Tuesday, June 7, 2016

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: 2016 Revisits 1986

The title of this article might seem a bit odd, especially
considering that it looks back to a year in which there was
no presidential election.

First, if the reader will bear with me, a bit of background.

I did not set out to be a journalist. I did write for my
college daily newspaper (when I was an undergraduate
at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School), but
my intention was to be a literary writer.

After finishing graduate school in the late 1960’s, I set out
to write poetry and fiction, and I moved to New York City,
then the co-terminus of American new literary writing
(with San Francisco) where I became a specialized editor of
a major U.S.. book publisher.

It was an explosive era of early drug use, anti-war protests,
tragic political assassinations, and generational unrest.
There are many accounts written about that era, including
some incisive ones, but like all transformative historical
moments, you had to be there to get its full flavor.

One day, after about a year in Manhattan, I read an article
in the newspaper that a study showed that breathing an
ordinary day in that city then was the equivalent of smoking
three or four packs of cigarettes (a son of a physician, I was
a non-smoker). As exciting as it was being in New York at that
time, I decided it was time to move where there was much
more fresh air and optimism.

My older brother and his family then lived in Minnesota
where I had often visited (from Iowa where I had been in
graduate school). The twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul
in those days had an extraordinary spirit of innovation and
optimism (I invented the term “biomagnetic center of North
America” to describe it), and I decided to go there, start a book
publishing company, and make my mark on American literature.

Once there, I soon gravitated to a “new town” then being
constructed in sleepy exurban Chaska, 35 miles from
downtown Minneapolis. It was the early 1970’s, and the
federal government had jump-started a “new town”
movement across the nation. The first one was in Chaska,
and was called Jonathan. I rented an apartment in some
experimental dwellings that were built like tree houses, rented
office space in an experimental business park, bought an
IBM typesetting composer, and then discovered that I had run
out of cash with no prospects of incoming funds to pay for my
daily life.

A new town like Jonathan was, as the term suggests, “new.”
Totally new. It was built on farmland with a few scattered
farmhouses. Almost overnight, visionary developers employing
innovative architects and planners created a new “village” with
housing, shops and community centers. They had provided for
almost everything, but forgot to include a newspaper. There I
was, with an office and typesetting equipment --- and no income.
So I started from scratch a monthly newspaper called

Appleseeds was not like any other newspaper. I had one of the
architects design its eye-catching contemporary format. It
printed a lot of local news, but reflecting my personal interests,
it also included extensive coverage of the then burgeoning Twin
Cities performing arts scene, the area’s then emerging restaurant
scene --- and political analysis. The paper carried ads, but its
circulation was small. It was independent, but its developers
liked it because it helped give Jonathan more self-identity.

Jonathan was the first of about twenty new towns created by
federal government loan guarantees in the 1970’s. Soon after it
opened, a second new town in Minnesota was created in the
middle of an old inner-city neighborhood in Minneapolis. It was
called Cedar-Riverside, and was labeled a “new town-in-town.”
The developers of Cedar-Riverside came to me and invited me
to publish a newspaper for their new town. Unlike Appleseeds,
it would circulate in a much more populous area. In 1973, I began
editing and publishing Many Corners (named after the historic
Seven Corners neighborhood where it was located), and it
continued for the next 14 years. It was one of the earliest and
largest “neighborhood” newspapers in the Twin Cities (there
were about 40 of them eventually), and it was like re-inventing
the newspaper. Of course, there was a large daily newspaper in
Minneapolis, but it was so large that it had begun replacing its
local coverage with more metropolitan and region coverage. The
internet was a few decades away, but the handwriting had begun
to appear on the journalistic wall and daily newspapers were
disappearing across the nation.

The stories of Appleseeds and Many Corners merit a book of
their own, and if the reader will excuse this long-winded
background, I will get to the reason I am writing this article.

In the mid-1980’s, I shut down Many Corners (I had ceased
publishing Appleseeds a decade earlier), and became a freelance
journalist who specialized in national politics. Thanks to my
friend Stu Rothenberg, then editor of Free Congress Foundation
The Political Report in Washington, DC, I had been initially a
source for his Minnesota reporting. The Free Congress
Foundation was a conservative research organization that also
published a journal called Election Politics, which was also edited
by Rothenberg. In 1985, Stu invited me to write an article about
the changes then going on in the labor union movement, and a year
later, having read some of my pieces on the upcoming 1988
presidential election in Many Corners, he asked me to write a
piece for Election Politics on the same subject.

(Incidentally, on the board of advisors of the Free Congress
Foundation was a then little-known Georgia congressman
named Newt Gingrich.)

Entitled “The ‘Goose Bump’ Democrats and the Coming Plebiscite
of 1988,
” it appeared in the autumn issue of 1986, next to an
article by Stu entitled “A Rose Is a Rose Is a Rose, But What’s a
” That was 30 years ago almost to the day, but both
articles would seem quite timely if published today.

Stu went on to publish The Political Report to be his own
highly-respected independent (and very non-partisan)
publication  (in turn, his very able assistant Nathan Gonzalez
now edits the publication as The Rothenberg Gonzalez Report,
with Stu as editor emeritus). Thanks to Stu’s generosity over a
19-year period I contributed signed articles for the publication.

Stu’s superb piece on populism has text-book quality, and would
seem totally appropriate and shrewd as a discussion of the so-called
populism on both the left and the right which has emerged so
powerfully in 2016 with its anti-establishment, nationalism and
redistribution themes.

My piece centered on what I thought was the emerging theme of
“new American economic nationalism.” In that context, I singled
out two probable presidential candidates for 1988, Democratic
Senator Joe Biden and Republican Congressman Jack Kemp as
harbingers of a new generation in U.S. politics. At that time,
neither was the candidate of their party’s respective
establishments, although Kemp was generally perceived as
then-President Ronald Reagan’s ideological heir. Biden was then
an upstart slated to run against establishment figure Michael
Dukakis and 1984 phenomenon Gary Hart who had almost upset
Walter Mondale for the nomination that year.

As it turned out, Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush won
the GOP nomination in 1988, and then won the general election
against Dukakis who had prevailed against both Biden and
Hart who dropped out early. (Kemp, of course, became Bob
Dole’s running mate in 1996; and Biden reappeared in 2008 to be
Barack Obama’s vice president.)

Obviously, my predictive powers were then much better on the
vice presidential level.

I have always been a political centrist, and those days I had more
interest in the Democratic center. (I would eventually get my
forecasting right when I began predicting in 1990 that New
Democrat (then Arkansas governor) Bill Clinton would be elected
president. After Al Gore and John Kerry took the Democratic
Party sharply back to the left beginning in 2000, I became more
interested in the center-right figures in the Republican Party.

In the mutinies against the establishments of both major parities
in 2016, the “populist” uprisings have made the political center
temporarily invisible. I have endorsed no one, make no
predictions, and await events.

But here is what I wrote in Election Politics in 1986:

“In both the national Democratic and Republican parties,
we can observe that the presidential nominating process
has taken some unusual twists in recent years. Interest
groups which mobilized around a specific, often emotional
issue have exerted, and continue to exert, influence over
party policy and party nominees beyond their apparent
strength in numbers...... So-called establishment figures in
both parties often become self-righteous in criticizing those
interest groups and their candidates, while they try to wrap
themselves in rhetorical idealism that is at odds with their
own criticism. This is especially true of those in the party
establishments who advocated changes in the election
process in the name of expanding suffrage, and then
complain about the previously inactive voters who do
respond when the changes are made because these new
voters have different political views than they (the
establishment) have --- and compete with them for power....”

That was then. Isn’t it now?

Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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