Tuesday, March 27, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Silence Of The Center

Over four decades of polemical writing, I have discussed
many subjects. Much of my writing has been about
politics here and abroad, reflecting a lifelong interest in
how my country and other countries conduct their public

A certain fundamental idea has remained with me
throughout this considerable time.

That notion is that the American republic, almost 250
years old, was created to govern itself from a public
“center” that inherently resists extremism of any kind.

In a small city-states such as ancient Athens or Rome
or medieval Venice such a center was understandably
possible, albeit ultimately they were overcome by
monarchies, dictatorships, and other undemocratic

From 1776 to 1789, our republic was fashioned with a
relatively small population, and no true contemporary
precedent, by those who held quite different public views
among themselves. Their collective historic genius was
their common revulsion to tyranny and their shared
ambition to establish a lasting and evolutionary federal

Their initial constitution was an extraordinary but
imperfect document that was designed to be revised
and improved over time. In their deliberations, these
founders, individually limited by personal views and
biases, faced a revolutionary circumstance. This was
not the mere overthrow of a king, nor separation from
an occupying power --- that had been done before. Instead
it was a new circumstance, that is, creating a modern free
society. There were founders on the left  and on the right.
Many were slaveowners; some were abolitionists. They
initially gave the right to vote only to some white male
landowners. Some were still monarchists, and wanted
a new king, not a president. They had various religions.

In order to complete their work, these founders had to
achieve an unprecedented agreement, and in order to
agree, they had to find central points of compromise.

From its genesis as a sovereign nation, the United States
has been governed primarily from its contemporary
political center.

What does that mean?

It means that the U.S. electorate and its perceived public
opinion are majoritarian in nature. The political center
is where the majority of voters are. Like the north and
south magnetic poles, the center is always moving. It is
not the”middle.” Centrists are not necessarily moderates,
although centrism is a moderating force, naturally
employing negotiation and compromise.

At various times, the political center is overshadowed by
partisanship on the left and the right. The center is still
there, but it becomes temporarily silent in the din made
by the voices on either side of it.

I have noticed recently some commentary that puts down
the center, and asserts that it does not really meaningfully
exist. I think this kind of analysis misunderstands the
current “silence of the center” to be political laryngitis.

The true venue for the political center is the ballot box.
Those on the far right and the far left rely on the media
and partisan communications.

It is the political center that enables the nation to
move beyond stalemate, to pass needed legislation, to
resolve problems. It was the center, the weight of
majority opinion, that ultimately enabled  the end  of
slavery, the end of child labor,  trust-busting, the  right to
vote for women, desegregation, civil rights, free market
economics, and most recently, beginning to end “political
correctness.” Early voices for each of these came from
individual leaders and thinkers, but the major political
branches of government adopted them because the
political center demanded them..

When the political center becomes silent, as it has been
recently, divisive stalemate grows.  Signs of a
re-emerging political center, including conservatives and
liberals, are beginning to appear in U.S. politics --- both
in the states and in Washington, DC.

Some argue that Donald Trump has had the political
success he has had because he aims to respond to the
political center. Others argue that the Democratic Party
now needs o reclaim the political center if it wants to
govern again.

At the ballot box is where the center will speak. It will
not be voiceless.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Two New U.S. Senators Named Smith

It’s just a coincidence, but two new senators have recently
been appointed to serve as U.S. senators following
incumbent resignations in their home states --- and their
names are both Smith. More coincidence --- each are
women and each of these choices have upset some of
their own party voters.

Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota is a Democrat (called the
Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party or DFL there), and Senator
Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi is a Republican. Each
were personal favorites of the governors who appointed
them, and that appears to be at the root of their popularity

Tina Smith was Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s
lt. governor, and before that, his chief of staff. She has not
previously run for office on her own. There were several
better-known DFLers who could have been chosen. Tina
Smith is closely identified with Planned Parenthood and
other liberal issues that are not popular in outstate

Cindy Hyde-Smith was a former Democrat who became
commissioner of agriculture under GOP Governor Phil
Bryant, and became a Republican. As in Minnesota, there
were several better-known conservatives who could have
been chosen. President Trump reportedly opposed the
appointment, and has so far refused to endorse her.

In Senator Tina Smith’s case, her situation is complicated
by the fact that she has replaced Sneator Al Franken who
was widely believed to have been forced to resign by
leaders of his own party following allegations that were
made against him. Democratic sources privately worry
that the Tina Smith appointment makes her an interloper
among some Franken Democrats. Senator Smith will
likely avoid a primary, but will face an energetic GOP
woman state senator. Karin Housely, in November.

This special election will accompany the regular election
of Senator Amy Klobuchar, so there will be two senate
races on the November Minnesota ballot. Senator
Klobuchar is a very heavy favorite to win re-election, but
ticket-splitting Minnesotans could make the special
election very competitive, especially if there is a “red
wave” in this state in 2018.

Mississippi is a strong GOP state. But Senator Hyde-Smith
faces a likely strong primary challenge, and as happened
in a recent neighboring Alabama special senate election,
the result could make the usually weak Democratic Party
candidate a serious contender in November.

Both these unexpected races, for all their coincidences, are
emblematic of the complexity and  unpredictabilty of this
national mid-term election cycle. The mood of the voters
is very volatile just now.

When the roll call of votes is made in January, 2019, it will
be interesting to see not only how many senators named
Smith are listed, but also how many incumbents in both
parties will still be there.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 19, 2018


The presidential election cycle seems to begin earlier and
earlier these days.

The White House residence was for rent to either party in 2016
as the then-incumbent was finishing his second and last term.

Think back to those innocent days of 2014 when organizing
and speculation had begun. On the Democratic side, the
contest seemed to be over almost before it began. Former
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed inevitable --- just as
she had been in 2006-08 until Barack Obama stepped onto the
political stage. In 2016, it was the unlikely socialist Senator
Bernie Sanders who interrupted the Clinton reverie,and if the
Democratic political establishment, in apparent collusion with
Mrs. Clinton's campaign, hadn’t been so heavy-handed, he
might have been nominated.

On the Republican side, there was a bevy of big-name hopefuls,
including still another Bush --- this time former Florida
Governor Jeb Bush, the early favorite --- and several not so dark
horses, including  Florida Senator Marco Rubio, New Jersey
Governor Chris Christie, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Ohio
Governor John Kasich, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal,
and eleven other serious candidates. Rumors of a Donald
Trump candidacy were treated only as a publicity stunt.

Oh, those were the days in 2014! The world was in its old order

Now it is 2018. The man in the White House is doing quite a job
of disrupting that old order, and he has already declared he is
running for re-election. He might face some token opposition,
but his renomination is assured --- as it stands now. A few
anti-Trump Republicans are making noises of primary
challenges, or even independent candidacies, but this is only

On the Democratic side, however, it is game-on for more
candidates than I can count. Not formal declarations, of
course, but much activity in staffing, early fundraising, and
inevitably, positioning. If this keeps up, they will need a
vast stage just to hold the Democratic TV debates. I can see
it now --- each candidate gets 60 seconds to talk, and it takes
four hours just for opening remarks!

There are  no frontrunners yet for the liberal nod, but a bunch
of septuagenarian figures, including Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden,
Elizabeth Warren, (and yes) Hillary Clinton again, are
prominently mentioned --- as are already a veritable slew of
younger and lesser known Democrats, including Missouri
Secretary of State Jason Kander, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of
of South Bend, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, New
Jersey Senator Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary Julian
Castro, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Montana Governor
Steve Bullock, California Senator Kamala Harris, and former
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. TV personality Oprah
Winfrey also might run. The list goes on and on.

Usually, presidential aspirants wait for the national mid-term
elections to get started, but many Democrats have already
concluded there will be  a massive blue tide next November,
and that their nominee will win in 2020. So why wait?

I need not remind anyone reading this that incumbent
presidents are tough to beat, especially if the economy is
going well (which it is now). But there have been one-term
presidents before, especially when things are not going well.
2020 is more than two years away. Who knows what  conditions
will then be?

I have specialized in the early presidential prediction business
for four decades. I suggested Richard Nixon might have to
resign before the 1972 election; I called attention to the
unknown Jimmy Carter in 1ate 1975; I wrote that Gary Hart
would be the surprise of 1984; then in 1985, I predicted the
emergence of Joe Biden; and I was early and resolute in saying
Bill Clinton would win the presidency in 1992. I predicted
Donald Trump could win an upset in 2016. All of this is on
the published record.

Those were the ones I got right. I also got a number of
predictions wrong, I did not predict that Ronald Reagan would
become president. In 1996, I did not think Bob Dole would be
nominated. I made no good prediction in 2000, and in 2012, I
thought Mitt Romney would win. In 2015, I did not take
Donald Trump seriously. The presidential predicting business
can be hazardous.

On the other hand, it is addictive. So in this, my first op ed on
the 2020 election, I will offer a few thoughts.

As is obvious, barring the unforeseen, there is little to say
about the GOP nomination.

I will stick my pundit neck out and say: No one over 65 years
old will be nominated in 2020 by the Democratic Party.

That’s it. That’s all I’m going to predict at this very early
state of the 2020 cycle. Call me a coward, but there are so
many younger liberal men and women of some caliber being
mentioned now that I know better than try to make any
political prophesies. I reserve the right, of course, to change
my mind about this at a later date --- and I likely will.

First, I want to get through the coming tumult of the 2018
mid-term elections and the faux physics of determining
whether there will be a blue wave or a red wave hitting the
electoral shore. That voting is less than 8 months away, and
we still have little idea how it will turn out.

But don’t worry, 2020 will not be dull.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


I realize that most of my readers seek news and commentary
about domestic politics and public policy when they link to
this website. I think that most of them also expect occasional
posts about history, food and dining out, culture and the arts,
and even a few relevant personal stories from my life. I also
post reports and analyses about events outside the United
States, especially regarding global politics. The world is a
very big place, and with more than 200 sovereign nations,
there are obvious limits to what can be said usefully in a
short essay about foreign matters.

We Americans can be insular about the rest of the world
sometimes, and such indifference does not often work to our
benefit, nor does it contribute to a positive state of global
conditions. You don’t have to read spy thrillers or watch
disaster movie to know that life in the 21st century is full
of dangers from totalitarianism, terrorism, epidemics and
Nature’s assorted problematic vagaries.

There are global political disruptions now taking place,
and most of them began well before President Donald Trump
appeared on the international stage.

In particular, a ”mutiny of the masses” emerged in Europe
decades ago when a grass roots resistance began actively
opposing the attempt to transform the healthy economic
cooperation of the European Union into a single political
unit that would abolish the sovereign states created over the
previous millennium. In recent years, massive refugee
immigration poured into Europe from Turkey, the Middle
East and former colonies. This immigration was intended to
fill EU employment needs, but the refugee communities often
have not integrated themselves into their new host cultures,
and major local tensions have arisen.

The former Soviet Union peacefully disbanded in the early
1990s, and adapted to a more capitalistic and democratic
society ---albeit one reduced in size and population. More
recently, however, the Russian leadership has reasserted
some of its former aggressive and nationalistic behavior,
particularly directed at some of its former satellite nations.

With their huge populations (each now about 1.3 billion
persons) China and India are taking on an increasing
economic role in the world. China adopted many free
market economic strategies, but retained totalitarian
Marxist political rule. Now its former policy of changing
its leadership every ten years has been replaced by a
seemingly permanent one-man rule, and it continues to be
an aggressive player not only in Asia, but also in Africa and
South America. India’s primary conflicts are local, that is,
with Pakistan nd China, but its technological and economic
weight is now being noticed worldwide.

The Middle East, a seemingly perpetual “hot spot,”
continues to be unsettled, although some of the
relationships between its major player nations are now
going through rapid change as the hitherto universal
Arab conflict with Israel is now more complicated as Iran
as emerged as a regional power which threatens Egypt,
Saudi Arabia and several smaller Arab states.

South America’s chronic inability to escape its oligarchal
past, in spite of its tremendous resources, continues as
the major nations of Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina remain
politically and/or economically unstable.

All of the above was happening before Donald Trump came
on the scene with his disruptions of U.S. domestic and
foreign policies. In particular, he has reversed most of the
more passive international policies of his predecessor Barack
Obama, and asserted a much more aggressive U.S. trade

Mr. Trump’s actions have therefore altered the strategies
on both side of the political chess board, and thus altered
many expectations of political, military and economic

The reader might agree with President Trump or disagree
with him. The reader might like or dislike what is taking
place now In Europe, Asia,  and South America. But
regardless of any of our opinions on these places and the
figures leading them, none of us, I think, has the luxury
of ignoring them.

There are no “distant” places on this planet of ours any more.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Election That Disappeared

The special U.S. house election in Pennsylvania just
held was, I believe, unique in the history of U.S. voting

No sooner were votes counted, the congressional district

To make this event even more ludicrous, the tally was a
virtual tie --- so that spinmeisters on both sides have
little that’s credible to spin the day after (although, of
course, they will try).

While this special election was taking place, the
Pennsylvania supreme court redrew the map of the
district. Neither of the Republican nor the Democratic
nominees lives in the district that will be on the ballot
next November, seven months from now.

There’s no point in having a recount, even if one is
merited, because by the time a recount takes place,
one or both candidates will be campaigning in another
district --- races they must file for with the filing
deadline looming in only one week.

To be competitive in this traditional Republican district,
Democrat Conor Lamb ran as a very conservative,
pro-life, pro-gun candidate who never criticized Donald
Trump (who had carried the district by 20 points in 2016).
This strategy might not sell successfully in the new
district Lamb is likely to run in. Reportedly, there are
more traditional liberals ready to run in the new
districts and who might defeat him in the upcoming
Democratic primary even before the November election.

The news story of this election will quickly be
overshadowed and replaced by some “real” news
orchestrated by the master media scene stealer --- and
you know who I mean!

There was a lot of hype, and a lot of money spent by both
sides, in this special election before it took place.

But now its story will be written in ink that almost instantly

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Too Soon Even To Guess?

The paradox of the 2018 election cycle is that the two
houses of Congress present such a different
opportunity for the two major parties to make gains.

In the U.S. house, which the Republicans control
241 to 194, there are about three times as many
incumbent GOP seats than Democratic seats rated
generally as competitive. The liberal party is therefore
hopeful not only to pick up net seats, but is counting
on a “blue” wave to bring them back into control.

In the U.S. senate, which the Republicans control now
51-49, twenty-five incumbent Democratic seats are up
this November, and only ten Republicans. Of these,
10-12 liberal seats are considered to be competitive
against only 3 conservative incumbents rated now as
vulnerable. The GOP is hopeful for several net
pick-ups, and that a “red” wave will give them a
veto-proof senate.

Historically, the party out-of-power (this cycle, the
Democrats) often makes big U.S. house gains in the
first mid-term elections of a new administration, and
gains in the U.S senate.

But 2018 could defy precedent, not only because of the
contrast in competitive seats in the two legislative
bodies, but also because the Trump presidency is so
politically disruptive and seems to break all the rules.

With more than seven months before election day, that
paradox is seemingly very much in play. Democrats
look strong in about three dozen GOP-incumbent  U.S.
house races (and GOP candidates strong in less than five
Democratic seats). In contrast, about six conservative
senate challengers are now appearing strong in serious
contests with Democratic incumbents. Only two GOP
seats appear similarly quite vulnerable.

However, since several senate party nominees have yet
to be chosen (in Wisconsin, Indiana and Montana, for
examples), and U.S. house redistricting in some large
states has taken place --- as well as the national
political mood being so unsettled --- the relative
partisan advantages exist now primarily only on paper.

Much could change over the next seven months.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is seizing the
initiative (albeit in unorthodox ways) in trade,
immigration and national security issues, the stock
market is soaring, and unemployment sinks lower with
each new monthly report.

Preoccupation with gleaning political trends from
various recent special elections, and a few yet to take
place, enables melodramatic headlines and speculation,
but given the circumstances enumerated above, there is
little irrefutable evidence of what voters will think and do
on that still-distant Tuesday in November next.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Euroskeptic Italy

The national elections just held in Italy have turned out to
be an unexpected rout for that nation’s left political
establishment, and a clear rejection by Italian voters of
the status quo of European politics.

There were five major parties (and some smaller ones)
competing in this election, including the current ruling
center left party, an even more leftist party, a center
right party, and two populist parties on the right. The
center right party was led by former prime minister
Silvio Berlusconi who is attempting a political comeback,
but Berlusconi’s pro-Europe views did not help his party
which did poorer than expected. Two distinct populist
parties, Five Star, a party founded a few years ago as an
anti-establishment group on the right; and a more
nationalistic party, the anti-immigrant League, did better
than expected. Five Star was the party with most votes
(more than one-third of the total), and its leader Luigi di
Maio, 31, asserts he should be the next prime minister.
But the center-right coalition of three parties, including
Berlusconi’s party and the League, will actually have the
most seats in the new parliament, and this group is putting
forward League leader Matteo Salvino, 44, as the next
prime minister. This issue might not be decided for some

Although Five Star and the League are both euroskeptic,
and combined, received more than 50% of the vote, their
leaders so far indicate they are not ready to form a ruling
coalition .As happened recently in Spain, the current
government might be left in place, and new elections

It is difficult to draw exact parallels between the Italian
results and U.S. politics, but the strain of nationalism and
populism now active throughout European Union (EU)
nations can be connected to the blue collar “mutiny of
the masses” that upset the 2016 U.S. presidential election
and the victory of Donald Trump. More nationalistic
parties have not been successful in Germany, France and
The Netherlands until now --- although France’s new
president Emmanuel Macron, who defeated a French
right-wing challenge with his new centrist party, has now
initiated new and stringent immigration controls.
Immigration has been one of the major issues of
contemporary EU politics --- with nationalist populist
parties throughout the continent calling for limits and
controls on the recent flood of refugees to the EU
countries. More nationalistic anti-immigration parties
now rule in Austria, Hungary and Poland.

The Italian election will impact all of the EU, but
especially Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel
who has just won another term, but barely. She has
continued to champion unlimited immigration, but that
policy is facing increasing resistance throughout the EU.
The Italian election will also likely boost the effort of
Great Britain to leave the EU after its voters chose to do
so (Brexit). The Brexit negotiations, led by British Prime
Minister Theresa May, have not been going well recently,
but the Italian voters might have strengthened the
British hand.

European elites have done well in the long post-World
War II boom, and so apparently did most citizens. But
recent strains caused by immigration, high taxes, loss of
identity and sovereignty, and unemployment throughout
most of the EU have caused many European workers to
feel left out of the bounty and the decision-making. This
is at the core of the political unrest in Europe --- an
upheaval which apparently is far from running its course.

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Hype, Omens And Errors

I think that a robust skepticism is useful, if not
necessary, in the early conversations about the
outcomes of the 2018 national mid-term elections.

It is especially valid in the current miasma of
media bias, so-called fake news, and an unusual
period of short-term volatility in the moods of a
great many voters.

The political cliche of this moment is to discuss
voter “intensity,” and many commentators have
concluded that the out-of-power Democratic voters
have the most intensity to go to the polls. Cited are
a few recent special elections at the local
and congressional level, and the historical rule that
the opposition party usually makes gains in the
first mid-term voting following a change in the
party that lives in the White House.

An upcoming special congressional election in
southwestern Pennsylvania is being given a build-up
and hype that it will be a harbinger of a Democratic
tide in November, one that returns control of the
U.S house to the liberal party. Friendly liberal media
will predictably conclude that whether or not the
Democratic candidate wins. But who is pointing out
that the district has been redrawn for November, and
that neither major party candidate lives in the new

In fact, Democrats could win back control of the U.S.
house this year, and it is possible that Republicans
could pick up 8-10 U.S. senate seats. But neither
scenario, I suggest, is portended by the omens of
special elections or current polling. Donald
Trump seems to break all the rules of traditional
politics. That could help him break the mid-term
curse, or it could lead to a Democratic landslide,

My counsel to readers is to be wary and skeptical of
politicians and pundits who make sweeping
predictions about 2018 and 2020.

This year, the political tide can turn on a Lincoln
penny or a Roosevelt dime. The future still depends
on small change and the wallet.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Jeremiads That Have Not Come To Pass

A jeremiad is not, as some might suppose, a disastrous event,
but it is a work of words that predicts disaster. It comes, of
course, from the biblical prophet Jeremiah who saw the
imminent fall of the kingdom of Judah. Soon after Jeremiah
made his prediction, Judah did fall in 587, B.C.

Since that time, self-proclaimed prophets and opportunists
have issued jeremiads to assert coming danger. Most of them,         
especially those who have announced the end of the world at
a date certain, were simply wrong --- to be charitable about it.
Usually, modern jeremiads are made with an ulterior motive.
Often, the false jeremiads are uttered just to get attention. On
other occasions, they are said to manipulate public opinion
to a moral or political course of action. Rarely, jeremiads did
come true, as in the case of the very few who saw Nazism,
World War II and the Holocaust coming long before it was
obvious. But most human-made disasters in history, like most
natural disasters, have been a surprise.

After the U.S. presidential election of 2016, a cascade of
jeremiads were issued by some surprised voters and those in
the media who did not even have pretenses of being prophets.

Among the predictions made then were those that asserted
Donald Trump could never be elected, and when he was, that
he could be prevented from taking office, and when he did
take the oath, he would soon be impeached, and when he
wasn’t, he would not run again in 2020. But the extreme
prognostications were not limited to the Trump personality.
Wars and financial collapses were also put forward.

To be fair, especially-ideological presidents of both parties
frequently provoke prophets of doom.  Franklin Roosevelt
and likewise Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama
each set off political jeremiads from some of their opponents,

Most jeremiads can be summed up in the four words I recall
seeing every time I went to the flea market in London at
Petticoat Lane --- a pseudo-Jeremiah in a white robe carrying
a sign which read: THE END IS NEAR!

But somehow we have survived the proclamations of doom.

The election of Donald Trump was so disruptive that it
produced a great many Jeremiahs wearing business suits and
designer dresses who now said and thought: “The end is now
truly near.”

Yet, fifteen months later, we are in a business boom with a
surging (albeit volatile) stock market, rising industrial
production, dramatically lower unemployment and
increasing economic optimism.

Of course, we live in a very provisional historical moment,
and disasters do occur, large and small, from time to time.
But the hysteria of pseudo-Jeremiahs forecasting imminent
disasters really can be tied to another biblical tale, the one
in the book of Jonah in which the prophet ended up in the
digestive system of a very large whale.

Now that was a fish story worth telling.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.