South Dakota Politics
A University of South Dakota law student's blog dedicated primarily to shining light (either a harsh, unyielding spotlight or a soft, warm glow) on figures and institutions in South Dakota.

Thursday, December 25, 2003  

Today's edition of the LA Times contains an interesting piece that connects South Dakota, L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," and Christmas, headlined "A Wonderful Wizard."

posted by Jason | 11:14 AM

Wednesday, December 24, 2003  

It's Christmas Eve Day, and J. Bottum of the Weekly Standard has a fitting piece for those celebrating a South Dakota Christmas: "Chasing Horses."

posted by Jason | 10:57 AM

Tuesday, December 23, 2003  

DASCHLE BOOK SALES UPDATE: Today's edition of the New York Times contains an op-ed headlined "Reading, Writing and Running for President." Interesting excerpt:

Book sales, to borrow an economist's phrase, may be a lagging indicator: past sales are no guarantee of future appeal. In addition, book sales can reflect notoriety as much as popularity; curiosity doesn't always translate into votes.

Tom Daschle's book has pretty much bombed (current Amazon sales rank: 3,589) while his Democratic colleague, Zell Miller, has published a book that has become a bestseller (current Amazon sales rank:57).

UPDATE: Daschle's book sales are lagging despite a reported DNC bulk buy.

posted by Jason | 1:39 PM

Monday, December 22, 2003  

The Watertown Public Opinion has an amusing notice:

The Public Opinion online survey question which was published in Friday, Dec. 19, newspaper, "Should John Thune seek an elected office in the 2004 election?" has been changed. An inordinate number of responses were logged leading the Public Opinion to believe one of the political parties may have purposely tampered with the online voting. As with almost all on-line polls or the traditional P/O Straw Ballot, these are not meant to represent scientific polls, but rather the opinions of those who participate. However, systematically attempting to skew the results in one way or another, as exemplified by the work done to Friday's P/O online poll, is a behavior that is reprehensible and violates the spirit of these types of opinion polls. Because of this, we were forced to delete the original question. The new question can be viewed at

Apparently, the Daschle campaign has $3 million and 30 campaign staffers who have nothing better to do.

posted by Jason | 4:44 PM

KRANZ WATCH: Daniel Okrent, the ombudsman or "public editor" for the New York Times, is doing a great job at his new post. We've e-mailed back and forth occasionally regarding certain stories, and Okrent and his assistant, Arthur Bovino, have made a good faith effort to investigate the issues brought to their attention. Okrent's latest piece is headlined "You Can Stand on Principle and Still Stub a Toe" and makes a point that could be applied to the events last summer that outed David Kranz, the dean of South Dakota political reporters, as too inextricably linked with Tom Daschle to be able to report objectively on stories related to Tom Daschle (for the details, see the links under "Talon News Series on Argus Leader Bias" on the right side of this page). Excerpt from Okrent's piece:

WHEN a news subject tries to get a reporter removed from a story, a challenge has been issued to the core of a newspaper's self-image: its integrity. Unless editors see a clear case of bias or conflict, they tend to respond the way you or I would respond to, say, an insult to a family member. They stiffen with indignation. They try at the same time to support the wounded loved one. Were they to concede, the humiliation could hurt more than the charge itself.

The distinction is that the subject of Kranz's reporting--Tom Daschle--is not trying to get Kranz removed from stories relating to him. In fact, Tom Daschle WANTS Kranz to cover him, because the Argus Leader in general and Kranz in particular are instruments of the Daschle campaign, tending to highlight stories that reflect positively on Daschle, and tending to bury or ignore stories that reflect negatively on Daschle.

The point is, there is certainly evidence that exists which tends to show Kranz has a conflict of interest in covering Tom Daschle. If the AL is interested in at least appearing to objectively cover Tom Daschle, it could start by relegating Kranz's Sunday columns to the op-ed page, where they used to appear. Another thing the AL could do is to hire someone to perform as a "public editor" in the same way that Okrent performs for the NYT. Having the AL's executive editor moonlighting as the "public editor" doesn't wash.

posted by Jason | 3:20 PM

NPR, an institution that is part of Tom Daschle's infrastructure of attack, profiled the minority leader in today's Morning Edition. Interestingly, today's Morning Edition also contained a story headlined "Probe: Backroom Deals Fueled Boeing Scandal" that omits any mention of Linda Daschle, one of Boeing's top lobbyists.

posted by Jason | 2:22 PM

WHERE'S THE CLOUT?: The Washington Post has a story in today's edition headlined "Democrats Forced To Work on Margins" which leads one to ask what kind of clout Tom Daschle has when he is "forced to work on the margins" of the Senate. Excerpt:

On several of the issues, Democrats were divided, and some concede their responses were limp and late. As a result, they had little impact on most of the major legislation that dominated Congress's agenda at year's end, although they blocked passage of the energy and spending bills, at least until Congress reconvenes Jan. 20.

(Emphasis added). So Tom Daschle has little impact on major legislation, and chooses not to use what impact he does have to get the energy bill passed (which would tremendously help South Dakota farmers), and uses his senatorial prerogative (available to the most junior senator) to block the spending bill, which gives money for nursing homes and infrastructure in South Dakota. That sure is some clout the man has.

posted by Jason | 1:55 PM

Sunday, December 21, 2003  

A South Dakota State University history professor has written a review of Tom Daschle's book, which appears in this week's edition of The Weekly Standard. Read the whole thing:

IN SOUTH DAKOTA, Tom Daschle is known for wooing the opposition. And, the truth is, he has to woo--since South Dakota Republicans have a ten-point registration advantage over Democrats. In 1992, he even called to woo me, a lowly college junior at the time, and we visited for over forty minutes. The subject was a column I had written for the college newspaper asking why he voted with northeastern liberals such as George Mitchell. It was the early stages of Daschle's rise to power under Mitchell's tutelage, and he was clearly nervous about the friction between serving under Mitchell and representing a very non-Mitchell sort of state.

In his new memoir, "Like No Other Time," Daschle concedes that the "majority of South Dakotans are conservatives." But the contradictions between Daschle's leadership obligations and his state's conservative leanings have so far not hobbled his Senate campaigns. Since he began his ascent under Mitchell, Daschle's opponents have been unknown and unfunded. The 2004 race could be an ordeal, however, as Daschle's ability to woo his way around the contradictions may finally collapse.

Daschle's book reviews various political moments of the last three years: the 2000 election, the evenly divided Senate, Senator Jeffords's abandonment of the Republicans, Daschle's reign as Senate majority leader, the attacks of September 11, and the 2002 midterm elections. The book is Daschle's gloss on events, of course, and it's basically campaign literature. Its chronology could have included the Senate impeachment trial of 1999, for example, but that would be politically foolish (saving Clinton's bacon was not high on the list of priorities for South Dakota voters). Instead, Daschle begins with a partisan jab: The 2000 presidential election was "ended not by voters, but by judges," as Gore was "cheated in Florida."

With an eye to his 2004 Senate bid in a state where 60 percent of voters supported President Bush in 2000 (and haven't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in forty years), Daschle wants to be seen as something of a friend of Bush. He presses the absurd argument that he does not obstruct the president's agenda--indeed, the "entire concept of 'obstructionism' simply makes no sense." For Daschle, such criticism is an attempt to "silence the voices of opposition in a democratic society" and to "invite something in the way of autocracy." It was Republican senators who "turned the filibuster into an art form in the 1990s" and unfairly used it after the Jeffords switch.

He particularly blames Bush for the tone of Washington politics. Daschle says he wanted more Eisenhower-esque "leadership breakfasts" with the president to foster bipartisanship. While bemoaning the "polarization and partisanship" in Washington, Daschle labels a Bush judicial nominee an "apologist for racist cross burners." He also notes how President Bush and his advisers were "cutting their losses on politically popular issues." Daschle knows of what he speaks, having recently voted for a ban on lawsuits against the gun industry and a ban on partial-birth abortions.

The assumption that voters won't notice such hypocrisy is a sign that Daschle believes contradictions can be papered over with political maneuvering and spin. Contrasting Daschle to George McGovern underscores how much American liberalism has shriveled in a half-century. McGovern succeeded in South Dakota politics after World War II as an articulate war hero/professor, a political risk-taker with a grand vision. McGovern left his safe academic post to organize the state's Democratic party--at a time when Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the state legislature 108 to 2. When he became a senator, he drew upon the intellectual traditions of Progressivism and the Social Gospel to shape his views. Daschle, on the other hand, hires Clinton operatives to conduct focus groups and take polls. McGovern's soft-spoken approach was moving, his voice that of a Methodist minister's son and a deliberative scholar, one who respected the importance of rationality in democratic discourse. Daschle tries to imitate the McGovern style, but he just sounds mousy.

The trajectory of their careers is also instructive. McGovern began as part of the grand Rooseveltian coalition that sought to complete the unfinished work of the New Deal, an unapologetic advocate of using government to reconstruct whole sectors of American life, and he was willing to alienate the party establishment and rebel against Johnson's prosecution of the Vietnam War. He built a mass movement of outsiders (by literally rewriting the rules) and captured the Democratic presidential nomination. Daschle, on the other hand, niggles with details. He's concerned with whether the nation should "retroactively repeal the alternative minimum tax for large corporations." In his book he describes his monumental decision as majority leader to change the name of the "Democratic Steering Committee" to the "Democratic Steering and Coordination Committee."

In contrast to the myriad of programs and policies cranked out during the New Deal and Great Society, a reader searches in vain for one original idea in Daschle. Instead of advancing a broad vision, Daschle does errands for the Democratic party's interest groups: Tort reforms are killed for the trial lawyers, judicial appointees are filibustered for the pro-choice lobby, school choice is undermined for teachers' unions, and major bills on aviation and homeland security are delayed for public-employee unions. Daschle's position on Iraq, for another example, is embarrassing when
contrasted with McGovern's on Vietnam.

Although carefully scripted, some revealing comments in Daschle's book slip by the screeners, probably because they are such fixed constellations in the Democratic universe that nobody noticed. Daschle, for example, was critical of President Bush's "axis of evil" speech in the wake of the terrorist attacks because he is "uncomfortable" with use of the term "evil" and the "language of religious conflict." When the president said in his speech after the attacks of September 11 that "either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists," Daschle found it "worrisome." Daschle offers no indication he understands the nature or depth of the Islamo-fascist threat to the nation. He sees the "war on terrorism" in terms of political "strategy." The most he says, without any explication or deeper imagination or sense of moral horror, is that the rule of the Taliban was "harsh."

Although Daschle relentlessly prepares for an opponent from the right in 2004, his biggest problem may be a leadership challenge from the left. After being rolled on the Bush tax cuts, Bush's major education reform bill, the war in Iraq, and now prescription drugs, his caucus must be seething. The anger among rank-and-file Democratic voters is already palpable in the ascendancy of Howard Dean.

Preventing his caucus from erupting, obstructing the president's agenda in an election year without it looking like obstruction, and wooing swing-vote Republicans in South Dakota is a long pull for Daschle. His greatest wooing tool, his clout, was blunted when he failed to line up the necessary votes to pass an energy bill with its ethanol provisions (he was out signing copies of his book). His hard times argument may also evaporate. Although Daschle views the Bush economy as "failing," "floundering," and "plunging," his argument will seem silly if the current economic growth rate continues. And Daschle's campaign may be bogged down by his obligation to brag about the importance of a future President Dean.

But if he wants to start wooing, he can call me. Again.

posted by Jason | 11:39 PM
Ungarnered Praise
Talon News Series on Argus Leader Bias