Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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Shortly after the election of 2004, when I and my family were traveling out-of-state on family business, we got tired of "What the f--- is wrong with you people in South Dakota?" They were referring to Tom Daschle being voted out of office. It was a question that employment interviewers asked, which we found strange, until we realized they were genuinely puzzled.
Even my friend Col. Mac, a retired Army Ranger from WW II through Viet Nam and who watches that O'Reilly thing, asked the question. Mac never leaves the f-word unembellished, and he made it abundantly clear that he thought the state did something unusually stupid on election day a year ago. He knows that my spouse was a Daschle Senate staffer and that I hold an office in the county Democrats and did a lot of work on the Daschle campaign. Still, he posed the question as if we were members of an operational squad that screwed up and let the state go awry.
We came to realize that people outside South Dakota were puzzled because they had not witnessed the campaign that took place inside South Dakota. When we informed them of the blitz of character assassination and malevolent fabrications that were the basis of the Thune campaign, their puzzlement was not reduced. They asked if people really fell for tactics like that. We did not answer. The election results spoke to the answer. So does the continuing scurrility on some web logs. There is an appreciable number of people who get viciously resentful when someone from South Dakota is successful on a national level, and they have to fabricate reasons to justify their hatred and their petulant resentment. This attitude is evident to all but those who are possessed by it.
People outside the state did not perceive Tom Daschle as an obstructionist. They saw him as a man with a legitimate political viewpoint that he presented to the opposition party, despite their constant whining that he would not roll over for them. They saw him as a master politician who represented his constituents and his party with integrity and effectiveness. They saw him as a man with whom they could disagree, but not distrust. They saw him as a national leader who had successfully worked in the D.C. milieu and they understood that when senators buy houses in D.C., they are making life more efficient in the place they have to work; they are not abandoning their constituents. When we pointed out that Tom Daschle's house in D.C. became a serious campaign issue, Mac said of South Dakota, how can you stand to live there?
People constantly remarked that Tom Daschle was too valuable and effective a force in public service to lose. The work of his Senate staffs in South Dakota was the envy and often the resentment of colleagues in both parties. It was not unusual for people from other states who were encountering problems with bureaucracies to ask if he, as minority leader, could take on their cases. In the campaign, Tom Daschle made clear that he would not stoop to the level of his opponent and expected those working in his behalf to present themselves accordingly.
We now have a senator who has still to answer for his debased campaign. And we have an ex-senator who is remembered for his skill, his absence of malice, and his integrity.
Beginning the night after the election, people were asking Tom Daschle what he planned to do next. Their questions were phrased to indicate that they assumed anything he would do next would be something in the realm of public service that would affect the political climate of the nation. After the performance of the Bush administration, people are naturally thinking of a president who can turn the country from the belligerent dishonesty of Enron, the war on Iraq, the war profiteering, the refusal to take environmental responsibilities, the insidious war against the poor and working people, the catering to groups that want to oppress and disenfranchise those against whom they hold prejudices, and who can replace incompetence with competence.
Whether Tom Daschle is entertaining a run for the presidency is, at this time, totally a matter of conjecture. He has many other ways to effect change in the American political climate and in restoring the nation to integrity and responsibility. He works as a policy consultant and recently joined the think tank Center for American Progress. South Dakota will not be much of a factor in determining Tom Daschle's future. There are too many people throughout the nation that now realize that our nation has taken a five-year slide into disrepute. They are looking for leadership of the quality they have seen on the Senate floor. Whatever role Tom Daschle plays on the national scene, it will be one he serves at the urging of an enlightened people.