Northern Valley Beacon

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Saving John Thune

After the BRAC Commision voted to keep Ellsworth Air Force Base, there was a brief flurry of make-nice and smarm about what a non-partisan, team effort went into making the case. Senators Johnson and Thune even collaborated on a "ain't-cooperation-wonderful" column in the local newspaper, or whatever that journalistic atrocity is. Over the weekend, the gag reflex had quite a workout.

Relief came quickly. Soon the media and, of course, the web logs began their crowing about John Thune returning to the world of the political living. They have assigned him all sorts of important offices such as leader of the Republican Senate Committee to Get Even More Duds in Office, vice president, and even president. The wild humor of John Thune in that latter office was an effective antidote to the smarm.

However, there are all sorts of fictional and semi-creative accounts of how Thune saved Ellsworth. We have no doubt that John Thune worked diligently and strenuously to save Ellsworth. For John Thune, much more than an Air Force Base and 4,000 jobs were at stake. His political ass was on the line.

There are no accounts of what other people did, the contacts they made, the work they and their staffs did to contribute to the Ellsworth effort. Work on the Ellsworth issue began long before the election of 2004. After the election, work began in earnest. People knew that it would be placed on the list for closure. The arguments for its closure had been made ten years previously. They came up again. And they had behind them the additional impetus of the administration and the Republican Peevish Commmittee to discredit anything Tom Daschle ever did. In the end, it was the weakness and the underlying political motives behind the 2005 closure recommendation that saved Ellsworth. The BRAC Commission didn't buy it, and the heavy work in saving the base was in exposing the shaky arguments and peevish motives. At a county party meeting in March, two months before the closure list was released, the reasons that Ellsworth would appear on it and the arguments that would be advanced to support its closure were discussed and analyzed. The forces of support for the maintenance of the base were already at work to insure that the merits of the base would not be submerged by arguments based upon partisan and vindictive motives.

Ellsworth has been reprieved for another ten years, at least. However, as new weapon systems are developed, the B-1 bombers will most likely be retired and Ellsworth will most likely see a phase-out of its mission. The economic circumstances of West River are not necessarily stabilized with the reprieve of Ellsworth.

Nor are the political fortunes of John Thune.

Former Daschle campaign manager Steve Hildebrand made the comment after the Ellsworth reprieve that Thune will have to watch his back. There are people who will not let the temporary relief from the closing of Ellsworth obscure the intensity of their opposition to John Thune. He still has the campaign of 2004 to account for.

As part of a group that canvassed for Tom Daschle, I was struck by the intensity of the hatred that had been fanned against him. When we probed for the reasons behind the hatred, we often got reasons that did not justify the intensity of the hatred. The reasons given were largely untrue. We realized we were dealing with people whose own sense of identity requires that they have someone to place the blame on for all the ills of the world and to passionately hate--whether it be a race, a social class, or a politician who has gained the prominence of Tom Daschle. We give the Republican propagandists credit for providing the chronic haters with a focus and herding them into their voting ranks. They are a dependable part of the Republican base, and the Democrats are loathe to appeal to this segment of the population, which seems to be gaining in numbers.

When it comes to our dislike of John Thune, we suppose hatred is involved. The old cliche about hating the sin and not the sinner comes to mind, but that begs the question of holding the sinner responsible for the sins he commits.

For people in northeastern South Dakota, there is plenty of reason in Thune's record to oppose him. Initially, he did not think the region important to have a Congressional service office. Members of his party changed his mind on that. He opposed the expansion of the four-lane segment of U.S. 12 over to I-29 and the U.S. 281 by-pass around Aberdeen. He said that they were matters of Democrat tax-and-spend schemes and the government could not afford the pork. We recall the public dressing-down he took on that from the committee in charge as they explained that northeastern South Dakota was in the throes of an economic downturn and outmigration of people and needed to bolster its infrastructure to remain viable. He did not belong to any agricultural caucuses in Congress until a poltical opponent asked how he could represent a rural state when he was not involved in the study and discussion of rural issues. He was oblivious to the Lewis Clark water development project and the need it is designed to serve. John Thune's service in the House was as a partisan claque who would do as he was told and echo the party-line cant. He didn't appear to be doing any real harm, but he certainly did not represent the interests and needs of his state.

But his record of fecklessness is not the source of our intense opposition. His campaign of 2004 was. We have often repeated the observation that the Thune campaign of 2004 was as unprincipled, malicious, defamatory, and dishonest as the Saxby Chambliss campaign was against Max Cleland in Georgia. We read a recent defense of the Chambliss campaign by a Thune supporter. That defense detailed how to take an ostensible fact, such as a vote on a particular issue, and contort and pervert it into a lie intended to do damage. The defense was a manual in how to create Newspeak misrepresentations of fact and character. Rather than refute the fact that the Cambliss campaign was based upon totally malgnant personal attack, the defense demonstrated how it is done. And what it demonstrates is what was done to Tom Daschle.

All the Ellsworth-type efforts John Thune can muster do not redeem him from the vicious and cynical denials of basic democratic values he exerted during the campaign of 2004. Our opposition to John Thune is simple: the debased and vicious campaign he conducted makes him morally and intellectually unfit to represent us.

He and those who subscribe to his values and methods have much to account for. The Ellsworth episode does not exempt them from that accountability.

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