Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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After the 2004 election, a number of disappointed Democrats suggested that they would prefer to leave South Dakota. This included people who were operating farms and ranches homesteaded by their families. Back when we thought web logs were good places for political parties to work out their concerns and policies, we reported this. Unfortunately, those who consider it their job to misdefine and misrepresent political views they don't like intruded into the discussion and ended it. However, that did not end the questioning about whether the state could any longer provide a tolerable social and political environment for those who do not subscribe to the values demonstrated by the winning side in the election.
Time and again, the discussions within the party centered on the fact that the issue was not that John Thune won and Tom Daschle lost. The issue was that one of the nastiest, most unprincipled campaigns conducted in the nation in recent years won. The campaign, our party members argued, was an expression of the values and characters of those who conducted and participated in the campaign. The question, then, was a matter of living in a political system in which people impose values and use tactics against other people that are contrary to what are regarded, by many Democrats, at least, as values essential to American democracy. The values and attitudes expressed resonated deeply with the same defamations of personhood and denigrations of human worth of the most depised political regimes in recent world history.
We maintain a list with the e-mail and mailing addresses of those who are most active in supporting and discussing the affairs and policies of our party. As circumstances change, we have to make weekly adjustments to the list. The last half year or so has made working on the list an occasion for sadness. It is difficult to take the names of those who die off the list. Some elderly Democrats were the most dependable and loyal participants in the grunt work of the party. They would sit and stuff envelopes and give seminars on local political history. In recent months, I have removed a number of their names from our list.
What weighs heavily when removing those names is the realization that their children and families have moved from South Dakota. No family members are left as a presence in the region or as a representative of a family that once found the state a place that supported their livings. No one is left to provide a perspective on why they were Democrats and what they did to build the state.
A number of names are marked as people in transition. Some people who spend winters in warmer climates have decided not to return to South Dakota and are in the process of making other places their home residences. Others are waiting to complete real estate transactions before moving. And many young people who are attending college out-of-state have decided to register to vote in their college towns rather than their hometowns in South Dakota. In our region of the state, attrition is changing the politics. But part of what is driving that attrition is a sense of hopeless dismay over an election campaign that seriously damaged the moral and civic climate of the state. Part of the attrition is by people who have abandoned politics because it has become a dishonorable business. It is not about forging policy and law. It is about character assassination.
On a daily basis, I get e-mails and letters from some young defectors who invite me to join the Green Party. In fact, recent changes in our communications reflect their participation and influence.
I changed parties when I moved to South Dakota from Illinois. For all of my working life, I have been involved in encouraging people to participate in the political process. The e-mails and letters I get give me pause about politics. How can anything that has gotten so bad produce anything good? From the number of names I am striking from our mailing lists, I think a significant number of people have made their decisions. Changing parties and moving are part of the American way. So is escaping politics altogether.