writers, the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, who
so lucidly set down the notion that the conscious life in the present
is primarily about anticipations of the future.

The priority of hope and optimism is always part of modern
democratic life, but those of us who live in such a life need to
remember always that a great number of our fellow human beings
do not live in such a life experience. Yes, democratic capitalist
societies and nations have grown in number over the past century,
but the expansion is neither regular nor always expanding. There
are literally billions of men, women and children who live in
conditions that do not promote hope and optimism.

Idealists throughout recorded history have posited the expansion
of human freedom, even when only the tiniest number of persons
lived in optimum conditions, even when human freedom, as we
know it, did not exist, even at the highest levels.

It is only in very recent years that human society has begun to
discard the initial species custom of placing “power” in a few
“chiefs” or leaders who have had so much control over most of
their fellows. It began in cave and nomadic life, and was
transformed in ancient, feudal, medieval societies into various
“royal” forms. It reached an apotheosis in the 20th century,
prefigured by Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan and Napoleon in earlier
centuries, when figures from “humble” origins rose to become
absolute and lethal tyrants who murdered millions of
persons, and caused devastation to many more millions who
were not killed, but were maimed, otherwise harmed and
dislocated with unspeakable human suffering.

I hope the reader will excuse this long preamble to my discussion
of the “newest global politics,” but despite any “mood” of alarm
or despair we might have, I think it is valuable to remember what
happened and existed before and throughout history. I think it
also puts in some useful perspective the misgivings many of us
have about the current world scene in which the leading world
power of the past quarter century has rather quickly backed off
from its role of imperfect yet primarily benevolent force in the
world and the protector of small nations, persecuted groups and
persons, emerging democratic societies and those who are victims
of great natural disasters.

It also puts in perspective the leaders of the U.S. foreign policy
who have moved in this direction and thus provoked a reworking
of global relationships, a reworking that always occurs when
political and military vacuums are created.

I suggest that if Barack Obama did not exist, the political system
sooner or later would have created someone like him. As president
of the U.S., Mr. Obama has had a temporary major influence, but
his lack of experience and understanding of history has made this
influence provisional at best. Nevertheless, the United States had
become war weary, militarily and economically frustrated, and so
physically comfortable that, in my opinion, the post-world war
sensibility of the world’s oldest and most successful capitalist
democracy was bound, in time, to change.

The current fads of impractical redistributionism, partial pacifism,
political “correctness” and leftist cultural imperialism which have
arisen under Mr. Obama’s tenure (now about to end), will not
recede just because of their own underweight. The impulses which
engendered them, as I have suggested that human history
demonstrates, are not superficial. The “revolt of the masses,” in
some form or another, is the order of history.

It is the challenge to the conservative impulse in our time to provide
an alternative global politics. The notion that conservatism is the
mere preservation of the past is a glib notion of the past. If anything,
it is the liberal impulse which, in fact, tries to keep society in the
thrall of an historical illusion. It is the radical left which promotes
drastic change, not liberalism. Liberalism, whether it be of the
European model or of the newer American model, passionately
defends an overcentralized social welfare system, static inequalities
and a retreat from free market economies.

History is the details of human change. Change does not belong to
the so-called left or the so-called right. Change is the vital context of
national and world politics.

If I read the current phenomenon in American politics at the grass
roots level, it is that Americans, intuiting change and regardless of
their political preferences, want something more than what’s currently
on the rhetorical table.

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR; After The First Democratic Debate

The Democrats held their first presidential debate, and there were                    
a few unexpected results. What was expected, and did occur, was
that the relatively small liberal field of candidates was, compared
to the much larger conservative field in the other party, weak
and unimpressive. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley,
former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, and former Rhode Island
Senator and Governor Lincoln Chaffee were not anticipated to
stand out, and they excellently fulfilled this. Vermont Senator
Bernie Sanders was anticipated to be the “star” of the evening
against long-time frontrunner Hillary Clinton, but his debate
performance was, on its face, a disappointment. At the same time,
Mrs. Clinton, enduring a long slide in the polls and her political
fortunes, clearly demonstrated her poise and debating skill, and
was almost universally proclaimed the big winner of the debate,
by almost all political observers, including yours truly.

Not so fast.

A curious matter happened in the television audience. The polls
and focus groups results I have seen show that Mr. Sanders was the
biggest winner of the evening. As Donald Trump has so successfully
done so far in the other party, Mr. Sanders’ effort, seemingly uneven,
melodramatic and often impolitic to those in the political class,
myself included, did appeal apparently to the left-leaning grass
roots of the Democratic Party, now radicalized and unmoved by
epithets of “socialism” and “radical populism.”

A lot of establishment Democrats were initially buoyed by Mrs.
Clinton’s performance at the first debate, and pleased by Mr.
Sanders apparent botch of his opportunity. They might have to
re-evaluate this in coming weeks.

Commentators have seemed to agree that it is now less likely
for Vice President Joe Biden to enter the race. This might be, or
not be, true, but Mr. Biden and his campaign will be doing some
serious polling after the debate, and I suspect they will find that
Mr. Sanders is still very much a serious candidate, and that Mr.
Biden still has a major opportunity.

Nine million less viewers watched this TV debate than watched
each of the Republican debates. It is true that more persons
watched the debate on social media than they did for the GOP
debates, but if Mr. Biden does not run for president, it is almost
certain that there will be a dramatic fall-off of voter interest in
future Democratic debates. That prospect is not likely for the
future GOP debates.

Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Chaffee had little notable to say, and their
presentations were forgettable. Mr. Webb did have some good
things to say, and some worthy perspectives, but presented them
weakly. None of these men are now serious candidates.

Mr. Sanders, self-proclaiming it was impolitic for him to do so,
gave Mrs. Clinton a pass on her e-mail controversy. This was
instantly judged to be a colossal mistake. But perhaps it was
more cunning than it appeared. First of all, the e-mail controversy
will not now magically go away. Republican presidential
candidate Chris Christie has already declared he will press the
issue further. Almost certainly, so will any other serious GOP
candidate. Second, should further revelations of Mrs. Clinton’s
e-mail errors deepen the legal and/or ethical case against her,
Mr. Sanders could easily change his view, citing that he had gone
out of his way to give her the benefit of the doubt. If Mr. Biden
does not run, and only Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton are the
remaining serious candidates, it could lead, as I have pointed out
in a previous column, to Mr. Sanders inevitable nomination.
In that scenario, all Mrs. Clinton’s poise and debating skill won’t
save her campaign.

If Mr. Sanders campaign now suddenly falls away, then what I
have just said won’t be true. But whatever lack of charm, poise
and debating skill he showed in the Nevada, he did not fail at all
in proclaiming his radical and redistributionist message.
Apparently, this was what so many in the Democratic grass roots
wanted to hear, and want to talk about.

As the Republican establishment has previously learned, the voters
are in an unpredictable mood this cycle.

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

Monday, October 12, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Democrats Finally Debate

The small and evidently relatively weak field of Democratic
candidates for president in 2016 are finally going to take to the
TV stage for their first debate. The most exciting personality
among them, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, will have his
first televised confrontation with frontrunner Hillary Clinton,
and that seems to be the major draw to an otherwise ho-hum
event that CNN has shortened, fearing a small audience that
might swiftly become even smaller.

There will be five hopefuls on the stage, including former
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island
Governor/Senator Lincoln Chaffee, and former Virginia
Senator Jim Webb. Missing from the debate will be the only
major Democratic candidate who yet might run, Vice President
Joe Biden.

In the current cycle, thanks to their two debates which already
took place, the Republicans have dominated the free television
air waves with their large and controversial field of candidates.
Several Democratic Party leaders have called for more
Democratic TV debates, but the liberal party chair Debbie
Wasserman-Schultz has refused to schedule them, purportedly
to protect her friend Mrs. Clinton. Two DNC vice chairs,
including former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, have been
rebuffed by the DNC chair for advocating more debates.

In advance, whatever political fireworks are likely to occur will
arise between Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton, but Mr. O’Malley
will probably have his last opportunity to rise in the polls occur
in the debate. He might attempt something dramatic to put
himself into a more prominent place in the campaign. Mr. Webb,
the lone centrist in the field, has found it difficult to get traction
in a party moving decidedly to the left. In spite of his resume,
Mr. Chaffee has impressed no one with his campaign so far.

It is likely that it will be the absentee potential candidate, Mr. Biden,
who will loom largest behind the first debate, but Senator Sanders,
a self-described socialist, has shown considerable ability to draw
crowds, media attention and growing poll numbers, and he  could
steal the show.

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

Friday, October 9, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Weekend Update 6

In the wake of the withdrawal of Kevin McCarthy, the hitherto
favorite to replace him as speaker of the U.S. house, Speaker
John Boehner has let it be known that he intends to serve in his
post until a successor is chosen. This might take his incumbency
past the October 30 date which Mr, Boehner had earlier announced
would be his date of resignation from his seat in Congress.

Could Minnesota’s become the next U.S. house speaker? Rumors
have it that the retiring congressman (as of January, 2017) might be
a compromise choice following the unexpected chaotic turn taken
in the contest when the favorite, Kevin McCarthy, withdrew. A solid
conservative, and much respected by colleagues from both parties,
Mr. Kline however is part of the current house leadership, and that
could be a drawback to the radical conservative wing members of
the caucus, many of whom ironically have a lower conservative
voting record than he has had (or as had Mr. Boehner) in Congress.

Although he narrowly lost his 2014 challenge to incumbent
Democratic (DFL) Rick Nolan in Minnesota’s sprawling northeast
eight district, businessman Stewart Mills has indicated he is running
again in 2016. Citing strong support from Republicans in the
more-conservative-than-usual DFL district, the lack of statewide
races this cycle, and the likelihood that the Democratic presidential
nominee will not match the turnout in 2008 and 2012, Mr. Mills says
he has also polled voters district and found Mr Nolan’s prospects for
re-election weak. Without a Mills challenge in 2016, the race had been
rated “safe” for the incumbent. If Stewart Mills is his GOP opponent
next year, the race is close to a toss-up, with a slight advantage to Mr.

After weeks of teasing the media and his political colleagues, it is
becoming more and more likely that Vice President Joe Biden will
enter the presidential race in the next several weeks. He could yet
decline to run, but this would go against the momentum of the
behind-the-scenes activity by Biden and his supporters in recent
days, the continued decline of frontrunner Hillary Clinton, and the
rise of Biden’s own poll numbers. Should he choose not to run, as
well, the approaching primary and caucus filing deadlines would
make it almost impossible for any other major liberal candidate to
enter the contest, thus making the nomination of Vermont Senator
Bernie Sanders a much more likely possibility. Mr. Biden’s delay
so far, furthermore, has been probably excellent political strategy,
making his formal announcement, when and if it happens, all the
more likely to be well-received by Democratic activists and voters
alarmed by Mrs. Clinton’s incredibly inept campaign to date.

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Lincoln Wasn't Perfect

Treated as a secular saint and icon by most Americans, and
unarguably the nation’s most eloquent president, Abraham
Lincoln has become almost wholly a mythic figure.
Following several new books about him during and after the
200th anniversary of his birth in 2009 (a recent example
is Harold Holzer’s superb Lincoln and the Power of the Press
in 2014), however, a more human, imperfect and perhaps even
more interesting Lincoln has emerged, and his overall eminent
stature has remained.

In late April, 1865, two weeks after his tragic assassination, a
disaster occurred as former Union prisoners of war were being
brought back to the North. The steamboat Sultana, which
had been transporting Union soldiers and supplies during the
war, was among the many Mississippi River steamboats used
to bring the surviving Union prisoners of war home. Many of
these soldiers had been held at the infamous Andersonville
prison camp, and all of them were undernourished and
weakened by their captivity. Offering a bounty of $5 for every
enlisted man and $20 for every officer, these former prisoners
were herded onto crowded steamboats for the ride North. In
what turned out to be the worst maritime disaster in U.S.
history, almost 2500 persons (mostly soldiers) were packed
into the Sultana in Vicksburg, even though the wooden ship
had a maximum capacity of only 350 passengers and 85 crew.

With the Mississippi flooded and in cold weather, the boilers on
the Sultana exploded in the night soon after sailing from
Vicksburg, and 1800 persons died either immediately from
drowning or from burns and exposure as a result of the sinking.
No sea disaster in war or peace, including the sinking of the
Lusitania 50 years later, killed more Americans. The death toll
even exceeded all those lost on the Titanic in 1912.

There were several men who shared levels of responsibility for
this tragedy, but clearly the greatest villain was a Union
quartermaster named Reuben Hatch, who had a long history
of corruption and incompetence throughout the Civil War..
Historical evidence clearly points to his taking bribes and
kickbacks to place as many soldiers as possible on the vessel.

How did he get to be placed in this position?

Despite a history of criminality during the Civil War, Hatch
happened to be the brother of an Illinois state official who was
a home state crony of president Lincoln. Each time he got into
trouble, Hatch’s brother wrote to Lincoln who promptly wrote
letters getting the quartermaster off the hook. The most recent
and most tragic example was a note from the president penned
only a few days before his assassination, and which enabled
Hatch's role in Vicksburg. As one of the most preeminent
Lincoln scholars today, Harold Holzer, concedes, had he
survived, Mr. Lincoln would likely have had to answer for his
part in the Sultana disaster.

Ironically, at about the same time he was writing such inspiring
speeches as the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural
address, indisputably among the most sublime public speeches
in American history, Lincoln the politician was writing notes of
patronage and giving favors for supporters and their friends and
relatives, including his repeated efforts on behalf of Lt. Col.
Hatch. (Virtually all of the notes in this case, in Lincoln’s own
handwriting, survive.) Historians point out that such patronage
was the order of the day in that era, and in 1864, an increasingly
pessimistic Lincoln, facing a revolt in his own party and defeat
for his re-election in 1864. was pulling out all stops to help his
political friends and allies on whom he depended to survive at
the polls. (As it turned out, when Union forces began winning
dramatic victories just before the election, public opinion turned
around and Lincoln won a resounding re-election.)

There is no evidence, of course, that Lincoln could know what
his notes to help Hatch would lead to, but there can be little
doubt that the always world-savvy president knew what a bad
actor the brother of his friend was. Others protected Lt. Col.
Hatch, including Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and General
Ulysses S. Grant, but it was Lincoln, in the highest position of
all, whose complicity is the most serious.

Reuben Hatch was not punished for his crime involving the
sinking of the Sultana. Realizing he would be prosecuted, he
hurriedly resigned from the army and went into hiding.
Later efforts to prosecute him failed to materialize, and he
died in 1871 before justice could catch up with him. Despite
the enormity of the catastrophe, it was little known outside
the Vicksburg area. The nation was still reeling from the
shock of Lincoln’s assassination two weeks earlier, and the
headlines and stories filling the nation’s newspapers were of
the capture and killing of John Wilkes Booth the day before
the sinking. Today, such huge loss of life would be the number
one news story all over the world, but in late April, 1865, the
nation had just endured four years of immense death and
casualties. More than 600,000 American soldiers, north and
south, had died. Tens of thousands had perished in single
battles.  How could 1800 more deaths stand out to a nation
already in shock and immense grief? The tragedy of the
Sultana was soon forgotten. Lincoln became a martyred and
sainted figure. After a brief period of Reconstruction and
emancipation, old patterns of prejudice, civil injustice and
racial segregation reappeared.

This was a difficult piece to write. Lincoln is my favorite
American political figure, my favorite American writer and
speaker. He remains so, perhaps even enhanced so, not
because I can or want to condone his tragic error in this
case, (or his pattern of reckless patronage), but because like
all great men and women of the past, the present, and the
future, he was sublimely imperfect, not just a myth.

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

Monday, October 5, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Post-Weekend Update 5

There is some movement in Republican presidential polls,
with previous leaders, Donald Trump and Ben Carson still
ahead, but losing ground. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina and
Florida Senator Marco Rubio have made the most recent
gains, as has, to a lesser extent, New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, but the race remains
volatile and quite undecided with four months before the
first voting.

The 2015 Nobel Prize in medicine has been shared by a Chinese
researcher whose discovery and contribution was founded in
ancient herbal folk medicine. Chinese medicine, which employs
acupuncture as well as other traditional and ancient remedies,
has some different bases and methodologies than most Western
medicine, and this might be the first time that this preeminent
global award has acknowledged an Eastern medicine discovery.
Researcher To You-you turned to the plant artemisia annua for
her breakthrough treatment for malaria after conventional
medicines failed to halt the worldwide scourge of malaria which
kills 450,000 persons every year, and places half the world’s
population or 3.5 billion persons at risk. Her discovery, in fact,
might in terms of its impact on numbers of persons be one of
the most important in modern history.

It appears that Vice President Joe Biden is close to a decision
about whether he will run for president next year, but the 73
year-old Delaware figure and his close advisers have been quite
successful in disguising what that decision will be. Most Biden
family members are believed to be supportive, but several
close Biden friends are known to have discouraged him.
Recent polls show Mr. Biden competitive with the fading
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and her major opponent
so far, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Meanwhile,
Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers and public support continue to
wane as she faces persistent allegations about her conduct while
U.S. secretary of state.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has scheduled the election of
his successor for October 29, the day before his resignation as
speaker (and his seat in Congress) is to take place. There are
now three announced candidates for the post which is just behind
the vice president in the order of presidential succession. The
GOP frontrunner for speaker, California Congressman Kevin
McCarthy seems to have the votes to win in the caucus, but
might lack enough votes in whole body, especially after he made
a recent gaffe about the house committee investigating the
Benghazi affair.

The annual October baseball postseason is now underway with
the conclusion of the 2015 regular season. Most of the match-ups
and home field advantages were determined prior to the final
games, but a loss by the Houston Astros, following the virtual
collapse of the New York Yankees in the Bronx team’s final six
games, gave the Yankees home field advantage, in spite of
themselves, on the last day for the "wild card" game on Tuesday.
The Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers
won their American League division pennants, and will now face
the winner of the wild card playoff and each other to determine the
American League championship.
Control of the U.S. senate in January, 2017 remains in doubt, but
Democrats are still having difficulties in recruiting strong
challengers to potentially vulnerable Republican incumbents up
for re-election. The GOP is similarly not yet finding a strong
opponent for Colorado Senator Michael Bennett who is
considered one of the weakest Democrats running next year.

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

Thursday, October 1, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Next Comeback Kid?

In late January, 1992, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton’s presidential
campaign appeared to be over. His personal life had become
public scandal, and the experts in Washington, DC were saying he
was kaput. At about that time, I ran into one of the senior titans of
the national Democratic Party who knew I had predicted two years
earlier that Clinton would be the Democratic nominee, and he
assured me that Clinton was finished. I told him he could not be
more wrong.

Today, 23 years later, there is general consensus among the media
and political experts that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
has no chance to win. Their absolute certainty was shaken a bit
after Mr. Christie’s strong performance in the second GOP debate
at the Reagan Library, but the consensus remains.

Look at the polls, they say. Christie is at 1% in Iowa, virtually at the
bottom of the competing pack in this first electoral event of 2016.
Overall, his numbers improved slightly nationally after the Reagan
Library, but he’s still near or at the bottom of the top ten. Look at
his negatives, the experts say. Remember the bridge “scandal,"
they add, as if to make disputing them pointless.

But what do they say when six of the top Republican figures in
Iowa, including close allies of the longest-serving governor in the
nation, Terry Branstad, have just endorsed him?

What do they say when figures such as Rick Perry and Scott Walker
(the latter only weeks ago leading the pack in Iowa) withdraw so
early from the contest, leaving fewer sitting and former governors
in the race?

This is not to say that Governor Christie will be the Republican
nominee. But with large numbers of delegates to be counted from
eastern and northeastern states, the goodwill and alliances he made
while campaigning for fellow governors (when he was Republican
Governors Association chair) in 2014, his demonstrated fundraising
ability, and, most of all, his exceptional communications skills, it
seems ludicrous to suggest he cannot yet re-emerge in this contest.

In the 1992 New Hampshire primary, Bill Clinton only came in
second. He then declared himself the “comeback kid.” He
apparently did not believe the negative pronouncements of his
party establishment, his party expert consultants, and the media.

We all know what happened next.

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