Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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Tom Daschle actually has not made a reappearance on the political scene. He did not stop thinking and talking about the things he has been working for more than a quarter of century after the election of 2004. He had to make some decisions about the best way to work for those objectives.
Beginning the day after the election, many people began to encourage Tom Daschle to use his resources and his influence to do something for South Dakota. I know. I was there. And I was one of the implorers. I am among those who thought he should establish a think tank and eventually a foundation to study and promote policies on the upper plains.
The Dakotas have few people who actually examine with knowledge and rigor how policies affect the state. We know what the Land Grant College Act signed at the height of the Civil War did for the nation as a whole. The Dakotas benefitted from that Act. And we know that the people who settled South Dakota were regarded as expendable serfs with no rights or significance to the ruling hierarchy until the settlers got organized and used the government to obtain some equity in the agricultural marketplace. South Dakota lagged behind North Dakota on issues of social and economic equity. South Dakota from its time as a territory has had an element, sometimes dominant, that celebrates the mean, the unprincipled, and exercise of power as virtues over democratic fairness and decency. Democracy struggles in South Dakota.
Some of us thought a think tank in the Dakotas would have credence and influence. Others thought Tom Daschle should establish a school of public service in a state university. Others thought he should use his talents on a national level, where they were more likely to help the quality of democracy for more people. After his defeat last year, many people simply gave up on South Dakota. It signaled the dominance of an element that is hate driven.
There is a difference between people who hate Tom Daschle and people who detest John Thune. Those of us who canvassed for Tom Daschle found people seething in a mindless rage. Because he is cautious about anti-abortion legislation, he is to them a baby-killer. That is ridiculous, but not to the people who prevailed in South Dakota. Because he thinks an amendment against desecration of the flag takes on totalitarian dimensions against free speech and conflicts with a basic American principle, he is unpatriotic. That is ridiculous, too, but not to those who place the symbol of the flag at higher importance than the Constitution it symbolizes. And because he is successful working with and influencing people in the urban centers, he is a betrayer of good old South Dakota values and people. That is ridiculous, of course, but not to those good people whose social and intellectual perceptions never graduated from middle school. People who hate Tom Daschle begin with a hatred of things democratic. They manufacture misinformation about Tom Daschle that expresses their hatred and they hate with the mindless passion that has put such an ugly taint on contemporary politics.
People who detest John Thune detest what he did. His six years of dilatory ignorance and fecklessness in the House are ridiculously deplorable, but they are not the stuff of hatred. His campaign against Tom Daschle is what is hateful. His campaign revealed a man of low character, a man of unprincipled intellect (if the instincts of a pit viper can be called intellect), and a man who was often the puppet for malevolent and perfidious puppet masters. People do not hate John Thune. They detest his lack of character and his malicious campaign tactics. We think America would be far better off if he could go back to keeping a seat warm in the House. His politics are not what we detest. The way he does politics is what is intolerable.
Many people I know have already left South Dakota--emotionally and spiritually, if not physically. The problems of race, class, and corporate dictatorship keep it in a Third World status. Many have decided that they and their families will never know the benefits of higher laws of democracy unless they move elsewhere.
Tom Daschle has not forgotten the 48 percent of the voters who supported him. He has strong family ties to the state. One of the themes in his speeches is the opportunities for freedom and equity his family found in South Dakota. While he may not run for public office again, his re-emergence onto the political scene signals that someone wants to keep those opportunities alive in South Dakota and elsewhere where the coils of fascism are constricting democracy in our country.
There is one big difference between Tom Daschle and people like me. He did not give up on South Dakota.
He has donated his papers to SDSU to start a Daschle center. Such a center will most likely evolve into a think tank and a university-connected center for public service. He is doing some teaching as an adjunct professor at prestigious schools in the east. He is working with a lobbying firm. But now he has set up a new political action committee to develop and support poltical talent. He will be the featured speaker at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, indicating that he intends to be fully engaged in politics.
In resuming a more visible role on the political scene, Tom Daschle has demonstrated something for his state and his country. It's called leadership.