Throughout the 2004 campaign, we have chronicled the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader’s unstinting support for Tom Daschle, including their description of us as “yahoos” when we criticized the Argus-Leader’s obvious bias. (See the Trunk’s post with the classic title, “Funny, We Don’t Look Yahooish.”) Executive Editor Randell Beck led the charge for Daschle, along with political reporter David Kranz.
Now that Daschle is history, however, Beck takes a rather light-hearted view of his demise in today’s editorial. Beck attributes Daschle’s defeat to–seriously–South Dakota’s Norwegian heritage:
I don’t know why everyone was so shocked.
I sensed – and I don’t think I’m alone – that momentum seemed to shift to Thune in the two weeks before the election, partly on the strength of a pointed, effective advertising campaign.
I contend the real difference was the Lutefisk Factor. What’s that?
Norwegians, the only ones on earth who dare eat the boiled cod delicacy, are a self-effacing race, loathe to call attention to themselves, deeply suspicious of those who do. You can’t tell a rich Norwegian from a poor one because they dress, talk and act the same. Both drive ’81 Buicks.
Back here in South Dakota, the idea that our senior senator drove a Jaguar and lived in a $1.9 million house in Washington – the in-your-face message of a relentless ad campaign in the final weeks before the election – took root.
In the end, it mattered little that Daschle brought home the bacon. What did count, with a good many voters, was a lifestyle that appeared to be flamboyant and, in the end, un-Norwegian.
“We’ve got this inferiority complex in South Dakota,” said Larry Atkinson, publisher and editor of the Mobridge Tribune. “We think that when somebody gets too big for their britches, we have to knock them down.”
Or make them eat lutefisk.
As a Norwegian-American and a veteran of more than one lutefisk supper (none in recent decades, thank goodness; Beck doesn’t mention that the worst feature of that ethnic specialty is that the cod is soaked in lye), I think I’m well-qualified to express skepticism. Since when have South Dakotans objected to a flamboyant lifestyle? The most popular politician in that state over the last twenty years has been Bill Janklow, a motorcycle-riding populist who made plenty of money as a practicing lawyer between his stints as governor. Janklow was flamboyant; Daschle, in contrast, is universally regarded as one of the most soporific politicians of our time.
Nor was Daschle’s wealth the problem, although it certainly deserved scrutiny inasmuch as it was probably ill-gotten. The point of Thune’s campaign was not that Daschle had lost touch with South Dakota by getting rich on his Senator’s salary. The point of his campaign was that Daschle had lost touch by voting like a liberal. Sixty percent of South Dakotans voted for President Bush. The main thrust of Thune’s campaign was that while he and the President share the values and political principles of most South Dakotans, Daschle does not. Daschle’s problem wasn’t his choice of transportation, it was his voting record.
But this is what Democrats are determined not to admit. Just as, on the national level, Democrats insist on attributing their candidate’s defeat to irrational throngs of misguided, born-again Christians rather than to Kerry’s lifelong record as a liberal, in South Dakota, the Argus Leader cheerfully throws Daschle overboard, attributing his defeat to his lifestyle and his constituents’ over-consumption of lye-infused cod. Anything rather than admit that their own political philosophy has been rejected once again.
Well, good. If the Democrats can’t figure out why they keep losing, they’ll keep losing.