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Sunday, August 5, 2007

What sunk Tom Daschle?

Mount Blogmore has some discussions taking place about the Daschle-Thune race and what caused the demise of Tom Daschle. The occasion is the publication of Jon Lauck's book on the 2004 race, Daschle vs. Thune: Anatomy of a High-Plains Senate Race and the short review Kevin Woster wrote of it on the blog.

I have noted that Lauck acted as a paid character assassin for the Thune campaign and conducted a methodical campaign of defamation on the South Dakota Politics blog with daily posts accusing Daschle of betrayal, duplicity, and political subversion. (This link will take you to May 2004 posts when the Daschle character assassination really picked up.) Lauck, who was a professor at SDSU at this time, was paid by the Thune campaign to contrive and fire away with assaults on the Daschle character at every pretext and opportunity.

There is a question of how effective the blogs were at the time--or are today--in affecting political perceptions. In 2004, the number of people who looked at political blogs was a very small percentage of the populace, and those who did frequent political blogs chose the ones that reflected their mindset. South Dakota Politics claimed great influence on the election, but the numbers do not support that contention.

What South Dakota Politics was significant for is that it reflected the kind of persistent ad hominem campaign that was the single-minded strategy of John Thune's henchmen. The campaign used an approach that was a favorite of extreme Marxists. Behaviorism was the official pyschological theory of Soviet Marxists. They believed that if you kept an organism in a certain kind of environment, you could condition it to behave exactly as you wished. This did not work very well with wheat, but it had some successes with people. Another name for it is "brainwashing." And its basic premise is that if you keep up a constant barrage of accusations and defamations against a person, a significant number of the passive, non-critical people in the population will absorb them and accept them as fact. This was the crux of the anti-Daschle campaign, and Jon Lauck did the blogging.

But, as I said, the blogs only reflected the kind of tactic being used elsewhere. After his close loss to Tim Johnson, John Thune began his anti-Daschle campaign. He knew that a strong voting bloc for former Sen. Larry Pressler was the elderly, particularly in the nursing homes. And so, his campaign targeted the elderly in particular. It began with the charge that since Tom Daschle was such a successful leader in D.C. and throughout the country, he had abandoned the people of South Dakota. One of Lauck's blogs noted that the entertainment industry was one of the biggest contributors to Daschle's campaign, and, therefore, Daschle was a great spokesman for the entertainment industry, not for South Dakota. The contention was carefully drawn to make the people in South Dakota infer that Daschle had abandoned the huddled masses in the state for the glamor of Hollywood and Broadway. This abandonment theme was carried out right to the end of the campaign when Thune signed on to an ad that contended that Daschle had dumped his first wife for a beauty queen.

The most memorable advertisement that appeared in newspapers had a picture of Tom Daschle next to pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. This reinforced the anti-American and treachery themes that ran through the Thune campaign against Daschle. As ridiculous and utterly scurrilous as the ad was, it demonstrated the depth of character assassination that was the motive force of the Thune campaign.

Another effective contention was Daschle's opposition to an amendment in the Constitution to make flag-burning a crime. Daschle patiently explained to his audiences that the flag is a symbol of the country, and that the people should be more concerned about the assaults against the country. itself. He also expressed the view that such an amendment would be in direct conflict with the Constitutional rights of free speece and a redress of grievances. But the Thune minions harped on the accusation that Daschle was unpatriotic and allied with those who would destroy our country.

The anti-Daschle campaign was conceived as a relentless assault on the South Dakota inferiority syndrome, which is that anyone who leaves the state and finds success is a betrayer.

In October of 2004, as the election neared, canvassing teams began to uncover how widespread the Daschle defamations had been cast. The Thune team, led by Dick Wadhams, tried the old Soviet tactic of snowing the people under with a blizzard of defamatory falsehoods. Only a minority will resist, and few have the astutenss or intellectual fortitude to resist the blizzard.

Those who spotted the pattern and recognized the technique as mass conditioned-response, as with Pavlov making dogs salivate, thought that the Daschle campaign should unleash a counter-offensive based on Thune's feckless record as a congressman. But high campaign officials made it clear that it was better to lose South Dakota than to abandon higher principles.

A national campaign observer noted that South Dakota culture is made for this kind of campaign. A majority of South Dakotans resent those who find success elsewhere, for them malicious and false gossip is a favorite pastime, and they turn against those who demonstrate higher qualities of character and gravitate to those who verify their resentful predilections. That is what John Thune's campaign understood, and he won.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States