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Talking Politics

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Commentary: Economics and Politics

Apr 6, 2021

There are many subjects I know only enough about to be dangerous, and economics is one of them.  I took intro econ in college, and at the time I learned that economics is about scarcity.  Only later did I learn it is actually about politics.  If we had everything we want we wouldn’t need government.  Since we don’t, someone has to make and enforce rules to keep the peace generally and to keep greed and larceny at bay specifically. 


Commentary: Economics and Politics

Apr 6, 2021

There are many subjects I know only enough about to be dangerous, and economics is one of them.  I took intro econ in college, and at the time I learned that economics is about scarcity.  Only later did I learn it is actually about politics.  If we had everything we want we wouldn’t need government.  Since we don’t, someone has to make and enforce rules to keep the peace generally and to keep greed and larceny at bay specifically. 


Commentary: COVID Reading

Mar 16, 2021

It’s a good thing I like to read because I’ve done a lot of it in the last year.  Jane and I get four daily newspapers and read another online.  I always have two or three books going, and that doesn’t count audio books.


Commentary: Rush Limbaugh's Complicated Legacy

Mar 2, 2021

Rush Limbaugh died on February 17.  He leaves a complicated legacy. 

He was the Kansas City Royals’ most famous former group sales director.  He was Southeast Missouri State University’s most famous dropout.  Interestingly, and maybe not coincidentally, America’s other household-name conservative media personality, Sean Hannity, is also a college dropout. 


Commentary: Imagining The Trump Library

Feb 16, 2021

Dear Listener,

Here’s some breaking news: I have seen the draft design for the Trump Presidential Library.  I don’t know where it’s going to be located.  It could be on one of his properties, except he may have to sell them all to pay his debts and legal fees. 

But I do know some of what’s going in it, wherever it’s built.  My secret source is a former top official in the Trump administration and therefore completely reliable and trustworthy.  Feel free to add to; here’s your chance to be an architect and interior designer.  I’m sure they’re looking for ideas. 


Commentary: Close Call

Jan 28, 2021

Since January 6, a sizeable and rapidly growing portion of the 74 million citizens who voted for Donald Trump have come to realize that it’s probably a good thing that Trump was not re-elected.  But we need to remember, it was a very close call.

In fact, until the Saturday after the election, when PA was called for Biden, Trump’s reelection was at least an Electoral College possibility. 


Commentary: Jefferson's Inaugural

Jan 20, 2021

Dear Diary,

Commentary: Dear Diary

Jan 12, 2021

If I kept a daily tab of the past week or so, it might read like this:

Dear Diary,

New Year’s Day: Our own Sen. Hawley plans to formally contest the election and jump to the front of the line to inherit Trump’s Base.  In Julius Caesar Shakespeare wrote: “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look.”

January 2: Misinformation, confusion, lack of coordination, lack of leadership, malfeasance, criminal behavior in the vaccination rollout.  In other words, business as usual in Trump’s bureaucracy.


How did Donald Trump assemble the second largest voter coalition in American history?  He won more than 74 million votes, which is more than the entire population of France.   

To illustrate the breadth of his appeal, you can drive from the Idaho-Canada border to Key West and from the Rio Grande to Lake Erie and not have to cross a single blue state.  Had 65,000 voters in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Wisconsin voted for Trump instead of Biden, Trump would have won the Electoral College majority and been reelected.


Commentary: Georgia on Our Minds

Dec 1, 2020

Growing up we loved Ray Charles.  His songs had wide appeal and were singable.  I loved his star turn in the Blues Brothers movie. 

His first hit was “Georgia on My Mind,” which later became the official state song.  And lots of us have Georgia on our minds.  I do for four reasons.

Commentary: Election Week

Nov 10, 2020

In case last week was a bit of a blur, here is a log of the week after the election.

Wednesday, November 4: There’s an old Clint Eastwood movie named The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  That describes the election for Democrats.


Commentary: Election Handicapping

Oct 28, 2020

I talked to my favorite Republican and Democrat last week about next week’s election.  Here’s what they said.

Both think Judy Baker will almost, but not quite, beat Caleb Rowden for the local state senate seat.   The Republican says Rowden is lucky Cooper County is part of the district.  The Democrat says Rowden’s outside money is crucial.


Commentary: The Presidential Disco Ball

Oct 20, 2020

In my stubborn and almost certainly quixotic quest to understand President Trump and especially his most ardent followers, I locate others trying to do the same thing.  In the October 11 New York Times Magazine Dan Brooks looked at why liberal comedy shows on television have mostly failed.  It’s worth reading for the main content, but there is this nugget toward the end of his article that I had to read three times before I finally got it:


Commentary: The Electoral College

Oct 13, 2020

You may have heard of the Electoral College.  If certain unlikely but theoretically possible election scenarios play out on November 3, then in the near future you will hear more about the Electoral College than the law should allow.


Commentary: Short Takes

Oct 8, 2020

Every Saturday the St. Louis Post Dispatch does what they call “Short Takes” instead of a lengthy editorial.  This week’s commentary is short takes.


Commentary: Realignment Potential

Sep 17, 2020

In a July commentary I gave three of the nine reasons why America has a strong and durable two-party system, and why it is difficult for third parties to gain traction.  Sometimes they behave like supernova, blowing up an election, then going away almost without a trace.  But usually, to continue the astronomy analogy, they are just background radiation.


Commentary: Conversation with Insiders, Part 2

Sep 1, 2020

Last time my two political insiders and I looked at local and state races.  Now we’ll look at the national scene. 

We agree that there are more uncertainties and variables than ever before.  I would add that there is also less conventional wisdom to use as a crutch.  I’ll mention only two examples: The 240-Electoral Vote Lock that Democrats are supposed to have – and did until 2016 – just thirty short of the necessary  majority -- is one new uncertainty. 

Commentary: Conversation with Insiders, Part 1

Aug 18, 2020

Recently I got together with my two political insiders – one a progressive Democrat, the other a conservative Republican, both highly respected, well-connected and deeply informed – to survey the lay of the political land right before Labor Day.  I’ll try to condense an hour and a half of conversation and analysis.

Commentary: Two Party System (Part 2)

Jul 23, 2020

Last time I suggested our two-party system is deeply embedded in our political DNA.  In my American political parties class we examine the nine reasons for the persistence of the two-party system, but they can be summarized by three:

·      Most people feel an affinity, strong or mild, for either the Republicans or the Democrats, and the attachment is usually inherited.

Commentary: Two Party System (Part 1)

Jul 7, 2020

One of my favorite lectures to my students at Columbia College is about the stability and durability of the two-party system in America.  I draw a diagram across three whiteboards that dramatically demonstrates this.  It is two very long, almost uninterrupted parallel lines that begin in 1789 with the ratification of the Constitution and end with the present day.


Commentary: Handicapping the November Election

Jun 22, 2020

“Little doubt an election held today would be a Biden landslide/GOP wipeout,” an editor for the respected nonpartisan Cook Political Report said on June 8.

But by law national elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, despite Jared Kushner’s off-hand comment that the pandemic might change election day.  And there are at least seven reasons why no sane analyst would stake their reputation on predicting even a Trump/Republican defeat, not to mention a “wipeout.”  Here they are in no particular order.


Commentary: The Long Game

Jun 9, 2020

It is said that the Balkans in southeast Europe “produce more history then they can consume.”  I feel that right now the United States is producing more history than it can consume: A pandemic that has killed more Americans than the total population of Columbia, a bitterly divided country led by a president who is not interested in national unity, and now the worst civil unrest in many decades. 

Commentary: The Politics of Ort Gaukel

May 29, 2020

When I was in graduate school at Michigan State I got a job with grounds maintenance because the graduate assistantship wasn’t paying the bills.  In the morning I was a garbage man, riding around on the back of the truck and humping trash and incinerator ashes into the “packer,” as it was called – the technology hasn’t changed.  It was dangerous but interesting work.  You can’t believe what people throw away.  I salvaged a perfectly good night stand, a kid’s tricycle and a baby bed that was missing only one small piece of hardware that cost a quarter.  We supplemented our wages with deposit

Commentary: Rural America

May 14, 2020

Until I was eight years old I lived on the edge of a small town in eastern Illinois.  Every morning I looked out on big sky and corn or corn stubble.  I also lived as an adult in Kirksville for 18 years.  Kirksville is not as small as Oblong, Illinois but it is definitely rural.  All told I’ve lived half my life in rural America.

My early days in the country were especially formative.  I recall them being simple, quiet, safe and boring.  We did not farm, possibly the first generation of my line of Smiths not to.  Life was family-oriented: both sets of grandparents and an aunt and uncle lived on my one-mile walk between grade school and home.  One day was pretty much like the next.\


Commentary: Unlikelies

May 1, 2020

During the Easter egg hunt my two-year-old grandson announced that he had found a rooster egg.  This got me thinking: What are some fascinating but unlikely occurrences in the political world?  With the help of family and friends, here are some possibilities, and feel free to add to the list:


Commentary: Climate Change

Apr 16, 2020

I tell my students at Columbia College that when they are finished with this class and they don’t know if I’m a Democrat or a Republican, a conservative or a liberal, then it’s been a successful class in at least one way.  I tell them it is none of their business what my political beliefs are.  


Political Commentary: Virus

Apr 2, 2020

I have not read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel Love in the Time of Cholera and it appears the plot doesn’t have much to do with disease, but it certainly has a memorable title and one that is going through my head now, especially “love,” which I’m feeling in abundance toward my family even though, or maybe especially because, we are all isolated from each other in strange and, for us, extremely rare and unfamiliar ways.

Commentary: Trump Explained

Mar 3, 2020

I’m old enough to remember when Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California.  The received wisdom at the time was: How did this second-rate, washed-up actor get elected governor of the biggest state in the country?  Fourteen years later a version of this same narrative wondered how he got elected president, except the pejorative “old” was added.


Commentary: History Rhymes

Jan 22, 2020

The president, a New Yorker, wins a very close and bitterly contested election and flips the party holding the White House.  His first term is controversial, with many contentious domestic and foreign issues.  The country is polarized, with major urban-rural divides, great income inequalities, and much anxiety in the working class.  Immigration is a huge issue.


Commentary: Disco Through the 2020 Election Cycle

Jan 10, 2020

Columbia College Political Science Professor Terry Smith is a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics. Every few years, he looks for some musical inspiration to tell the story of our political moment. This year, it's disco.

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