Travels (to the dentist) with Tom

On Opinionjournal this morning James Taranto meditates on the use of blogs by mainstream politicians: “Politicians go online.” Taranto identifies sarcasm as the key to a successful political blog and notes that the use of blogs by politicians who must maintain an earnest facade is therefore unlikely to prove wildly successful “in the cutthroat world of blogging.”
Taranto’s column directs us to Tom Daschle’s blog, Travels with Tom, which Senator Daschle began writing last week as he commenced his annual trip around the state to press the flesh.
The name of Daschle’s blog alludes to John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, a book in which a real writer documented his travels across the United States meeting real people, making real observations, and making arguable comments. Among many other things, Steinbeck lamented the decline of regional speech, fell in love with Montana, celebrated the surprising kindness of strangers, and decried the racism he observed in the South of the time. (Charley was the French poodle that accompanied Steinbeck on the trip; incidentally, Steinbeck named the custom-built truck in which he traveled Rocinante.) By contrast, every element of Daschle’s blog sounds synthetic and unreal, including Daschle himself.
Here’s a sample of Daschle’s Monday post on his visit to Rapid City: “Virtually every person I talked to had a strong reaction — often a story — to my questions about their health care. When I asked an older man in the Kadoka post office what he thought of his health care, his answer was, ‘Damn costly!’ He went on to tell me that he spends hundreds of dollars each month for prescription drugs.”
I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that each person “Tom” runs into sounds like a prop for a campaign ad. But is it possible to imagine anyone who would read this stuff out of interest in what “Tom” has to say? Taranto observes that the premise of Daschle’s blog is inherently mind-numbing: “South Dakota no doubt has its charms, but imagine spending a whole month driving through the state, making sure to visit every last one of its 66 counties. Now imagine doing the same thing vicariously, and you begin to understand why Tom Daschle’s new blog is likely to generate about as much traffic as–well, as a rural South Dakota highway.”
But South Dakota is a beautiful state with many real and interesting residents, several of whom are related to Rocket Man. The problem with Daschle’s blog (so far, anyway) is that it projects Daschle’s political personality with scrupulous fidelity. Voluntarily subjecting yourself to it is about as plausible as asking to have your good teeth drilled.

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