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Filed under: prairie musings, family, friends, Jesse Manning, dogs, Drew Britton, Ally Britton — Peg Britton @ 6:02 pm

I wish everyday were like today…with lots of people in and out of my house, visiting and having fun.

Eddie Jilka arrived yesterday from Silverton CO a day earlier than expected, but that’s okay.  He always comes to see us when he is in Kansas visiting his mother and other relatives.  Sometimes he stays overnight, as he did last night, and at times he stays weeks which hasn’t happened for a long time. He lived with us for several summers and ran the swimming pool.   This morning we had breakfast at KCs where Ally, Todd and Karen joined us.  He would have been disappointed had he not been able to visit with them.  As he was nearing his car to return to Salina, I asked if he had everything…his computer, and meds specifically. “Yes, yes, yes”, he said…as if he could forget those things.  After he arrived in Salina he realized he didn’t have his computer so he called to say he was heading back to Ellsworth.  Alas.  He almost counts as two visitors.

Ally was in and out during the time she was mowing my yard and spraying weeds.  That’s always very nice.  She also made a laundry run for me and hauled my clothes upstairs.  I barely get by dragging myself up and down the stairs without the addition of something that needs to be hauled from here to there.

Then, as totally anticipated, Jesse Manning popped in for a couple of hours.  It’s always wonderful catching up with him in real person; however, since his parents left Kanopolis that has become more difficult.  We stay connected.  He’s been a good friend.  I was delighted to see him and his new Caddy.  It’s an amazing vehicle and he’s an amazing young man.

Drew and dog Sarge passed through this afternoon, returning to Boulder from K.C.  To make it easier for all of us to talk with Drew whose time was very limited, his parents brought taco pizza to my house where we partook while quizzing the heck out of him as to what he and his high school buddies did in Kansas over the weekend during Tyler Bailey’s bachelor party.  They were sworn to secrecy, he said with a smile.  We didn’t expect to learn much, or really want to.  We did want to see Drew; he’s always so positive and cheerful.  He has a very long drive back to Boulder.

And…to bring a close to the day, Karen misplaced her set of keys.  We suspect they are somewhere in Drew’s car heading toward the mountains.  Ooops.

Thanks for tuning in…



Filed under: recipes, Jesse Manning — Peg Britton @ 10:13 am

My good friend, Jesse Manning, appeared recently for a visit and brought me some of his famous chili.  He made it in preparation for a party yesterday for his father and other relatives.  He sent me the recipe so that I could share it with readers.  Jesse is a good cook and admits this isn’t an original recipe, but one he really favors.  If you like hellfire chili, you’ll love this. Jesse said this is very hot as you eat it, but the minute you finish the “hotness” stops and you don’t have that left-over burning sensation as you do with some hot dishes.


Serves: 8

1 pound of ground beef
1 pound of ground pork or sausage
Either 1/2 or 3/4 pound of bacon
6 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
6 habanero peppers, seeded and chopped
8 Anaheim peppers, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 ounce Thai garlic chile paste (found in the Asian section of most larger grocery stores)
1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 and 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons beef bouillon granules
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 14.5 oz cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained
3 oz tomato paste
2 16 oz cans chili beans, drained
1 12 oz can of beer (Bud Light or equivalent … nothing too fruity or too dark!)
2 cups water

1. It’ll pay off to prep a lot of the ingredients ahead of time so you’re not scrambling to get the peppers chopped up while the meat is cooking. Split all of the peppers and take out the seeds. (You can leave the seeds in one or two peppers, but the more you leave in, the more unbearably hot it will be … it’s warm enough without the seeds!) Finely chop all the peppers, including the bell, and do the same for the onion and the garlic. Mix all the chopped ingredients into a bowl and add the red pepper flakes, chili powder, Thai garlic chile paste, cumin, bouillon granules, crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes and the tomato paste. Mix all the ingredients together well and set the bowl aside — you’ll need it later!

2. Cooking everything in a large stock pot works best. Cook the bacon at a medium-high heat in the pot until it’s evenly brown; remove the bacon from the pot, let it drain on paper towels and set it aside for later, as well. Drain MOST of the bacon grease from the pot, but be sure to leave some at the bottom of the pot for flavor.

3. Brown the beef and pork in the pot over a medium-high heat.

4. Return to your large bowl of ingredients and put in the beer and the water. Mix well and then stir everything from the bowl into the meat in the pot. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for an hour, stirring every 10 or 15 minutes.

5. After an hour, add the drained chili beans to the pot and chop or crush the bacon and add it to the pot, too. Stir the contents of the pot together well and continue simmering for another 30 minutes.

As is, this recipe is very spicy. You can adjust the heat of the recipe by either removing peppers (particularly the habaneros) or leaving in more seeds. When refrigerated, the bacon grease left in the chili will turn orange and rise to the top of the chili; don’t remove it! Stir it in when reheating, as it adds a lot of flavor to the recipe.


Oh … and wear gloves when handling the peppers. Trust me, rubbing your eyes or visiting the bathroom after handling habaneros without gloves is not recommended!



Filed under: prairie musings, friends, Jesse Manning — Peg Britton @ 5:40 pm

I’ve had the best day today.

Tyler downloaded Skype for me, so that it works as opposed to the fact it didn’t work when I downloaded it.  Grandson Luke fiddled with my webcam so that it works with Skype.  Now my friends can see me …yikes…and I can see them too, if they have a webcam.  Skype is wonderful.  It’s a marvelous invention and I love it.

If you don’t have it, you might want to think about downloading it.  It would be wonderful for watching grandchildren open their Christmas presents, if you couldn’t be there with them.  You can talk with anyone just as if they were next to you.  You could talk with a loved one who is in the hospital in some far away place if a relative or friend took a lap top with them.

My grand nephew is seven and got a violin for Christmas.  As his lessons progress, he’ll play what he’s learned and I can view it as if I were in the room with him.

You could have someone be your personal shopper and watch as they examined the merchandise and haggled over the price.

You can talk to your soldier overseas and see him/her and know that he/she is alright.

The possibilities are endless.

It’s wonderful to visit with a friend and see them as you talk.  The sound is better than over the telephone.  I’ve talked with friends in England, Canada, Alaska, Florida during the past two days and it’s almost as good as having them sitting in my living room.  You can’t touch them, but everything else is the same.

I’ve been busy catching up with friends who have called in the most marvelous fashion. And it’s free.  Even if the person doesn’t have Skype, like someone in South Africa, you can call their land line and chat for much less than long distance charges on the phone.

It opens up the whole world to me.

Another program I like is Pandora.  Music is important to me, but I’m a bit picky about what I listen to.  You can select the type of music you like and listen to it until you want something else. The options are endless.  I have Cecilia Bartoli, Kiri te Kanawa, Barbra Streisand,  Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Nat King Cole, George Gershwin, Renee Fleming, etc.  in my list that I can pull up with a click.  I also have my Ipod with all my CDs on it and a Boze system, but this is good for selecting what you’re in the mood for at the moment.  It’s nice to turn Pandora on in the morning to start the day.

Those are my suggestions for the moment.  Now I’m off to having an elegant dinner prepared by Ally…and Jesse is coming by later to visit.  What a great day.

Thanks for tuning in…



Filed under: prairie musings, Heritage turkeys/chickens, Jesse Manning — Peg Britton @ 6:45 pm

Jesse Manning, Ally and I made a run to Lindsborg today for free-range chicken eggs. The place to find such treasures is on Ryon Carey’s farm south of town.  As we need dozens and dozens of eggs to make Rom Pope for the Christmas holidays, Ryon had ample hens to respond to our request. Ryon calls our secret concoction “Crème Brûlée with Vodka”.


Ally got sidetracked over an old bottle she found in Ryon’s yard.


Ally and Jesse explore the chicken ranch… the many varieties of chickens, turkeys, geese, rabbits and a goat or two.

Jesse and moi in one of Ryon’s many chicken houses.  They all have piped in music, heating and the comforts of home.  We preferred the classical music in this one where the hens seemed a classy lot although a bit stuffy.

I call Ryon the “chicken guy”, or my “chicken friend”, but he’s far more than that.  He raises heritage chickens and turkeys of some of the world’s rarest breeds.  There are only a few remaining birds of some breeds.  If it were not for farmers like Ryon, these breeds would be lost.  Ryon is foremost an art dealer-collector and probably more knowledgeable about Birger Sandzen than anyone walking.  He’s a history buff, does corporate taxes, sings, is a gourmet cook, preserves old buildings, never throws anything away and is chair of the McPherson County Democrats.  Among other things.

Thanks for tuning in…



Filed under: political musings, Jesse Manning — Jesse Manning @ 1:41 am

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois became President-elect Barack Obama right at 10:00 pm last night. Of the three elections in which I’ve been able to participate, and after one of the most exciting and interesting campaigns in modern history, this was perhaps the most boring and predictable result. In 2000, we waited for 36 days while officials in Florida and finally the United States Supreme Court wrestled with the ultimate outcome. In 2004, faulty exit poll data signaled a massive victory for Senator John Kerry; pollsters and pundits were stunned as the night dragged on and the vote turned for President George W. Bush.

Last night’s result was significantly more predictable. Obama had an edge over Senator John McCain; the only question remaining when the polls began to close was how large the victory would be. When all the votes are counted, it looks like Obama will have won a Clinton-sized electoral victory (likely 364 votes to McCain’s 174). He’ll have nearly 65 million popular votes, more than any candidate in history and with over 52 percent of the vote – the first Democrat to win a majority since Jimmy Carter in 1976. There’s no denying Obama’s appeal and his mandate in this election; he won, and he won big.

But once all the votes are finally counted, there will be over 57 million Americans who supported John McCain. Most of them are disappointed in the results. Many of them are angry. Some of them claim to have lost faith in this country. Some target Obama with outright disdain, determined to stand against him regardless of what he may do or where he wants to lead the country. Some claim to hate the man that will be our 44th president. Others are furious with the voters that supported Obama. They’re confused and distraught and are looking for someone – anyone – to blame. They don’t understand how a man like Barack Obama – who is, as e-mail forwards and campaign commercials have told them, a socialist, a radical and anti-American – could have won the presidency in the United States of America.

It may sound trite, but Obama won – and won convincingly – because of his message of hope. The GOP derided Obama’s message throughout the campaign, and after McCain’s defeat, those simple slogans that rallied so many may ring particularly hollow in Republican ears. But Obama does not own the rights to inspiration. Conservatives have simply forgotten that they once cherished the art of speechmaking and grandiose ideas.

In 1992, another president returned to the spotlight to rally his party for an upcoming election. This man, who had already completed a highly successful two-term presidency, came forth with his typical message of hope and optimism as he had done throughout his eight years in office. As he stood before the Republican National Convention in 1992 in support of the re-election campaign of George H.W. Bush, President Ronald Reagan, in one of his last public appearances, reminisced on his own service to the country:

“[W]hatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way.”

Reagan represented an era of conservatism that was strong, optimistic and forever looking toward a hopeful future. His farewell speech in 1989 came full circle to his 1981 inaugural address, portraying America as a great and shining city on a hill, a beacon of hope. Reagan was a supremely gifted orator, and his optimistic message stood side-by-side with his firm conservative stances on issues ranging from the economy to foreign policy. Barack Obama is not unique among gifted politicians who know how to appeal to America’s hopes – he stands in the footsteps of great presidents before him: Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan.

In the eras of those presidents, even the opposition was able to acknowledge that these skillful politicians set and commanded the tone of the country. Even the opposition knew to acknowledge their inspirational messages and the potential that grew from them.

Barack Obama won for a variety of reasons, but chief among them was his message. His themes were relatively simple, and they were certainly consistent. “Change” and “hope” were words that dominated his appearances on the campaign trail. Critics, including myself during the primary season, asked what exactly Obama meant by “change” and “hope.” Where was the substance? As it turns out, those themes struck chords that raw policy never could. Americans were looking for a positive campaign and a positive message. They were looking for a leader in which they could believe. And they were looking for a leader who believed in them as much as they believed in him. They found the hope for which they were looking in Barack Obama.

Ask yourself what themes you most associate with the two campaigns of 2008. What did the candidates press while crisscrossing America? Obama’s themes were so apparent, so ubiquitous, that they are undoubtedly familiar to every voter:

“Hope” – this essential pillar of Obama’s campaign was positive and inspirational. He asked Americans to believe in his campaign and his message, and in turn, he often spoke of his belief in the American people.

“Change We Can Believe In” – Washington, DC always seems to be in need of change, but the partisanship and gridlock of the last four years represent the most toxic atmosphere that our nation’s capital has ever seen. Obama’s positions – a stark contrast to those of the Bush administration – were undoubtedly a change, but he asked Americans to couple the opportunity for change with a real belief that change could happen.

“Yes We Can” – Obama melded his first two major themes with a third that took a unique approach, claiming that real change would only come from the bottom-up, not the other way around. While politicians have rallied support at a grassroots level in the past, Obama was able to do it more successfully than any candidate in history, bringing in millions of donors, volunteers and supporters who otherwise have been disaffected with the political process.

McCain’s themes, on the other hand, were erratic, unstructured and sought mostly to instill fear and doubt in the minds of voters. His message was not one of hope, and no matter how hard he tried, voters did not buy that his message was one of change. Most pundits agree than McCain’s campaign had no central, underlying message that truly reached voters in the way that Obama was able to do. He hoped that “Country First” would be a slogan that would gain an unstoppable momentum, but even that message carried an undercurrent of uncertainty, as if the other candidate and the other party were not patriotic or self-sacrificing enough.

Many voters will recall McCain’s message as one that was obscured by accusations against Obama: dubious claims of terrorist ties and anti-American sympathies. They will remember how McCain labeled Obama a tax-and-spend liberal, a radical and a socialist. They will remember how McCain claimed that the freshman senator from Illinois was too young and inexperienced for the job, and they will remember the hypocrisy in his choice of the equally inexperienced and far more unprepared Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

It’s easy to see why McCain supporters are so suspicious of an Obama presidency; their candidate and his campaign spent millions of dollars trying to make their claims, their fears, their doubts and their insinuations stick. But Obama was able to overcome the challenge, and though both campaigns had their low moments, the McCain campaign will be remembered as one of negativity. Americans were tired of negativity. They were tired of partisanship and accusations and lines in the sand. They were tired of politicians devoid of inspiration and hope. They were tired of the very things that had brought the Republican Party so much success in a post-Reagan world.

Obama’s voters didn’t just want a candidate to support; they wanted a movement in which they could participate. And through powerful viral marketing and grassroots organization, the Obama campaign generated more support – both in terms of votes and in terms of money – than any other presidential campaign in history. His campaign and supporters expertly used social networking software and local organizations to encourage voter registration, volunteerism and get-out-the-vote efforts. They banded together to fight the flurry of rumors and false insinuations about Obama’s past. And, most importantly, on November 4, they showed up at the polls and voted.

On September 3 at the Republican National Convention, vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin mocked Barack Obama’s past, claiming she wasn’t sure what a community organizer really does. Two months later, the governor had a front-row seat to the most powerful community organized effort that America has ever seen.

Finally, Barack Obama won the election on issues. As powerful as his message and his organization may have been, he faced the traditional hurdles of a Democratic candidate labeled as a “liberal.” And perhaps he really is a liberal, but when a “conservative” administration has overseen the most massive expansion of government since the Great Society, labels become rather arbitrary and cease to lose their edge. The conservative mantle of smaller, less-intrusive government fell apart under the Bush administration, culminating in a massive bailout of the country’s financial institutions authored by the President’s staff.

Just as they were tired of messages rooted in fear and negativity, the American people were tired of the Republican Party. They were tired of wars without strategies; they were tired of partisan issues-of-the-moment; they were tired of an administration that did little to meet the challenges presented by health care or immigration reform; and they were tired of a party that fielded a candidate who refused to say the words “middle class” in three national debates, even in the midst of the most devastating financial crisis our country has faced in 80 years.

Whether Barack Obama and the Democratic Party are right or wrong on how they would handle a variety of challenges is not the issue. The majority of the American people felt that George Bush, the GOP and now John McCain were wrong on the issues – the pressing issues that affected our lives and our families and our pocketbooks. The American people were willing to give change, as different as it may be, a chance to work; a chance to make things better. And while a President Obama is likely to govern more to the center, a harsh reality that the Republican Party must face in the coming years is that the center has moved toward the Democratic Party.

I remember the outrage that so many Democrats and liberals showed after President Bush was re-elected in 2004. They didn’t understand how a majority of the nation could be so gullible, so stupid, as to vote for George W. Bush again. They made wild accusations about fraud in the election, and they claimed that the GOP was prepared to make all sorts of radical changes in the country: the draft would be reinstated, the rights of a whole host of minority groups were going to be rescinded and war with Iran was inevitable. I remember their outrage and their insinuations, and I remember how foolish they looked. They did not respect the choice the country had made, even though such a choice represents the fundamental promise of our country. They claimed that George W. Bush was not their president, and in so doing, they lost sight of what it means to be an American and participate in our political process.

Now the tables have turned. Conservatives have lost faith in this country. The nation is full of stupid, gullible and anti-American voters. President Obama will bring radical changes to the country. Work will no longer be rewarded; socialism will reign supreme. Obama will stifle our religious freedom, and he will take our guns. He’ll be a pawn of other world powers, meet with terrorists and tax us to death. Republicans are looking to blame someone – anyone – for the loss, and in so doing, they’re turning to more fear and more uncertainty, creating more worry and more unrest.

Their dramatization of events – their accusations – is equally ridiculous. They are no better than the dissatisfied Kerry voters who threatened to move to France. Most don’t know what they fear, but they believe they must fear something.

Barack Obama, for all his flaws, is not a socialist. Those who claim he is are uninformed, reactionary, sound-bite driven and unaware of what true socialism really is. Both campaigns offered plans in which the government funded support for those currently without health care. The government offering health care to those 45 million who go without will bring us no closer to socialism than have our other myriad government programs, like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And as we’ve seen in the past, with bipartisan cooperation, the government can make progress in encouraging citizens to move away from certain government-funded crutches, as Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress did in 1996 when they cut welfare rolls in half with the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.

Your religious rights and freedoms will not change under and Obama administration. He is not a Muslim as he has been labeled time and time again, but as Colin Powell so appropriately asked when he endorsed Obama, what if he was? Conservatives should recognize – quickly and clearly – that bigotry, regardless of reasoning, is no longer in fashion. A party that makes an issue of someone’s religion, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation is a party that will no longer win in the 21st Century. Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, who attempted to generate fear among the electorate by insinuating that her opponent – a Sunday school teacher and elder in a Presbyterian church – may be “godless,” learned that those sorts of political dirty tricks are no longer accepted.

There have been 14 Democratic presidents in this nation’s history; none have ever attempted to take your guns or repeal the Second Amendment. This scare tactic was used against Bill Clinton, as well. Guess what? We are still able to own firearms, and the Second Amendment is still intact. Obama has always supported the Second Amendment and lawful, responsible gun ownership, and while he may disagree with conceal-and-carry laws, that’s far from an endorsement of the federal government swooping in and taking your guns away. If you’re a responsible gun owner acting legally, you have nothing to fear from Obama, or any other legal entity, for that matter.

Obama’s world view does represent a shift from what we’ve seen over the past eight years, but even the most prominent Republicans – including John McCain – have criticized the Bush administration’s engagements in Iraq, Afghanistan and relations with other parts of the world. Ours is a global economy, and whether we like it or not, we’ve got to get along in the global community. Change was coming regardless of who was elected because the Bush administration has been such a poor steward of our foreign policy.

I could go on, but the point is, a lot of the fear and the uncertainty about an Obama administration is, for the most part, unfounded. I have no doubt that a portion of the country will have legitimate disagreements with his positions on a whole host of issues, but there are proper and improper ways in which to express those grievances.

To my conservative friends and colleagues: do not lose your hope, and do not lose sight of why Obama won this election. When searching for a group to blame for your loss, do not fail to look deeply at the Republican Party. Now is the time to ask why the party of Lincoln, Goldwater and Reagan has forgone hope and substance and become the party of Palin and Joe the Plumber; one, a radical overreaction to liberal “elitism” that champions intellectual minimalism, and the other an embarrassing caricature of an uniformed voter to whom the Republican Party so desperately wishes to appeal.

Now is not the time to fear what lies ahead; now is the time to take an honest look at what you truly believe, where you stand on issues and why, and what you are truly up against. Now more than ever is a time for you to be truly informed, not just with convenient and simplistic talking points, but with real and solid substance.

Unfortunately for his detractors, Barack Obama is no radical. He is, like Ronald Reagan, a gifted orator and a big-picture politician focused on optimism and participation. Please realize that you, too, are invited to participate in this change of power. You will not be left out; your voices will be counted, so long as you participate in the informed and respectful way that the electorate is beginning to demand. Do not turn your backs on this country. Do not turn your backs on your fellow citizens with whom you disagree. And do not turn your backs on your next president. He needs your support when necessary, and the country needs your informed opposition where appropriate.

Elections are hard-fought. They are often negative. And in the end, there is a winner and there is a loser. After your disappointment subsides, please – participate in the governance of this country as President-elect Obama is asking you to do. Help him, help our government, and help one another look for ways in which we can come together.


“Senator Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed. No doubt many of those differences remain.

“These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.

“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.

“Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.”

–Senator John McCain, November 4, 2008


“In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let’s resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.

“Let’s remember that it was a man from [Illinois] who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance and individual liberty and national unity.

“Those are values that we all share. And while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.

“As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

“And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.”

–President-elect Barack Obama, November 4, 2008



Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Jesse Manning @ 12:54 am

I’ve been known to make hasty judgments when it comes to political predictions. In early 2004, I thought that Howard Dean was a sure bet to win the Democratic nomination. On Election Day, 2004, I fretted that John Kerry was going to run away with the vote. Those predictions, made at the last minute and with far too much emotional investment, turned out to be completely wrong. The successful predictions I’ve made come after spending more time studying real trends instead of flash polls. In 2006, I was so unattached to either party that I made a dead-on prediction for how the House and the Senate races would fall.

This year’s prediction is not necessarily a surprise, given the trend that has been developing over the past two months. While John McCain has a chance to win, it’s a very small one — his path to victory is incredibly narrow, and Barack Obama has an incredible advantage in the Electoral College. He’s bound to carry every state that John Kerry did, giving him 252 electoral votes. He’s polling far enough ahead in Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Virginia — all Bush states in 2004 — that he’s likely to carry all five of them. That puts him at 291 electoral votes, which is 21 more than he needs to win the election.

After all the votes are counted, I believe Obama could win with an Electoral College count of 338 to McCain’s 200.

Electoral College prediction

For a while, it looked as if Indiana and West Virginia could trend Obama’s way, and even Montana and North Dakota are being called toss-up states. However, I think all four will fall into McCain’s column tomorrow night. Missouri and North Carolina are essentially toss-up states, but I think both are “red” enough that McCain will win them as well. Missouri’s demographics are trending more conservative, and North Carolina is still a very southern state, though it has experienced a population boom that accounts for it leaning further to the left than it has in the past.

Electoral College math is fascinating to me — there are so many possibilities yet so few ways that these particular candidates can chart a victorious path. The right combinations may even result in a tie, with both candidates receiving 269 votes, in which case the House of Representatives would choose the President and the Senate would choose the Vice President.  The history of the Electoral College is also interesting, with voting blocs shifting and moving geographically over time. But I’ll save the more detailed stories about it for another time.

Could I be surprised tomorrow? Absolutely. In fact, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t at least one state that I’ve called incorrectly. I’d be a little surprised, however, if I’m wrong on my prediction for the final result. There are a few reasons why I think Obama will carry the day:

  • Obama has been consistently ahead in national polling. While state-by-state results are what will matter on election night, the Electoral College is — at its core — designed to magnify a popular vote victory. It doesn’t always work that way, but Obama’s lead is significant. He’s been an average of six or seven percentage points ahead of McCain for weeks. Even with a small bunch of undecided voters in the mix, a seven point gap is difficult to overcome.
  • Younger voters trend much more for Obama than for McCain, and I have a hunch that they’re being underrepresented in most polls. The younger demographic (ages 18 to 30) is more likely to have switched exclusively to cell phones or voice-over-IP, which means they’re harder to reach, and even if a pollster is able to reach them by phone, someone with a 703 area code (northern Virginia) may live in California. That’s not to say there aren’t ways around these roadblocks, but I’m not confident that pollsters have completely mastered polling the youngest age group effectively, particularly if they’re working off of percentages from previous years. Young voters are particularly energized this year. While they didn’t turn out for Kerry in 2004 in the numbers the Democrats anticipated, Obama appeals to them much moreso than Kerry ever could.
  • Democrats in general are more energized this year. There are real opportunities to make significant gains in the House and the Senate, and the prospect of taking the White House back after eight years, particularly with a candidate like Barack Obama, is incredibly exciting to them. African Americans may also vote in larger numbers, excited by the prospect of a multiracial president (and while I don’t believe that’s a legitimate reason to support a candidate, I do understand their genuine excitement at the possiblity).
  • I don’t buy the Bradley Effect. Obama has largely been able to transcend race, and while I know there will be votes for and against him based solely on the color of his skin, I don’t believe those voters will have a statistically significant effect overall.

I was reluctant to support Obama, as he represented an unknown quantity earlier in the race — he was inexperienced and, while he had a good message, there didn’t seem to be a lot of substance to back up his eloquent ideas. Over the last several months, I’ve taken the time to really dig into his positions on issues, his ideas for the United States and observe his presence on the national stage. And, after much consideration, I’ve been impressed. Without getting into too much detail, I think Obama has handled his response to the economic crisis in a calm and reasoned manner. His choice of Joe Biden for his running mate was a presidential-level decision that showed excellent judgement, as Biden was not a tactical candidate picked to win over the base in August or win the election in November — he was a candidate chosen for the qualities he would bring to the office beyond the election. And running a presidential campaign is no easy task. Obama is one of the few candidates in recent history who wasn’t forced to shake up his campaign with staffing and management changes or fine tune his message to find something that resonated with voters. While he may be lacking elected executive experience, he’s been the head of an organization that has carried on for nearly two years, making deep inroads into previously Republican territory and managing over $600 million in donations.

The John McCain of today is not the John McCain we saw in 2000. His campaign, his message and his tactics have been erratic and meandering, and — in my opinion — his choice of Sarah Palin will be noted by history as a serious blow to his campaign, not a boon. She represents the lowest common denominator in American politics; an attempt to reach out to “ordinary folks” by demonizing segments of society such as academics or the media — easy targets that draw easy cheers and rally a demographic that is hungry for victory but unsure of what that victory really means for them. Rather than appealing to our hopes, as Ronald Reagan once hoped that he’d done, John McCain has attempted to use fear and uncertainty to sway votes. His has been a disappointing campaign, and one that has unfortunately tarnished the reputation of a one-time maverick.

Not everything about Obama has been positive, and certainly not everything about McCain has been negative. But it seems that voters are truly ready for a new approach in the White House, and they may be ready to settle on Obama to make that change. Dixville Notch, a New Hampshire town that always opens and closes its polls earlier than any other town in the nation, has already tallied their votes. Obama came out ahead, winning 15 of the 21 votes cast. That’s the first time since 1968 that a Democrat has carried the tiny village. Though it’s hardly a bellweather, their votes may be a sign of things to come. We’ll see tomorrow night. Until then, my prediction — as are all polls and predictions — is simply an educated guess.



Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Peg Britton @ 8:44 pm

Jesse has posted “Shades of Gray”, in ten parts, a political statement that is amazing.  If you haven’t had a chance to read all of it, you will find it a great piece to ponder.  He posted it so it would come to its conclusion before the election.

I’m sure Jesse would appreciate your comments and questions. Don’t be shy. If you want his address, I’ll send it to you.

Thanks, Jesse.  You elevated the quality of my blog enormously. Your words have brought back many memories.  A lot of time and work went into some of those efforts and it was nice to recall them.



Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Jesse Manning @ 8:50 pm

On November 15, 2007, slightly more than two weeks after Senator Clinton’s widely panned performance in the debate at Drexel University, the Democratic presidential candidates gathered in Las Vegas for an encore presentation. CNN hosted this round in the Silver State, and moderators Wolf Blitzer and Campbell Brown wasted no time in addressing Hillary’s misstep in Philadelphia and the subsequent damage that had left her campaign reeling for the first half of November. Brown’s initial question asked Clinton to answer the critics who claimed that she avoided taking firm stands on controversial issues, as many commentators had interpreted her answers regarding driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. Clinton brushed the issue aside, but Wolf Blitzer turned to Senator Obama to elaborate on why the former First Lady’s apparent indecisiveness amounted to nothing more than “a textbook Washington campaign.”[20] Obama took the opportunity to pounce on her hesitant responses and their wider implications:

“[W]hat the American people are looking for right now is [sic] straight answers to tough questions, and that is not what we’ve seen out of Senator Clinton on a host of issues — on the issue of drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants.

“We saw in the last debate that it took not just that debate, but two more weeks before we [got] a clear answer, in terms of where her position was.”

The stage was set for another lengthy back-and-forth between the front-runners, and indeed, Senators Clinton, Obama and Edwards dominated the initial portion of the debate, prompting Representative Kucinich to interrupt and call for a fair allotment of time and Senator Biden to jokingly protest the first question to come his way for fear of taking some of the spotlight off of the party’s celebrity candidates. Clinton, Obama and Edwards did not focus on substance during these early minutes of the debate, instead loosely confirming their commitments to dealing with various issues and accusing their opponents of an unwillingness to do the same.  They lazily criticized each others’ plans to deal with health care and Social Security, settling nothing and giving viewers a hint of how divisive the Democratic primary would soon become. The debate began by giving the “Big Three” opportunities to take shots and score points, a reality later noted by Edwards. But after a lengthy opening session, the moderators did turn to specific issues, and Blitzer turned toward Obama with the very same issue that had caused Clinton such grief:

“On the issue that apparently tripped up Senator Clinton earlier, the issue of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, I take it, Senator Obama, you support giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.”

Blitzer’s assertion was far more direct than the meandering turn taken by Tim Russert two weeks earlier, and Obama had a golden opportunity to address the question quickly, directly and decisively; however, his answer seemed oddly similar to that Washingtonian hair-splitting for which he had criticized Hillary just minutes earlier.

Obama began by saying, “When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention.

“And — but I have to make sure that people understand. The problem we have here is not driver’s licenses. Undocumented workers do not come here to drive.

“They don’t go — they’re not coming here to go to the In-N-Out Burger. That’s not the reason they’re here. They’re here to work. And so instead of being distracting by what has now become a wedge issue, let’s focus on actually solving the problem that this administration, the Bush administration, had done nothing about it.”

Inexplicably, Obama played off the question as a distraction that was taking away from a comprehensive immigration reform plan, which was essentially the same thing Clinton said two weeks earlier. But the media was looking for a firm, one-sided answer to a complicated question. Blitzer clarified that he was looking for a “yes” or a “no” and tried again.

Obama began, “I am not proposing that that’s what we do. What I’m saying is that we can’t …”

He was interrupted by laughter from the audience.

“No, no, no, no. Look, I have already said, I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that driver’s licenses at the same level can make that happen.

“But what I also know … [b]ut what I also know, Wolf, is that if we keep on getting distracted by this problem, then we are not solving it.”

Blitzer stated clearly that it was a yes-or-no question; explanation was not necessary. He moved beyond Obama, and Hillary’s original critic at the Drexel debate seemed tripped up by the question, as well. Senator Dodd said:

“Well, it’s important to put it in context. It’s obviously — look, clarity is important here. The American people, in a debate like this, want clarity here. Certainly, the whole idea of getting immigration reform is something I strongly support.

“But I believe part of our job is to discourage those who want to come here — I understand why they want to come, but coming illegally creates serious problems — four to 500,000.”

Blitzer requested clarification, and Dodd complied. As Blitzer worked down the line of candidates, Obama was again faced with the same question – did he or did he not support driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants? This time, the Illinois Senator answered yes, with a caveat:

“I’ll tell you, I am going to be fighting for comprehensive immigration reform, and we shouldn’t pose the question that, somehow, we can’t achieve that.

“I believe that the American people desperately want it; that’s what I’m going to be fighting for as president.”[21]

Both Clinton and Obama were right: regardless of how a candidate felt about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, the nation’s illegal immigration problem was not going to be solved by answering one way or the other on an inflammatory question that was a small part of a much larger and more complex issue. There were multiple facets of immigration reform proposals, including border control and security, issues of amnesty versus deportation, penalties for offending businesses, mandatory English education and the citizenship process. Both candidates alluded to the need to address the whole problem, of which driver’s licenses were just a small part. Clinton claimed that the federal government’s failure to address immigration reform had forced states like New York to consider only parts of a more-comprehensive approach. Obama insisted that addressing such an isolated solution to a much larger matter was simply a distraction. Both gave answers that won them no praise, yet both simply wanted to explain their views on the larger issue in a more detailed way. The media simply wanted a sound bite, or perhaps another Clintonian gaffe.

Either way, Obama discovered that he, too, was guilty of “the politics of parsing.”[22] The American people may want clear answers, but complicated issues aren’t always so cut-and-dried as to offer a simple yes-or-no response. Our elected officials should not be afraid to talk in-depth about solutions and why they fall on one side or the other of a particular issue; however, the American people must be willing to listen. If we are to ever overcome the fierce partisanship that defines Washington, D.C. and end the era of sound bite politics, we cannot just demand better of our politicians. We must also demand better of ourselves.


Hillary Clinton learned a lesson two weeks earlier in Philadelphia. When Wolf Blitzer set his sights on the New York Senator and repeated the question that managed to stall her campaign for the first half of November, her answer was not thorough. It was vague and in a way disingenuous. But it was what she knew would avoid another media firestorm, and what the public – spoon-fed with bullet-points and largely disinterested in substance – thought it wanted to hear:



[20] Novice politicians often find success in disparaging “Washington experience.” Voters’ negative feelings about “business as usual” in the nation’s capital can translate into strong support for “Washington outsiders.” Obama turned to this theme repeatedly in his campaign, as did many successful presidential candidates before him, including George W. Bush (who skewered Al Gore for being a product of decades in DC), Bill Clinton (the famous “it’s the economy, stupid” line was part of an effort that branded George H.W. Bush as out-of-touch with the average American) and Ronald Reagan (“Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.”).

[21] CNN Democratic debate transcript, November 15, 2007 —

[22] Senator Edwards accused Senator Clinton of too-often taking a moderate approach to answering questions on controversial issues, a method which he called “the politics of parsing.” Senator Obama, while never utilizing the phrase, also picked up on this theme after the Drexel University debate.


Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Peg Britton @ 1:18 pm


You knew it was coming.  Ally came to fix biscuits and gravy for her dad for breakfast and guess who tagged along? Little Miss Maggie. She’s only six weeks old and follows Ally with every move. Maggie was sort of lost in our house and preferred being held.  Don’t we all?


Here’s a pelican moving away from me at Cheyenne Bottoms.  There were several impressive specimens plus some herons and other big birds, but of course I wasn’t in the right spot to get pictures.  And there were all manner of small ducks.  Mallards and teal, I suppose. Sightings would have been better a month ago.  It was also the first day of pheasant season…a time when one really doesn’t want to be wandering around western Kansas without orange-colored armor plate.  We saw more hunters than we did pheasants.


This is Millberger. All of it, I think. It’s a little north of Galatia and Susank, three miles off highway 281 north out of Hoisington. It was closed, but would have been worthy of closer inspection.

The steak fry in Wilson gathered a huge crowd.  If there were only one person per car, the Opera House must have been jammed to the rafters. It appeared everyone in town was there, and then some.

Don’t forget Josh is having a watch party Tuesday night at 7:00 in the basement of the J.H.Robbins Memorial Library by the grade school and Parson’s.  Everyone is invited to follow local, state and national election results…and have something good to eat.  Bring a snack to add to the assortment of good things, if you like.

I’ve heard we have a bald son.  I’ve never seen Todd without hair as he was born with a full mop and still has a mop full.  One of Todd’s co-workers is undergoing chemo treatments, so a lot of his friends shaved their heads to help share the discomfort of it all.

I hope you’ve been enjoying Jesse Manning’s Shades of Gray.  It’s an excellent piece of history and most accurate recollection on his part.  I’m glad he’s sharing it with the rest of us.

Thanks for tuning in…



Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Jesse Manning @ 8:55 pm

I started by having a more detailed discussion with myself. Over time, that led me away from partisanship. It wasn’t just my own reassessment of issues that led me away from the GOP; the party itself had a lot to do with my decision. Simply put, the Republican Party had failed to be responsible with the power that voters had given them. The GOP became a party with misplaced priorities, questionable ethics and displayed a flagrant lack of concern for the issues that voters thought to be most important. In 2006, several incredibly important issues faced the country, and with majorities in the House and the Senate as well as control of the presidency, the Republican Party should have been able to make a significant amount of headway in tackling subjects like immigration reform and healthcare.

Instead, the GOP decided to focus on issues designed to rally their base – changing the Constitution to make flag burning illegal and to discriminate against homosexuals (bigotry under the transparent veil of “family values”). The Republican leadership in Congress spent the entire summer wasting time on these issues, and then – as usual – took a vacation for the entire month of August. In 2006, your elected officials in Washington, D.C . – 535[19] men and women who are elected by us to do a job and receive, collectively, over $100 million a year in salaries to do so – spent just over 90 days in the nation’s capital. Instead of capitalizing on their lock on power and working to pass important legislation to secure the border or to help insure 45 million Americans without health insurance, the Republicans wasted time playing politics. Corruption and scandals also rocked the national GOP, tarnishing the reputations of elected and appointed officials in Congress and the White House and putting a definitive end to the Republican claim that theirs is the party of morals and ethics.

Wild spending on President Bush’s foreign ventures also spiraled out of control, though it took years for the Democrats to adequately fight the administration on spending issues and even longer for the public to notice where billions of dollars were and were not being spent. Irresponsible and misguided spending may have been most widely recognized in September 2007 when President Bush rejected a $7 billion per year increase for health insurance for children of poor families. He claimed the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program was “too expensive,” among other things. At the same time, President Bush was asking Congress for an additional $200 billion to continue the war in Iraq – a war that the majority of Americans rejected by that time. Seven billion dollars a year for health insurance was too much for the administration, but the United States (at the president’s request and with Congress’ approval) was spending around $2 billion a week in Iraq.

My disgust with the party didn’t stop with our federal government; Kansas state Republicans continued to be equally comfortable in their majorities, spending time on issues that quite simply didn’t matter, including successfully changing our state constitution to discriminate based on sexual orientation and allowing our attorney general to run roughshod over our privacy rights. When their narrow visions began to force prominent officials from the party (like Mark Parkinson, now lieutenant governor of Kansas), the GOP leadership refused to assess their own priorities, instead criticizing those who had left as “traitors.” I knew that my own political vision didn’t line up 100 percent with the GOP platform. The Kansas GOP now disciplines Republican officials who do not toe the party line, enforcing the party’s – not the electorate’s – vision through “loyalty committees.” I didn’t need to be a part of such an organization, and I will gladly be called a “traitor” if it means retaining my freedom of thought.

I became an unaffiliated voter in August of 2006 – just a few months before the rest of America soundly rejected the GOP majorities in Congress – and haven’t regretted my decision one bit. The GOP bears the brunt of my distaste for partisan politics, but only because I know their issues, their talking-points, their style and their tactics better than those of the Democrats. What is most liberating about being free of a party label is not having any pressure – real or imagined – to conform to someone else’s set of views. While party activists and political wonks may deride my personal experience as simplistic, it’s the experience that I hope all voters can have – the ability to move beyond sound bite politics, party labels, assumptions, stereotypes and non-issues so that we can all adequately hold our government to task.

Positive change will not come from just a good speech or a charismatic politician or a fleeting movement. A constructive, lasting transformation of our political processes and the reduction of partisan hostility will stem from education; we are the ones who must be educated. Voters disillusioned with our government’s priorities and methods of conducting business must ask and answer a few basic questions:

Why does extreme partisanship persist in the highest levels of government?

Because we allow it to.

Why do candidates for political office speak in simple sound bites? Why are they never fully open and honest with voters?

Because they believe that is what we want. Far too often, that is true.

How can we begin to fix a broken system?

We can pay attention. We can become involved. We can read, research, discuss and debate. We must stop thinking that we cannot affect the process. We can. We must stop believing that our votes don’t matter. They do. Most of all, we must be informed. We send thousands of elected officials nationwide to positions from city councils, state legislatures, governors’ mansions, the U.S. Congress to the White House – we are their employers. We are their employers. Not the parties, not big business, not lobbying groups. Us. We must know the issues they know. We must speak the language they speak.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes – who will watch the watchers?

We will.

As evidenced by my brief but active political interest and experience, my views have moderated significantly over the past several years. Partisanship, black-and-white views, a “you’re either with me or against me” attitude – none of it works.

Political issues as contentious as those facing presidential candidates and legislators today should never be confined to two positions; voters must demand that politicians work together to see the common ground between the two extremes most commonly recognized. The perpetual partisan struggle will only end when voters get informed and show their elected officials that there is more to today’s most complex problems than the solutions of the far-left or the far-right.

Only by electing and supporting thoughtful and thorough political candidates will we find solutions and consensus on issues. Only by abandoning the simplicity of partisan politics will we discover our true potential. Only in the shades of gray between the extremes will we find our common ground.


[19] This number does not include non-voting delegates.



Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Jesse Manning @ 6:43 pm

Null’s primary opponent, Erin Robertson of Salina, had forged an e-mail to Josh, likely to use against him in the general election. Null came out of nowhere to defeat Robertson in the primary, and at some point had picked up the forgery to use as his own. Josh had been baited to give just the kind of calculating answer he did, but neither Robertson nor Null anticipated that the Svaty camp was astute or well-organized enough to discover their deception. Local politics can be nasty, but the mudslingers aren’t always smart. The Svaty campaign didn’t have to do anything beyond contacting the real Debbie Neilson, who promptly confirmed that she never wrote such an e-mail and was outraged that someone would steal her identity for such a purpose. The entire episode took place not long after the Dan Rather/CBS forged-document fiasco, where Republicans cried foul when forged documents were used to accuse President Bush of neglecting his National Guard duties. The hypocrisy was astounding:

“Now that the e-mail is out, the Null campaign is scrambling for excuses. They haven’t revealed who forged the e-mail to begin with, but Tim has claimed that it came from a concerned voter. He’s been showing the letter off door-to-door, and even now, after it has been discovered that the letter was forged in the first place, Tim is still claiming that the questions about Josh’s voting record on this issue are still relevant because of the answer he gave, regardless of who wrote the original letter or what intent it was written with.

“Remember the CBS forged document story last month? I didn’t think it was right that Dan Rather and CBS would stick with their story about Bush’s National Guard service because they were being completely underhanded and lying about the sources of information. The documents that supposedly revealed that Bush was AWOL were forged. Thus, anything else that can be gleaned from such a story is irrelevant. This is how most Republicans (including myself) felt about the CBS forgery. Now, Tim is taking the Dan Rather route; claiming that even though the letter that baited Josh into answering a question was utterly fake, Josh’s answer is still relevant. Nope; it’s not. This seems like a big-time double standard to me. We can’t pick and choose when forgeries are relevant and irrelevant. They’re always wrong.”[16]

The election was over. Null’s negatives were nowhere near as high as Jerry Aday’s, but as much as the district may have frowned on Josh’s political calculating on the conceal-and-carry vote, they despised the trickery in which the Null campaign had engaged. Beyond the forged e-mail, Null had drawn in money from out-of-state conservative organizations that attacked Josh’s record, his experience and even his age. Voter turnout across the nation was higher in 2004, and the 108th district was no different. The new voters largely favored Null (most likely due to his core issue), but Josh still won the election with 60 percent of the vote, with over 500 more total votes than he received in 2002.[17] We had done our jobs – substance carried the day; the voters were not fooled by a one-issue candidate who leveled unfounded accusations at a principled and thoughtful legislator.

My involvement at the local level and observations of the national political scene slowly led me away from the Republican Party and toward the moderate, detailed and logical views that I appreciated so much from legislators. When I finally left the Republican Party in August of 2006, I reflected fondly on how my involvement with and dedication to the GOP had shaped my political experience, but I rejected the bitter and severely partisan turn that so many politicians had taken:

“After nearly six years of membership — and a fairly loyal voting record, to boot — I’ve left the Republican Party. It was a decision that I’d been wrestling with for over a year and not a conclusion that I came to lightly.

“As a Republican, I was a member of a team, and a winning team at that.

“I played the role of activist, contributor, cheerleader and voter, all in the service of the GOP, which had an overarching philosophy that I overwhelmingly agreed with when I first registered to vote in September of 2000. I could simplify presidential candidates and party platforms into the starkest of black-and-white terms. I gave money to and displayed campaign signs for Republican candidates. I was a team player, and when you’re accepted into a group, you fight for the team just as hard as you can, regardless of cost or consequences.

“And then, something happened between my senior year of high school and last week when I re-registered as an independent. My former conservative colleagues would call it a ‘liberalization perpetuated by the unrealistic atmosphere of an academic environment.’ I would disagree with the arbitrary label ‘liberal’ and call my move toward moderation to be plain and simple common sense.

“Whatever you choose to call it, what happened is undeniable: I realized that politics wasn’t always black-and-white. Issues weren’t cut-and-dried. Spin and lies flowed from both sides of the aisle, and the wide gulf between the political left and right is bridged by a huge sea of moderates who are inaccurately portrayed by both liberals and conservatives alike as an irrelevant group of voters.

“I rejected the politics of ‘you’re either with me or against me.’ On the path of progress, there is no reason that the players can’t meet in the middle.”[18]

It may have sounded as if I was disillusioned with the political process. Perhaps I was, but even stronger than any feelings of disappointment was a belief that things could be done better. I knew they could; I had seen it. When voters truly listened to detailed explanations of candidates’ beliefs rather than listening to sound bites and buying into stereotypes, there was genuine learning and informed decision-making. When Josh explained his views and his votes to the constituents of the 108th district, party labels ceased to exist – he became a principled leader with whom we could agree or disagree based on more than a campaign slogan. When George W. Bush united the nation after September 11th, he had an incredible opportunity to bury much of the partisanship that plagued Washington. The opportunities to unite, or at least to understand alternative points of view in a reasonable fashion, truly exist. We have to be the catalysts for that type of environment; we must facilitate the discussion.


[16] Shooting from the Lip, October 24, 2004

[17] Office of the Secretary of State, State of Kansas

[18] Shooting from the Lip, July 4, 2006



Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Jesse Manning @ 8:24 pm

I had obviously forgone simple slogans and party talking points to make clear my feelings on issues. Despite the deeper research I was doing on various subjects, I was still a committed Republican, and though I do think that Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign wasted time talking about the decision to go to war instead of focusing on how to end it, I brushed aside the topic of motivation in 2004 because it also allowed me to avoid saying the Bush administration had made a mistake. I was extraordinarily anti-Kerry for the same partisan reasons that I displayed four years earlier, although I privately disliked the Republican obsession with labeling Kerry a “flip-flopper.” The gaffe regarding an $87 billion appropriations bill[11] would haunt him through the remainder of his campaign, but I knew that much of what the GOP called flip-flopping, waffling and indecisiveness was simply a more intelligent politician being more thoughtful and more thorough with his answers.[12] John Kerry was far less of a sound bite politician than President Bush. While I remained rabidly anti-Kerry, I wasn’t nearly as pro-Bush as I had previously been. For me, I voted in the 2004 presidential election as many did: I chose who I thought was the lesser of two evils, though my public support for Bush remained solid. After all, I didn’t want to be accused of flip-flopping.

Josh was gearing up for his first re-election campaign in 2004, and through my support of his campaign, I was more openly disagreeing with Republican positions, as well as more openly challenging voters to think about issues in-depth. Josh was facing Tim Null of Gypsum, KS in the general election, and Null was set on making the election about two issues: taxes and gay marriage. By this time, I knew that taxes were the natural fallback for Republican candidates, especially those who didn’t have much substance behind their campaigns. But in 2004, rulings by a few judges in states like Vermont and California had thrust gay marriage into the spotlight. Conservatives across the country were intent on banning gay marriage through constitutional amendments on both the state and federal levels. I was convinced (as were most Democrats and many unaffiliated voters) that the push to “define marriage” was nothing more than a political ploy. Republicans planned to champion gay marriage bans, feeding on the prejudices that the majority of America still held against homosexuality.[13] The strategy was simple – voter fear would lead to GOP victories, and in fact, many voters did place a higher priority on “values issues” rather than economic, general domestic or foreign subjects. Tim Null was one of a multitude of Republican candidates at all levels who sought to use opposition to gay marriage as a way to boost his campaign.

Josh was accused of being a “tax-and-spend liberal” despite the fact that the only taxes raised in Kansas during his first term would have been at the local level and out of his control. Null’s campaign never reached beyond the narrow and simple themes of tax cuts and gay marriage, and though he regularly attempted to drag the Svaty campaign into the mud with him, I urged Josh to stay positive. Experience was on his side this time around. He had a number of accomplishments to be proud of, and his strong character and leadership were indisputable regardless of what the Null campaign said.

“It’s important that voters in the 108th understand the dynamics of this race. With Josh being a Democrat and myself being a Republican, we naturally don’t agree on everything; however, I trust him to competently represent my district by understanding and researching issues and making the decisions that he thinks will best represent his constituency. Josh is very intelligent and willing to put forth the effort to legislate effectively. Plus, he’s not a pawn of his party (few Kansas Democrats could afford to do that) - Josh has voted independently and has built across-the-aisle coalitions with moderates to work on good pieces of legislation to help his district and the people of Kansas. Plus, when Josh gets back to Topeka in January of 2005, he won’t need lessons in how to be a Representative. He’s done it for two years and has learned immensely from his experience. He’ll be ready to get right to work after he’s re-elected.

“I can’t say the same for his opponent. Tim Null has presented himself as a one-issue candidate (perhaps a two-issue candidate, at best), and his major reason for entering the race was the same-sex marriage amendment. … [T]he bottom line is that this is a non-issue. Our rural communities are suffering and conservatives are worried about gay marriage, which, by the way, is not something that is pushed for in Kansas anyway. We have two laws on the books against gay marriage, and constitutions are to define the relationship between the government and the people, not the relationships between people themselves. Without firm beliefs on many other issues, Null would stand to be a great target for lobbyists and special interests that would sway him to vote their way. Party-wise, Null would be a part of the conservative block; we don’t need any more conservatives in the Kansas legislature to attempt to block or stall everything that the governor (or moderates or Democrats) try to do. We need legislators willing to compromise and work with each other for the benefit of Kansans. I can’t hold Tim Null’s lack of legislative experience against him; after all, Josh was new to the House just two years ago. Yet Josh never ran a one-issue campaign. He spoke knowingly about many of the issues facing Kansas in 2002 and earned his election. From what I’ve read, heard, and seen, Tim Null speaks in sound bites designed to catch your attention; they have no actual substance behind them.”[14]

Tim Null certainly wasn’t very stylish, but again, I championed substance over style – or in this particular case, substance over the issue-of-the-moment. In 2002, the voters of the 108th district rejected the incumbent and took a chance on a 22-year-old kid fresh out of college; in 2004, they were asking themselves if they made the right decision. The Null campaign stuck to negative themes in an attempt to convince district voters that Josh was making the wrong decisions on key issues. I was convinced that Null’s “key issues” were foolishly partisan and that his accusations against Josh were untrue. Most of the 2002 campaign team reunited and worked to make sure voters knew Josh’s record and how he stood on real issues of substance. Meanwhile, the Null campaign was busy cooking up dirty tricks. I vaguely knew how divisive and nasty politics on a national level could be. The 2004 election introduced me to how politics could drive even neighbors to take up arms against one another.

The 108th district is mostly rural, mostly conservative and almost entirely white – there was strong support for conceal-and-carry legislation that, if passed, would allow licensed Kansas residents to carry concealed firearms. Josh, himself a white, rural traditionalist, was on record supporting such legislation. Before the campaign season even began to warm up, Falun resident Debbie Neilson sent Josh an e-mail expressing concern about his support for conceal-and-carry. Neilson covered a list of general grievances that are often leveled against conceal-and-carry laws. Josh responded. In hindsight, he probably made a mistake. Instead of simply stating why he supported the legislation, Josh shared his political calculations with a concerned constituent. In his reply, Josh wrote that he supported conceal-and-carry because the majority of his constituents did, but he could take comfort in knowing that Governor Kathleen Sebelius would not sign the legislation into law.[15] While that logic may have calmed Neilson, a constituent who supported conceal-and-carry would likely feel cheated by such a justification – Josh didn’t really support the legislation. He knew that it would be vetoed. But he voted for it anyway to woo further support in his district.

Our version of an October surprise came when the Svaty campaign got word that the Null campaign was distributing copies of the e-mail. Debbie Neilson, it seemed, was a Null supporter and had provided them with Josh’s response to her e-mail. While we believed that Josh could adequately explain himself to the voters, it was late in the campaign. Such political calculations are often unpopular if brought into the open, and if the revelation caused significant harm to Josh’s campaign, there was little time to repair the damage. We knew that some voters would be understandably upset. Others, like my father, were simply satisfied that Josh had voted in line with the wishes of the district: “He’s a representative. That’s his job – to represent!” Either way, there was work to be done. Members of the campaign team set to work investigating how the Null campaign obtained the letter. As it turned out, Debbie Neilson didn’t even own a computer.


[11] During a March 16 appearance at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, Kerry was asked about his vote against an $87 billion supplemental appropriations bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kerry responded, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” Kerry later explained that he had voted for an earlier version of the bill that would help to fund the wars by reducing the Bush tax cuts; however, the damage was already done. The Bush campaign immediately seized upon the comment as evidence of Kerry’s indecisiveness. When Kerry played the comment off as “one of those inarticulate moments late in the evening when I was dead tired in the primaries and I didn’t say something very clearly,” the Bush campaign again fired back, noting in an e-mail to supporters that the $87 billion comment was made early in the afternoon. The subject of their e-mail was “Perhaps His Watch Was On Paris Time?”

[12] Stunningly enough, the Democrats never highlighted President Bush’s various changes of mind, the most prominent of which was his position on nation-building.

[13] President Bush himself entered the debate and altered an earlier position, calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. In the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush recommended leaving the issue to the states.

[14] Shooting from the Lip, September 15, 2004

[15] Governor Sebelius did veto a conceal-and-carry bill in early 2006 (she also vetoed a similar bill in 2004, and her predecessor, Bill Graves, vetoed one in 1997). On March 23, 2006, the Kansas House voted to override the veto, just as the Kansas Senate had the previous day. Kansas became the 39th state to pass conceal-and-carry legislation.



Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Jesse Manning @ 11:04 pm

Though my role in the Svaty campaign didn’t revolve around issue positions, I was exposed to how the simplest of issues could be much more complex than was made apparent by campaign slogans or party platforms. Suddenly, I valued the substance that Josh stood for over the simple themes of the Aday campaign. I was confident that, if elected, no matter how Josh voted on a particular issue, he would give all sides a fair hearing and think through all issues and the consequences of his votes in depth. Suddenly, my skepticism disappeared. Though I value experienced candidates, I value truly thoughtful candidates as well, especially if an incumbent’s experience is leading us in the wrong direction. I had to tell Jerry Aday that I would be helping the Svaty campaign that year. He no longer had my support.

As the negative aura surrounding Aday grew larger, Josh’s campaign took off, and I was there to help nearly every step of the way. We knocked on doors in every community in the district. We walked in parades and talked with locals from Wilson to Solomon. Aday tried to fight back questions about a shady real estate deal, underhanded activities as director of Ellsworth County Economic Development and even his own educational credentials. On November 5, 2002, Josh won 5,197 votes to Aday’s 2,644 – a two-to-one victory over an incumbent legislator.[6]  Josh went on to Topeka in January of 2003; Jerry Aday left Ellsworth for greener pastures.

The entire campaign had much to do with character. Though Josh and his family (who continued to make up the core support group) never directly attacked Aday’s ethics, the questions drummed up by several close supporters were enough to turn voters in the other direction. Josh seemed to have a fresh approach to the job, and many throughout the district admired a young man who so readily jumped into public service. And though character issues had likely won the day for the Svaty campaign, I was convinced that Josh held much more promise beyond being “a good kid.” The core campaign group – the Svaty family, Jerry Marsh, Peg Britton, Saline County Democrats Allan White and Shirley Jacques, and me – was committed to substance over style (though Josh certainly had both in abundance). It was a powerful, meaningful approach that resonated with me, and it was a team of which I was proud to be a part.

My interest in local, state and national politics didn’t wane over the next several years, and my work with the Svaty campaign led me to dig deeper into other issues. Asking questions and challenging longstanding beliefs (both my own and those of others around me) became a hallmark of my political growth. I watched with extreme skepticism as the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, but I fully supported seeing the mission through after the invasion began. During the 2004 presidential campaign, I sought a middle ground on Iraq – a completion of the mission unobstructed by hand-wringing about the past, and a solution that would see the stabilization of Iraq and the withdrawal of our troops:

“Motivation is of little concern to me anymore. First of all, the war has been waged. We can’t go back in time and change the way anything was done. Right or wrong, we’ve got to accept responsibility for Iraq now and help in the rebuilding.

“This campaign (admittedly on both sides) has become too much about ‘the decision’ to go to war. Too late, folks. The decision has been made. We can’t undo it now. Now, we need to be forward looking. We have US troops and Iraqi civilians putting their lives on the line to stabilize Iraq, and they need our support, not our ivory-tower philosophical debates about the past. Debating the decision to go to war will not bring stability to Iraq. It will not stop terrorism. Resolv[ing] to finish the mission and support[ing] the Iraqis unconditionally will.”[7]

I was also standing firm against war protestors, but my opposition was far from reactionary. I tried to respond to critics of the Bush administration in a level-headed, utterly thorough and well-researched way:

“I feel bad for women like Sue Niederer[8] ; I really, honestly do. She’s lost a son in the Iraq War, and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and the loss that she’s feeling. So it’s hard for me to take issue with Sue, or Lila Lipscomb - featured in Fahrenheit 9/11 - or any of the other mothers or families who have lost sons or daughters in Iraq. But I do have a problem with them. They’ve got every right to be mad, and I can’t fault them for that. I do, however, think that their anger perpetuates false information to the American public. After heckling Laura Bush, Sue was arrested and later said, ‘Why the senators, the legislators, the congressmen, why aren’t their children serving?’ And Sue’s comments can get the rest of middle-America fired up, asking, ‘Yeah, why aren’t these guys sending their kids over to die? They’re all too happy to send ours!’

“Sue Niederer’s logic is understandable reactionism, but it’s wrong. There are currently seven members of Congress with children serving in the military, two of whom have served in Iraq. Dave Kopel’s analysis of Fahrenheit 9/11[9] shows that the ratio of US families with a child serving in Iraq is 349:1, or one out of every 349 families has a child in the war. Congress, on the other hand, has a ratio of 268:1. It seems that congressional families are about 23% more likely to have a child serving in Iraq. So when bereaved family members of servicemen and liberal pundits around the country shout that the elites in Congress would be unwilling to sacrifice their sons or daughters, they’re just plain wrong on the numbers. Furthermore, there are 101 veterans in the House and 36 in the Senate. Around 10% of the total US population has served in the military, whereas nearly 26% of Congress has. Regardless of whether their children are serving in a war, many of these Senators and Representatives have served their country.

“Angry protesters across the nation holler at the President, his cabinet members and congressmen because they feel that America’s children are being snatched away from them and sent to die in a foreign land. Never mind that the US military is a volunteer occupation, and has been for 93% of this nation’s history. Never mind that the soldiers in Iraq, whether they like it or not, knew that when they signed up for military service, they faced the possibility of seeing combat, fighting and possibly dying. The collective want of all this anger just seems to be for the Bush daughters to be sent to Iraq. They very well could be sent, if they were to volunteer. But that’s their choice, just like it was a choice for all the men and women currently serving our military.

“Sue Niederer has reason to be upset, but trying to heckle the First Lady (who has had nothing to do with the decision to go to war) and sporting a shirt that said ‘President Bush You Killed My Son’ just doesn’t help the situation. Complaining that senators don’t send their children to war isn’t productive, because it’s not true. This is a great country in which we don’t all have to be picked to serve; we have the choice. Such a choice can be dangerous, even deadly, as the families of over 1000 US soldiers well know. Yes, I feel bad for Sue Niederer and others like her. Their losses can never be regained. At the same time, misinformation is counterproductive. Protesters always look smarter when they have some fact to back up their slogans.”[10]


[6] Office of the Secretary of State, State of Kansas

[7] Shooting from the Lip, October 8, 2004

[8] Sue Niederer’s son, Second Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, was killed in Iraq on February 3, 2004. Niederer came to national prominence when she interrupted First Lady Laura Bush during a September 16, 2004 speech at a Hamilton, New Jersey firehouse.


[10] Shooting from the Lip, September 17, 2004



Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Jesse Manning @ 8:24 pm

Josh’s campaign meetings were held at his parents’ house just south of Ellsworth. They were largely informal affairs, attended by his parents, his brothers and sister, one of his uncles, a couple of interested Ellsworth residents and, occasionally, Democratic Party officials from Salina. Peg Britton was at every meeting. Peg is a longtime Ellsworth resident and, despite being in her mid-seventies at the time, was extremely active in promoting Ellsworth and rural Kansas in general. Her Web site was launched earlier that summer, and Peg had dedicated several blog postings to questionable activities by Jerry Aday, who was also serving as Ellsworth County’s economic development director. Peg’s investigative blogging was enough for constituents to raise questions about Aday’s credibility and dedication to the job, and her opinions set many Ellsworth residents against the path that the economic development program had taken under Aday’s guidance.

Another founding member of Josh’s campaign team was Jerry Marsh, my government and economics teacher at Ellsworth High School. I have immense respect for Mr. Marsh (so much so that I still find it impossible to refer to him by his first name only), and his presence at the first campaign meeting I attended was enough to ease my discomfort about Josh’s campaign. If Jerry Marsh, one of the most intelligent and politically astute men I have ever known, was supporting Josh Svaty, then there must be something to his campaign. Mr. Marsh would never make such a decision lightly. He was not supporting Josh because of his party affiliation or because Josh was a former student. You had to earn Jerry Marsh’s political support, and you had to work even harder to get him to volunteer to work on a campaign.

I showed up at that first meeting not knowing what to expect, and the informal setting of the Svaty farm matched the meandering and unfocused discussion. We reviewed dates of upcoming parades and events happening in towns within the district. We discussed various individuals who would be good for Josh to get acquainted with – big names within the district who may be sympathetic to his campaign. We ran through some talking points and issues with which Josh would want to be familiar (many of the local-level issues were surprisingly foreign to me at the time). And we gossiped about Jerry Aday. It was clear that this campaign was going to be a contest between two personalities – Aday versus Svaty was destined to be “politics-as-usual” versus “a fresh approach.” “Questionable ethics” versus “untouched by corruption.” Aday also had the misfortune of not being originally from the district; Josh was a hometown favorite. While the Svatys had the considerable task of getting Josh’s name out in the more-populous and less-familiar areas of the district in Saline County, Aday’s mounting image problems made clear that the 2002 election for state representative in the 108th district was going to be a referendum on his performance. The Svaty campaign was, for the most part, just along for the ride.

Truthfully, I was disturbed by the allegations against Aday, and I was also taken with Josh’s optimism and his promise as an aspiring public servant.[4]  The local, small-town, central Kansas issues didn’t have the same liberal-conservative divide that was evident on a national level. Character, hard work and good conscience sold local voters on candidates every bit as much as hard-line positions on the usual election fare: taxes and abortion. And while taxes were certainly a central issue in the campaign, our first strategy meeting forced me to think a bit differently about them. The funny thing was that it didn’t require all that much additional thinking to see the issue in an entirely different, more comprehensive light.

In my political universe, taxes were bad. Taxes were too high. We needed to lower taxes and keep them low. That anti-tax logic was the unassailable position of the Republican Party, and a position that I gladly defended with simple statements and simple reasoning during the 2000 presidential campaign cycle. We discussed taxes during Josh’s first campaign meeting, and the group’s overall opposition to several recent income tax cuts passed by the state’s Republican legislature and signed by Governor Bill Graves made me think that perhaps the GOP was right after all – all Democrats want to do is raise your taxes. It was true that the Kansas GOP had passed several state income tax cuts in the late 1990s and first couple of years of the 21st century. However, the issue was much more nuanced than being for or against those tax cuts. The Svaty team was actually for lowering taxes, too – they wanted to see local sales and property tax cuts, because while state income tax levels had gone down, rural areas of the state had to raise property and sales taxes to cover gaps left unfilled by the lower overall state income tax revenue. I covered the issue briefly in a July 4, 2006 blog posting that reviewed a multitude of issues:

“If state income taxes are cut, families in Johnson County (urban, upper class) and Ellsworth County (rural, low-to-middle class) may both see the benefits. Overall state revenues are bound to be lower, however, and money that was once reapportioned to services fairly equally (or on a needs basis) from state income tax revenue is now at a lower overall level. And in order to continue to offer the same level of services, counties will have to rely increasingly on sales and property taxes.

“Sales and property taxes in an urban county like Johnson County bring in plenty of revenue to keep services at the same or similar level. Sales and property taxes in Ellsworth County do not, so in order to continue to provide services at the same level as prior to the sales tax cut, Ellsworth has to raise property and sales taxes.”[5]

The issue of tax cuts was now more complicated, but not by much, and for the first time, I veered away from a strictly partisan mentality about a key issue and looked at it in greater detail. Actions have consequences, and though income tax cuts make for a great campaign issue and may look good in position papers, slashing income taxes too much may negatively affect other forms of revenue generation. Such rampant tax cutting was harming rural Kansas, and my hometown of Kanopolis was the epitome of rural Kansas. Could I honestly continue supporting the GOP position when it was taking a backdoor toll on my rural friends and neighbors?


[4] While I typically value candidates and office-holders with experience, I place equal importance on substance.

[5]  Since late-2003, I have maintained a blog titled Shooting from the Lip. Though the blog has now fallen into an extended period of inactivity, I wrote frequently in 2004 and sporadically in 2005 and 2006.



Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Jesse Manning @ 7:56 pm

I agreed with Hillary’s approach in the debate. I felt bad that she had been blindsided by this question, because I felt like she had given an honest answer. Trying to trick candidates into making gaffes disgusted me. Answers that had no substance but sounded great in a television commercial disgusted me (although I reluctantly see their necessity at times). However, I haven’t always been turned off by sound-bite politics.  In the fall of 2000, as Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush battled for the White House, I was as big a supporter of simple themes, black-and-white stances on issues and one-liners as anyone. As a natural consequence of my preferences, I supported Bush wholeheartedly. Although I was just 18 years old, I could spout talking points and insult liberals – basically anyone who disagreed with me – with the best of them. I found comfort in the ability to fall back on a few safe issues – tax cuts and abortion chief among them.

My entrance into the political realm was a partisan one. I was not just a Republican voter – I was the Republican voter. On Election Day – November 7, 2000 – I stepped proudly out of the booth, confident that voting for anyone with an (R) by their name was the correct thing to do. President Bush’s strong leadership immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11th made me even more certain that the GOP was the one party that could change things for the better. Over the next several years, I reassessed my political views, studied issues in greater detail than what was provided on the Republican Party platform and slowly began to moderate my positions away from blind support of one party. That political evolution began when I stopped being just a political junkie and started becoming involved in the process.

In the summer of 2002, a friend of mine from Ellsworth decided to run for a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives. Josh Svaty and I had known each other since we were kids (and in 2002, our childhoods were fairly recent history). Josh was a senior in high school when I was a freshman; we were not close in high school, although I always enjoyed being around him in various activities in which we were involved – marching band and Forensics. I was good friends with his younger brother, Eli, and had known the entire family as long as I could remember. And despite my admiration for the Svatys’ involvement in the community and good standing among the locals, they had one major flaw – they were all Democrats. They weren’t your Massachusetts-style liberals, by any means, but they were as committed to supporting Democrats as I was to supporting Republicans.

Ellsworth puts on an impressive fireworks display every summer; I came across Josh at the 2002 “Star-Spangled Spectacular” while he was manning a booth, passing out shirts, signs and information about his campaign to unseat State Representative Jerry Aday, a Republican from Ellsworth. Since he had just graduated from college, I was genuinely surprised that he was running for the legislature. The family knew very well that I was a Republican, but Josh asked for my help anyway – I told him that I’d consider it. My offer of consideration was genuine, but my initial thoughts were almost all negative. Josh had never held a job before; beyond academics and ideas, what experience did he bring to the table? Such  youth and inexperience translated into a whole slew of deficiencies – Josh had never paid a mortgage, never raised a family, never paid taxes (at least not the heavy income taxes that the majority of his constituents were paying). Besides, I’d supported Aday in 2000. I’d have a hard enough time supporting a Democrat. Switching sides would seem almost traitorous. But Josh was a friend, and I was determined to give his campaign a serious look, which marked my first deviation away from a strictly partisan mentality. The bonds of friendship and familiarity can often be a great asset in overcoming bullheaded partisanship.



Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Jesse Manning @ 7:33 pm

Clinton almost certainly hoped that her final explanation was enough to put punctuation on the issue. Senator Edwards saw to it that the audience didn’t forget the muddled answer. Brian Williams changed the subject and asked Edwards a softball question about government guidelines for Internet-based content. He brushed the issue aside to turn back toward Clinton:

“Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes just a few minutes ago.

“And I think this is a real issue for the country. I mean, America is looking for a president who will say the same thing, who will be consistent, who will be straight with them. Because what we’ve had for seven years is double-talk from Bush and from Cheney, and I think America deserves us to be straight.”

Senator Obama nodded in agreement and was asked by Williams to expand on his non-verbal concurrence:

“I was confused on Senator Clinton’s answer. I can’t tell whether she was for it or against it. And I do think that is important. One of the things that we have to do in this country is to be honest about the challenges that we face.

“Immigration is a difficult issue. But part of leadership is not just looking backwards and seeing what’s popular or trying to gauge popular sentiment. It’s about setting a direction for the country. And that’s what I intend to do as president.”[2]

In a few brief moments, both Edwards and Obama were able to take one jumbled question-and-answer session and turn it into something much larger: a contrast between how Hillary Clinton would run the country and how they would run the country. A single misstep on a single question was enough for Obama and Edwards to redefine Clinton’s campaign, at least temporarily. Hillary was suddenly (and, according to the media, opposing campaigns and many viewers, quite obviously) nothing more than the consummate politician with her finger in the air, testing which way the wind was blowing. When she saw that more of her colleagues on stage were against granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants than were for it, she backtracked. She changed her mind and waffled on an issue that the majority of American’s believe requires firm leadership in order to solve. And she did so all in an incredibly short amount of time.

The debate subsequently devolved into ridiculous questions about Halloween and Representative Kucinich’s encounter with a UFO, but the damage was done. The media, the public and most certainly Senators Obama and Edwards would remember Hillary’s back-and-forth on immigration as the most memorable few minutes of the night.

It was not a good night for Hillary; her solid performance throughout the Drexel debate was undermined by that one question, and for the next two weeks, her campaign would scramble to regain momentum while both Obama and Edwards took to the skies in earnest.

Again, my personal dilemma was that I agreed with Hillary – not necessarily her opinion on the issue in question, but for her original thorough response to a question that sought an answer beyond a simple “yes” or “no.”

She was not my candidate of choice. My candidate, Senator Biden, garnered a whole seven minutes of air time, although his performance undoubtedly helped his public profile, if not his campaign.[3]  I didn’t particularly care for Hillary Clinton and often considered her to be exactly what Obama and Edwards accused her of being – a slick political opportunist with her eye on consolidating her own power and influence. But I was sympathetic to her after the Drexel debate. Her answer seemed genuine and thoughtful, but in an era where the media feeds viewers sound bites over substance, any answer that isn’t firmly on one side of the issue or the other is viewed as confusing. It seems that the more a political candidate seeks to explain his or her views, the less-popular they become. Constituents are suspicious of office-holders or candidates who are thoughtful and deliberate on issues, believing them to be either indecisive or having something to hide.

What particularly bothered me about the Drexel debate was how the hosts and the other candidates played into such a mentality. Tim Russert did not ask Senator Clinton a yes-or-no question to begin with; he asked, in a roundabout way, for an explanation of why New York Governor Eliot Spitzer would recommend that illegal immigrants be given driver’s licenses.

Russert did not ask the other candidates the same question. He debased the original question to a show of hands – a yes-or-no proposition. When Hillary sought to clarify her answer regarding her personal feelings on the issue, the other candidates attacked. Her inability to give a firm positional response drew the ire of Obama and Edwards, who ridiculed her answers in spite of being men who tout themselves as being able to work across the aisle and see all sides of an issue prior to making a decision. Hillary clearly wasn’t the only opportunist on the stage that night.


[2] MSNBC Democratic debate transcript, October 30, 2007 —

[3] Biden gained media attention when, instead of focusing on his Democratic rivals, he went after former-New York Mayor and Republican frontrunner Rudy Giuliani, calling him “the most under-qualified man since George Bush to seek the presidency,” and chiding Giuliani’s favored speaking style: “[T]here’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11.”



Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Jesse Manning @ 10:43 pm

Tim Russert had posed the question: “Senator Clinton, Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer has proposed giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. He told the Nashua, New Hampshire, Editorial Board it makes a lot of sense. Why does it make a lot of sense to give an illegal immigrant a driver’s license?”

Clinton responded, “Well, what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform. We know in New York we have several million at any one time who are in New York illegally. They are undocumented workers. They are driving on our roads. The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds. It’s probability.

“So what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is to fill the vacuum. I believe we need to get back to comprehensive immigration reform because no state, no matter how well intentioned, can fill this gap. There needs to be federal action on immigration reform.”

The question itself was tricky – not a yes-or-no question, but one that seemed to steer Senator Clinton in a direction to explain Governor Spitzer’s plan, not necessarily to take a position on it. And Hillary answered in such a way but made clear in her answer that comprehensive immigration reform on a federal level was her preferred solution. Russert’s follow-up question – “Does anyone here believe an illegal immigrant should not have a driver’s license?” – bypassed the original intent of the question directed at Clinton and aimed to generate distinct yes-or-no, black-or-white answers from the candidates. Senator Dodd, in one of his rare opportunities to speak, told the audience that he was firmly against providing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. The stage for the gaffe was set; Hillary unwittingly interjected herself back into the conversation in order to clarify her position given the turn the question had taken.

“Well, I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize what Governor Spitzer is trying to do.”

Dodd was the first to pounce. Hillary had spoken in favor of Spitzer’s plan just moments earlier, he said, and now she had switched positions. Obama and Edwards were handed the ammunition they needed to target not just Hillary’s record, but also her integrity. And Senator Clinton fell into a brief back-and-forth with Dodd about the specifics of the plan, which only served to muddy the waters. When Russert asked Clinton directly to clarify her answer, she responded:

“You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays ‘gotcha.’ It makes a lot of sense. What is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problem. We have failed. And George Bush has failed. Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of real desperation, trying to get a handle on this? Remember, in New York, we want to know who’s in New York. We want people to come out of the shadows.

“He’s making an honest effort to do it. We should have passed immigration reform.”



Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Jesse Manning @ 8:02 pm

October 30, 2007 – it was the beginning of a tough couple of weeks for Hillary Clinton. The Democratic senator from New York was by far the party’s favorite in the 2008 presidential primary, the path of which stretched back to late-2006 and early-2007. While Clinton enjoyed large leads in nearly every poll conducted in the waning months of 2007, nationwide numbers did not accurately portray voters’ feelings in the two states that would matter most come early-2008 – Iowa and New Hampshire.

The race to be the Democratic nominee was tightening up, particularly in Iowa, and Clinton’s closest rivals – Illinois Senator Barack Obama and former-Senator John Edwards of North Carolina – made no bones about their campaign strategies. They were going on the offensive. They were going to get more aggressive and make sure that they not only adequately answered questions posed to them at an MSNBC-sponsored debate at Drexel University in Philadelphia, but also contrasted each of their answers with Clinton’s record.

Senators Obama and Edwards were not bluffing; that evening’s debate was not nearly as cordial as several previous encounters had been. As unfair as the venue may have been to the second-tier Democratic candidates, MSNBC’s favoritism toward the three frontrunners may have been even worse for Hillary. She was placed squarely in the middle of the stage, Obama to her left and Edwards to her right. The second-tier candidates were all but ignored while hosts Brian Williams and the late Tim Russert peppered Clinton, Obama and Edwards with questions, playing up the grudge match promised by the two senators nipping at Hillary’s heels. Clinton alone had 21 distinct opportunities to address the crowd.[1]  While she may have gotten more face time, more on-camera moments meant more answers to be scrutinized … and more chances to make a mistake.

Senator Clinton held her own during the debate, staying largely above the fray and focusing on her own credentials and plans rather than tearing down those of her opponents. Near the end of the night, the Obama and Edwards camps got what they had been hoping for – a Clinton gaffe. By all post-debate accounts from the media and other campaigns, Clinton had stumbled on a question about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. She was indecisive. She waffled on an important issue. She shared her husband’s oft-infuriating penchant for splitting hairs.

My personal dilemma was, I agreed with Hillary.


[1] Clinton was able to address the audience 21 distinct times during the debate. Obama had 18 opportunities, and Edwards spoke 14 times. A handful of these speaking opportunities were rebuttals granted to the top-tier candidates, though most were simply questions directed toward the frontrunners. The second-tier candidates – Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Governor Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) – had nine, eight, seven and six opportunities to speak, respectively. The combined answers of the second-tier candidates amounted to less than a quarter of the two-hour debate.


Filed under: political musings, Jesse Manning — Peg Britton @ 7:50 pm

About a year ago, Jesse Manning dedicated some time to writing a bit of history so that events as he remembered them didn’t slip away. Some of what he has written covers national politics from the last eight years; some covers local politics from the last six years and much covers his own view of the political sphere, both past, present and future. His account is not only recollections of his political interest and involvement. It is also a call to action — a call for everyone, regardless of political persuasion or background, to become engaged and involved in our political process so as to hold our government and its leaders to task.

Over the next week or so, Jesse has generously offered to share what he has written. It’s a long and detailed account, but particularly important during this political season. Please take the time to read it, part by part. It brings back memories of recent history and gives an important perspective on the current political climate. He has titled it “Shades of Gray.”

Stay tuned…



Filed under: prairie musings, Jesse Manning — Peg Britton @ 8:58 pm

The following is from Jesse Manning. Maybe you’ll have some explanations to offer as to the costs to pass on to him. This happened in Manhattan.

“About two months ago I cut my thumb deep enough that I had to go to the emergency room and get three stitches. I wasn’t wild about going, since I knew it was going to be expensive but wouldn’t meet my insurance deductible, so I’d have to pay.

“I didn’t have my insurance card on me when I got there, so I took it into the hospital billing department the next day.

“A few weeks later, I got a bill: $267 for the stitches, etc. and $86 for the ER service. Despite being a good chunk of money for me, I didn’t think that was too bad. I called the emergency service and made sure they had submitted that to insurance so it would count towards my total deductible for the year; they hadn’t. They said to forget about that bill, that they would submit the info to my insurance and I would receive more information later.

“When I got home yesterday, I had a statement from my insurance company that they had been billed $880.78 for “emergency services” (and it was actually $1100.78, but it dropped by $220 for some reason). I called the emergency services to ask them why the bill submitted to insurance was so much higher than what I was originally sent — it turns out that the $880 isn’t from them, it’s a separate bill from the hospital for “using their facilities.”

“No one on the phone can explain to me why it cost $880 to sit in a waiting room and bleed for two hours.

“Added together, the two bills will be nearly $1250, and since my deductible is $1000, insurance isn’t going to pay much at all. If those costs are legitimate, I swear I’ll bleed to death before I ever go back to one of those thieving places again.

Jesse J. Manning

“P.S. I’ve talked to a few people who seem to think that’s a reasonable and expected cost for ER services. I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem right to me. I won’t be paying them until they explain to me exactly what that $880 is for … and “using the facilities” won’t be a good enough answer. I want to know why sitting in a waiting room merits such a pricey bill. Maybe if you post it, you’ll get some responses.

“Anyhow, it’s my first medical venture “on my own,” so it’s been an interesting, if not upsetting, experience.”

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