I grew up in South Dakota when George McGovern was in the Senate. I doubt that more than a small minority of South Dakotans had any idea that their Senator was regarded as the most liberal politician in America, the darling of leftists from Hollywood to Manhattan. When he was in South Dakota, all McGovern ever talked about was farm policy. Times have changed, and it is not so easy nowadays to keep the folks at home from knowing about the speeches you give in Washington. This has always been one of Tom Daschle’s problems, and he has solved it–so far–by avoiding ideology and running for office on the basis of the money he brings into his home state. This approach, while not pretty, has been effective; yet it is a mean, small-minded strategy crafted for placid times. There has been a lot of speculation in the press and the blogosphere about the causes of Daschle’s meltdown, but I think one key element is that he is frustrated, and feels wronged, to find that his small-beer strategy will no longer serve. We no longer live in placid times, and an ability to bring home the federal bacon may not trump his constituents’ overriding desire for security and–even more important–for victory over the forces of evil. This “Dakota Poll” from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader highlights Daschle’s dilemma. Daschle’s constituents support “a United States invasion of Iraq in order to remove Saddam Hussein from power” by better than two to one. President Bush is much more popular than Daschle in South Dakota, and 49% of the men in South Dakota rate Daschle’s performance either “fair” or “poor.” This is, I believe, the source of the meltdown. If our politics moves from penny-ante graft to great issues of right and wrong, and the survival of our civilization, a small-timer like Daschle will be swept away by the tide. Hence the hysteria that he betrayed on the Senate floor. But childish tantrums will not stem the flow of history.
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