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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sen. Tim Johnson and the gathering of the packs

Moline, Ill..--The technique is used by canine packs. Wolves do it. Coyotes are not supposed to do it, but farmers around Brown County, South Dakota, have witnessed them doing it. When dogs pack up and revert to their feral instincts, they do it. One of the goriest sights I ever covered as a journalist was the slaughter of 80 sheep about 20 miles from Moline by farm dogs that would gather in packs at night and kill farm animals out of sheer primitive delight and exhilaration at shedding blood and destroying life. They did not kill for hunger. They killed out of some primitive pleasure.

Humans do it, too. The head of the juvenile division of a law enforcement agency near here claimed that when adolescents begin to gather in aimless bands, they are forming packs that can erupt into mindless rampages and violence. That is why gangs are so troublesome. It is a reversion to running with the pack and exerting power and domination over others. It is the unleashing of very primitive instincts.

Some political “operatives” do it. They have been packing up around Sen. Tim Johnson. When bison dominated the plains, a constant companion was wolf packs. When the pack noticed an aging, or an ill or injured, or otherwise weakened, or very young bison, the lower ranked wolves—those down around the omega zone—would stalk, and nip, and harass the target bison to wear it down. When and if it got weak enough, the alpha types would move in for the kill. It is a nice, participatory system for the operation of the primal food chain. It is not uplifting process for human endeavors that are supposed to aspire to higher modes and higher laws of transacting business. But it is part of the game of “politics” as they have developed in our country. For many, it is the entire game.

The word that Sen. Tim Johnson had suffered a brain hemorrhage had barely been verified when the furies of gloom began their assertions that he was incapacitated and should resign so that the Governor could appoint an able person to the Senate. As recovery seemed a possibility, the cant changed to assertions that he would not run for another term. Even now that Sen. Johnson has announced his full intention to run and has started to build a campaign staff, there are strident, whining voices insisting that he will not really run for re-election in the final analysis.

One need not be a devotee of Jane Austen and the other novelists of manners to see the ill hope expressed in the peevish, resentful dismissals. It is the old business of confronting a target prey that appears weakened with constant, petty doubt. It is the articulation of hope that the perceived weak can be made weaker, and finally be brought to a state of exhaustion and hopelessness by the nipping and yapping. The obligatory recital of best wishes does not disguise the small-minded ill will behind the constant speculations about Sen. Johnson and the niggling complaints about his management of his recovery.

Just before Sen. Johnson narrowly defeated John Thune in 2002, his wife Barbara spoke to the Brown County Democrats at their monthly meeting. Some of the elders in attendance questioned the tone that the campaign had taken. Thune had gone into his ad hominem mode against Johnson, and some Johnson ads responded. Barbara Johnson said the personal attacks and misrepresentations had to be answered. But many people, particularly the seniors, were put off by the mean and negative tone that the campaign had taken. It may well have cost the interest of a significant number of Johnson supporters, especially among the elderly, and it was a consideration when Tom Daschle’s campaign decided not to engage the barrage of personal attack and false representations directed at him. Ill will does tend to drive away the good.

One of my loyal critics, Vicki, who sends e-mails about my posts noted the latest round of expressions of ill will and dire hopes in the question raised on blogs about whether Sen. Johnson appears capable of running for office and serving. She said that before Sen. Johnson appeared in public, there were constant speculations that he was too incapacitated to do so. When he did appear, he has been under intense examination for weakness. The circling of the pack, you know. Vicki asked the question of whether South Dakota deserves to be represented by a man of the caliber of Tim Johnson. She finds his recovery and determination an inspiration, and can not understand what manner of person gains pleasure in contriving and predicting his demise.

I can only say that those persons speak for themselves. They don’t speak for all of South Dakota, but their nipping and yapping certainly pollutes the intellectual and moral environment.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States