Sunday, September 30, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Are Democrats Shutting Windows To Winds Of Victory?

The political precedent is well-known that frequently in the
first mid-term election of a new president his party suffers
significant losses in he U.S. house and senate, especially if
they are in the majority. These losses cam be amplified when
the new president is controversial and/or unpopular.

In the 2018 mid-term election cycle, new GOP President
Donald Trump is undeniably controversial, and his poll
numbers are under 50%. His party controls both houses of
Congress. These circumstances fit the historical precedent
conditions for major Republican mid-term losses.

On the other hand, the economy is very strong, the stock
market at or near historic highs, unemployment is sharply

Although the GOP controls both houses of Congress, the
Democrats’ prospects for big gains or even taking back
control of the U.S. house is only visibly strong in the latter.
In the U.S. senate races, liberal incumbent seats outnumber
conservative ones by almost three-to-one. Reducing the GOP
51-49 lead is technically, even anecdotally, possible, but
mathematically improbable. In he U.S. house races and in
state governorships, however, the Democrats have the
numbers and precedent on their side.

Liberal pundits, pollsters and media outlets have, since the
outset of the 2018 cycle, been drumming up a blue wave
election narrative, even including an unlikely one in the
senate races. Turnout in the primaries and the closeness (but
not victory) in most special house elections were interpreted
as clear evidence of the imminent blue winds of Democratic
gains and overall victory in November.

These victories could indeed still happen a few weeks from
now in November, but two unexpected developments have
arisen whereby Democrats might, by their own hands, shut
their windows to the strong political breezes seemingly
heading their way.

The first development appeared relatively late in the primary
season. Initially, liberal strategists seemed to have determined
to recruit more moderate candidates to take on GOP
incumbents in swing districts or in districts where the
boundaries had recently been redrawn (often by the courts).
This made sense as a winning strategy. It appeared to be
working in some special house elections. As the primary
elections took place, however, a more radical left voter
movement, inspired by 2016 unsuccessful Democratic
presidential candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
(a self-described independent socialist), began to win a
number of races in U.S. house races, governorships, and in
at least one prominent down-ballot state attorney general
race in Minnesota. Most establishment liberal incumbents
won their primaries, but a few prominent ones were upset by
candidates to their left --- candidates advocating single payer
healthcare, Medicare for All, abolition of I.C.E. border
control, unlimited immigration into the U.S., free college
tuition, and sanctuary cities. In effect, the Democrats are
now running an opportunistic mid-term campaign without
unifying themes.

The second development also appeared late when a member
of the U.S. supreme court retired, and President Trump
nominated a more conservative figure as his replacement.
In spite of the fact that several Democratic senators up for
re-election this year are from states carried by big margins by
Donald Trump in 2016, the Senate Democratic leadership not
only decided to oppose the nomination, but to seek out and
encourage a campaign of personal attacks against the nominee
that has been unprecedented in recent memory. (To be fair,
the confirmation process has deteriorated on both sides in
recent decades). Allegations against the nominee were aired in
non-judicial hearings where the fundamental American
principle of law that a person is innocent until PROVEN guilty
was turned on its head. Partisans for and against the nominee
became incensed, but a growing public perception of unfairness
and political desperation might backfire as the controversy
continues almost until election day. The Republicans and
President Trump, while denouncing the attacks on the nominee
as politically-motivated, have allowed the Democrats to pursue
a strategy of delaying the nomination (presumably not only
to defeat the confirmation, but also to enable vulnerable
Democratic incumbent senators to avoid voting on the
nomination at all before election day).  This political
melodrama is still playing itself out with another delay, but the
risk is growing that it could provoke a voter backlash against
those attempting to scuttle the confirmation process.

In a variation of the common phrase --- the non-jury is out!

The best motivator for Democratic turnout this cycle is liberal
opposition and antipathy (much of it visceral) to Donald Trump.
But the best motivator for Republican turnout this cycle is
conservative enthusiasm for President Trump!

President Barack Obama stood at the “bully pulpit” in 2010,
but he couldn’t prevent a wave election against him and his
party. President Donald Trump stands at the same pulpit now.
To this point, he has disrupted precedents and expectations.

Can he do it again, or has his string of upsets run out?

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Common Sense, Not Conventional Wisdom

We have now entered a period of political illusion and delusion that
always comes just before a major election cycle.

In recent cycles, the melodrama and meanness of spirit seems to have
increased --- this largely because of the sheer quantity of unverifiable
information, and the ease of publishing it on the internet and other
newer modes of distribution. But we need to remember that current
generations of Americans have enjoyed relatively tranquil times in       
recent years. Before that, just after the founding of our republic, during
the U.S. civil war, at the tumultuous turn of the 19th century into the
20th, at the outset of the Depression, and during the Viet Nam war,
equal or even greater political campaign hysteria occurred.

It might not be an entirely new phenomenon, but of course, it is still
disorienting to voters who must make important decisions on an
approaching election day.

What can be usefully said about the remaining few weeks before that
election day as the airwaves, pages of print, billboards, lawn signs,
and public conversations, are filled with what is mostly propaganda and
other public manipulations of dubious reality?

My answer to that question is applicable to voters (and my readers)
who are Democrats, Republicans, independents or just plain undecided.
Ignore, if you can, conventional wisdom, public opinion polls (more
misleading than ever), political ads on TV (and those which come in the
mail). Insofar as you do perceive these, understand that they are
designed and formulated to manipulate your political emotions, and not
necessarily your own real interests and ideals.

What then should you do instead?

My suggestion is to employ one of your greatest assets --- your common
sense. Of course, everyone’s common sense is different, so there will
be different voter responses. What is behind your common sense is
your lifetime of experiences, your values, your own interests, and your
natural skepticism.

We are in an historical period of some political disruption and change.
It is also currently a period of general economic boom with a rising
stock market (and thus increased value of most person’s net worth
in their retirement funds), very low unemployment (notably including
previously high unemployment groups), and lower taxes. It is also a
period of a presidential trade policy strategy that includes at least
temporary tariffs and confrontations with our allies and trading
partners, and at least short-term obstacles for some domestic farmers
and manufacturers. As the usually inevitable result of electing a
president from the conservative party, judicial appointments at the
federal level are mostly conservative. Similarly, the presidential
candidate who won promised a rollback of regulations and smaller
government, and this is occurring. You might agree or disagree with
all or some of that.

Elections have consequences, we need to be reminded. Voting for a
candidate at any level of government, and especially for statewide
office (such as governor) and for U.S. house and senate in a national
mid-term election such as this one will have consequences. If you
agree with, and find positive current state and national policies, your
vote should reflect it. If you oppose or disagree with current state or
national policies, your vote should reflect that.

I also want to repeat something I have written about often over the
years --- that in reality, every eligible voter does vote! Those who turn
out and cast their ballot, of course, vote. But so do those who stay at
home and don’t cast a ballot. These latter eligible voters, in reality,
are casting their vote in advance for the winner, whomever it might be,
whether or not they agree with that winner. 

That’s reality, and also common sense.

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: More Voter Mixed Signals

Throughout the 2018 midterm primary season, I have tried to present a
balanced and fair analysis of the upsets in races in each party, as well
as commentary on the various special elections that might signal voter
trends in November.

I have cautioned that the signals from voters so far have been mixed,
and not conclusive of any clear trend, notwithstanding claims by
partisans and many in the media that a “wave” is coming.

Just at the end of the primary season, on September 18, a special state
senate election in Texas has demonstrated again that voters are still
sending mixed signals.

Texas state Senate District 19 has been a Democratic seat. Its state
senator was convicted in 2018 of several felonies and resigned. A
special election was set, with Republican Pete Flores and Democrat
Pete Gallego seeking to fill the vacant seat. Gallego, a former
congressman, was favored to win, but Flores won by 6 points in a
major upset. Mr. Flores will be he first Hispanic Republican to serve in
the Texas senate. Recent mainstream media polls have indicated that
the Texas race for U.S. senate is getting closer with incumbent GOP
Senator Ted Cruz’s lead over his Democratic challenger narrowing.
This has enabled some to contend that there might be a “blue” wave
this year in Texas which went decisively for Donald Trump in 2016,
and where most of the statewide office holders are Republican.
Pete Flores’ upset win, and a new poll showing Cruz lead in now
widening, go contrary to the blue wave narrative.

In New Jersey, the U.S. senate race, considered “safe” for Democratic
incumbent Senator Bob Menendez until now, has become a “toss-up”
as recent polls indicate the contest is almost a tie with Republican
businessman Bob Hugin now receiving a number of endorsements
from Democratic New Jersey elected officials who have turned away
from their own party nominee after his criminal trial that resulted in
a hung jury. The Hugin campaign cites a new poll in New Jersey’s 2nd
congressional district, expected to be won this year by the Democrat,
shows Hugin leading Menendez by10 points. New Jersey is a heavily
Democratic state, carried easily by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Hugin has
been self-funding his campaign so far, and has turned out to be an
unexpectedly strong challenger.

In Minnesota, controversial retiring Democratic (DFL) Congressman
Keith Ellison is running for attorney general, but is polling
dramatically behind his fellow DFL statewide candidates.  A new poll
has Ellison, by far the most well-known candidate in the race, at 41%,
and virtually tied with his GOP opponent, attorney Doug Wardlow.
Running well to the left of his own candidate for governor, and beset
by personal controversies, Ellison could lose the post held by the DFL
since 1971.

In spite of the races cited above, they are only so far providing mixed
signals. Menendez and Ellison could still win, Cruz could still lose.
Democrats could do well on November 6, especially if they win control
of the U.S. house. On the other hand, new polls (if correct) are
suggesting Republicans are making gains (in an economy which has
reduced minority group unemployment) among black and Hispanic
voters --- two of the most reliable Democratic-voting groups in the
past --- an ominous sign if proven true on election day. Good news
for the Democrats includes evidence that their liberal base is highly
energized, especially in blue states, in their opposition to President
Trump and his policies --- and are likely to turn out to vote.

A lot of polls in competitive 2018 races are still showing an unusually
large number of undecided voters. But we are almost in October, and
decisions can’t be put off indefinitely.

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Great American Life

We often speak of the “good life” and about “great Americans,”
but it is not often that we come across a “great American life.”

A great American life not only includes, as I see it, material
successes and accomplishments, but also reveals certain qualities of
character and innate integrity that are distinctly emblematic of the
special brand of the American personality --- a brand forged in our
war of independence, our Civil War, two World Wars, the Industrial
Revolution, and our evolving and distinctive signature of
entrepreneurial democracy.

I have met a few persons, both men and women, who have lived, or
are living, a “great American life.” One of them, Julius C. Smith,
has just died at the age of 88. He had a long life, but it wasn’t just a
good life. It was a great and very American life.

Let me explain.

Jules (everyone called him that) was born in Minneapolis in 1930.
He was very tall --- about 6 feet 9 inches in height. He was very
athletic and very smart. From the outset he was a devout Catholic,
and remained so all of his life.

At St. John’s Preparatory School in Minnesota, and later at the
University of Minnesota, he played varsity basketball. He even did a
season of semi-professional basketball in Puerto Rico one summer.

But Jules Smith’s ambitions were not in professional sports. They
were in a career in the law. He received his J.D. from the University of
Minnesota Law School, and then went to Washington, DC to work as
a legislative assistant. He was advised to abandon D.C., and return
home to practice law. This he did, joining a firm in the small town of
Chaska, about 50 miles from downtown Minneapolis. At the same
time. he embarked on a lifelong career in public service. It began in
Chaska, but soon he was involved in early efforts to establish
metropolitan government services in the area around and including
the Twin Cities. It wasn’t glamorous or high-publicity work --- it was
the nuts-and-bolts work that created and maintained the sewers, roads,
public transportation, and land planning which invisibly but vitally
make American community daily life possible.

Having established a reputation for legal real estate work, he was
approached by a visionary state senator in the mid-1960s, and asked
to assemble rural properties in Chaska to create the first Title IV
new town in the nation. This he skillfully did, and the new town of
Jonathan was born in 1968.  Jules Smith was its vice president and
general counsel. He also took a lead role in the national League of
New Communities, made up of more than a dozen Title IV new towns
that had sprung up across the country. I met Jules when I moved to
Jonathan in 1971.

When a recession in the 1970s upended the federal new town
program, he moved on, teaching very popular real estate development
courses as an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota’s
Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs; and establishing in Maryland
a renaissance festival which soon became a successful family
business run by four of his six children. This festival, now in
Annapolis, has grown and endured over the years, and is one of the
largest and most authentic of its kind in the nation.

In 1989, Jules and I created the International Conference Foundation,
a non-profit organization that sponsored educational public policy
symposia. This grew also into the international visitor programs of
the U.S. Information Agency and U.S. State Department in which we
acted as hosts and guides for more than 500 international public
officials touring the U.S. Jules was the Foundation’s president for
almost 20 years, and relished explaining America to, and entertaining,
world figures in Minnesota and in his home.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed him, on the
recommendation of then-HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, to be on the
Federal Home Loan Bank Board, and in 1993, Governor Arne Carlson
appointed him as a district member of the Metropolitan Council.
He was reappointed to the latter by the next two governors, serving
longer than anyone else, and was known informally as its “institutional
memory” before retiring in 2007.

As a real estate development attorney, Jules Smith had few peers, and
his family festival business grew large, but that’s only part of his story.

He married, and had seven children, one of whom died in infancy. His
wife Mary (whom he always described as his best friend) was a figure in
her own right, creating the local library system and then running a
regional cable TV system. They lived in the new town of Jonathan, but
their happy family life was later shattered when Mary died of cancer in
1989. Jules did not re-marry.

He was not elected to office, but he served for several years as the
Chaska city attorney, and earlier as a special secretary in the office of
a Minnesota governor. He was too tall to serve in the army, but he was
a lifelong supporter of the U.S. military. He traveled all over the world,
but he loved being an American. He passionately read about U.S.
history, world events, and had a special interest in the life of Winston
Churchill. He had numerous friends from all walks of life. He had an
exceptional sense of humor, much of it self-deprecating. His
compassion for others was all-encompassing.

In short, he was not only an exceptional man in size, curiosity, healthy
ambition, and intellect, he was a good man, a man of integrity and faith,
and he was a devoted husband, father and friend.

Jules Smith lived a great American life.

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

Sunday, September 9, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Between Now And November

Let me share a way to look at the remainder of the 2018 national
mid-term elections campaign that will conclude on November 6.

I think that the truest and most useful perspective is to understand
that virtually everything a voter sees, reads and hears from now on
is intended to motivate turnout of the two voter bases, and to coax
undecided and willing-to-change voters to make up their minds and
vote in a certain way. Data and polls might have little basis in fact or
fair appraisal. The primary motor for what is to come is the
second-guessing of what will affect voters the most, a game of
sheer presumed psychology and storytelling.

This is not a new campaign phenomenon. Election seasons almost
always end in this general manner. There are certain timeless laws
of political gravity. What is different about this cycle, in part, is the
bold lack of pretense for even slightly serious political discussion
and conversation about critical public policy issues.

One case in point is the confirmation hearings for Judge Brett
Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. supreme court. Clearly, Judge
Kavanaugh is a conservative, and understandably, liberals oppose
him. But a vacancy exists, the president has nominated someone
to fill that vacancy, and senate hearings are bring held. In this case,
the party which opposes him, the Democrats, have little possibility
to block his confirmation. Nevertheless, they have abandoned many
of the traditions of these hearings, and tried to transform the
process into a political soap opera --- most of it intended to
placate their ideological base and to provoke their own voters to
the polls. The Republicans who support Judge Kavanaugh, on the
other hand, are pressuring Democratic senators who represent
states President Trump carried by large margins in 2016 to vote for
confirmation with the threat of voter backlash if they do not.

It is obvious that a Justice Kavanaugh would become part of the
growing conservative bloc on the high court. He seems a man of
ability and good character. Barring the unforeseen, he will be
confirmed, and probably before the election. Republicans who
voted for Donald Trump because he promised to appoint
conservative judges would then be motivated to turn out to vote
so that he can nominate more such judges and have them
confirmed. Democrats who want to return to a liberal court
environment would then be motivated to turn out to vote to
block confirmations until 2020 when they will have the
opportunity to elect a Democratic president.

All that is as it should be. The bottom line is who occupies the
White House, and who has the majority of votes in the U.S.
senate. What is open to question, however, is the strategy of
pretending that somehow the democratic process is not
legitimate, and that a credible nominee is not credible.

To be fair, both parties have indulged in partisanship in recent
years in regard to federal court nominees. Republicans blocked
a credible high court nominee of then-President Obama, and
held up lower court nominees before the 2016 election.They had
the votes to do so, and went to the voters promising change.
Now, the Democrats are doing the same.

My point is not that the liberal Democratic Party is wrong to
oppose Judge Kavanaugh. My question is about whether this
strategy at this time helps or hurts their cause.

The high court confirmation story is only one aspect of the 2018
mid-term elections saga. It is part of a larger contest of two
narratives designed to reach and motivate voters. On these pages,
I have already and will continue to discuss the unusually large gap
this cycle between the two major parties and the narratives they are
recounting to the electorate.

The outcomes on November 6 will largely be determined by which
side has the most credible story to tell.

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

Monday, September 3, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Mid-Term Ending Begins

They might not be as dramatic and significant as the 1940 British and
French evacuation at Dunkirk, but the initial skirmishes of the 2018
mid-term elections are virtually concluded. The Democratic and
Republican “armies, navies and air forces” are regrouping not only
for the November elections, but positioning themselves for the
climactic “war” in 2020 when a generation of U.S. politics will likely
be determined.

The heroic rescue of the British Expeditionary Force and the remnant
of the Free French Forces from that small beach on the southern
English Channel coast became the basis of an effort which led to an
historic invasion on similar Channel shores four years later --- and
then to victory less than a year after that.

My point is not to make too much of an analogy between the present
and Dunkirk, D-Day, and World War II, but to stress that history
moves in a series of phases and chapters --- and that some of them
are improbable or even just short of miraculous.

Authors and filmmakers are rewriting and recreating the Battle of
Britain, the bulldog boldness of Winston Churchill, the controversial
inspirations of Franklin Roosevelt and Charles De Gaulle (among
others) quite a bit these days. Historic analogies, we must always
remember, have limitations --- and each age has its own cast of
characters --- but we live in a time of comparable social and political
change, and in a time of global war. This time, however, military
blitzkrieg has been replaced by decentralized terrorism.

Global events historically do not affect major U.S. elections as often
as do economic and social conditions. This seems clearly the case
so far in the 2018 mid-terms. Our political leaders, nonetheless, are as
personally eccentric as were our leaders of the past --- even though
time and historic recollection has made the old ones mythic, and
conveniently forgotten their eccentricities. In the present tense we
manage to stress the controversies --- something done by all sides
with almost gleeful ease as we hear denouncements of Donald Trump,
Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi, just to name
some of the most prominent.

This column has persistently resisted the claims by some (particularly
in the national media) that a political wave, either blue or red, was
certain to arrive on U.S. electoral shores this November. I have not
argued that such a wave could not happen, but that there was no clear
and unambiguous evidence yet of any such wave. I continue to assert,
now that the ending of the beginning (the early campaigns and
primaries) is here, no certain outcome is signaled.

As we now enter the post-Labor Day autumn campaign (the beginning
of the ending), on the other hand, it is likely that instructive and
significant signals will increasingly appear, especially in the final weeks
when the unusually large number of undecided or willing-to-change
voters will make their decisions. For those of my readers who have
been disappointed by my unwillingness to make predictions, I need to
remind them that, when the signals appear, I will note them --- as I did
in 2010, 2014 and 2016 --- even if they might be contrary to conventional
wisdom. That was certainly the case in both 2010 and 2016 when
readers of this column had contrarian predictions that turned out to
be true. (To be honest and fair, some of my predictions for 2012 did not
turn out to be accurate.)

I have been consistently critical of most public opinion polling,
especially early polling in small samples of voters who are not VERY
likely to vote. Now that we are getting closer and closer to election day,
the polls will tend to be more accurate, especially if the pollsters are
employing large samples and are rigorously polling truly likely voters
of both parties. By mid-October this will most likely happen.

In 2016, the gross numbers of the polls were not very inaccurate, but
the analysis of them, particularly in the rust belt states that determined
the election, were. The polls, more or less, reflected the popular vote,
but was not analyzed to predict the electoral college vote --- the one that

In 2018, there is no electoral college, but there is a serious question
about the expectation of turnout --- and thus the subjective “weighting”
that all polls do. General voter resistance to answering polls, especially
among conservative and independent voters, also tends to skew public
poll results. While we are assured of low margins of error, too many
poll upsets in both parties this cycle indicate margins of error are often
much greater than conceded.

As in so many other aspects of our lives, we are often in too much of a
hurry these days to know outcomes. Even in baseball, with its long
season, many divisions, and its “wild  card” teams, most fans know
they won’t know the winner of the World Series until October.

We’ll know the winners and losers soon enough. but we’ll have to wait a
bit longer. And even when we do know the results, we’ll begin the
guessing game all over again for the 2020 presidential election.

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