News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hey, Democrats. You're supposed to be wallowing in guilt and writhing in remorse, not thinking.

The analogy of South Dakota with a school playground becomes more apt with each passing moment, especially as it applies to politics.  The more we hear and learn about schoolyard bullying, the more precisely the analogy works.  The idea of bullying, if one can attribute any conscious mental activity to it,  is to humiliate and dominate other people and keep them in a state of contemptuous regard and submission to the cruelties.  It is the primal stuff out of which oppressive tyrannies and dictatorships are made.  

Nothing pisses off and frustrates schoolyard bullies  more than when their targets decide not to participate in the schoolyard-barnyard rituals anymore.  When there are no subjects to bully, the bullies lose their sense of power and self-esteem.  And then they whine and howl in indignation that their victims are in a state of dysfunction and are not living up to their patriotic duty to be bullied.  They cannot comprehend why their chosen victims are not clamoring to engage in the masochistic orgies they plan for them.  This relationship has been exhaustively covered in the field of social psychology, which is no longer in fashion. But it is one of the more empirically grounded social sciences, using analytic observation and history in its studies.  

Since the debacle administered to Democrats on Tuesday, bloggers of the right stripe have been providing all sorts of denigrations of Democrats and particularly South Dakota Democrats for their absence in some contests and their showing in the ones in which they participated.  Among the denigrators are political scientists.  One would think the socio-economic factors affecting the Democratic Party in South Dakota would be apparent to them, at least.  But then, intellectual acuity was never a part of the dog-packing rituals of the playground.  Nothing interferes with the delivery of insult and abuse like a functioning sensibility.

There are two main recriminations against the S.D. Democratic Party.  One is that it did not function well.  And the second is that it did not provide a full slate of candidates on which to vent the insult and abuse and about whom to make up defamations, which are a major component of bullying.  They like to rage about how utterly depraved and worthless Democrats are and should be banished from the face of the earth, but when they find that Democrats leave their playground, their rage takes on an additional fury of frustration.  

Last April, I noted some reasons about which I was acutely aware for why the Democrats did not find a candidate to run against John Thune.  I was involved in trying to recruit someone, and there were efforts throughout the state.  Some names of exceptional men and women were suggested, and they gave the possibility serious thought.  That "serious thought" part is the catch. That's the problem with some people.  They actually think.  One blogger finds it scandalous that the Democrats did not field an opponent for Thune.  Yes, it is.  It is scandalous that people with regard to the higher human sensibilities find they cannot subject themselves, their families, and their friends to what John Thune will produce for them. 

 One factor is the raising of money.  Running for office requires an immense amount of money if one expects to compete at all.  The raising of money takes precedence over mastering the issues and presenting them in appropriate forums.  In the nation and in South Dakota particularly,  the Democrats are not among the moneyed class.  They do not represent the huge corporate interests, and start out with a disadvantage.  The last campaign is evidence of how being the party of corporate interests works.  It is difficult for people who want to represent a set of political principles to reconcile that function with what one has to do to raise money.  

The biggest factor in discouraging people to run against Thune was the campaign he and his allies  ran against Tom Daschle. While Thune is being touted by his party as a contender for a presidential nomination, he is perceived from quite a different perspective among those who take the time to examine the side of him revealed by the campaign he ran.  Among the potential candidates I knew, the effect that the Wadham-Thune campaign had was the first-order consideration.  One of the potential candidates said that one doesn't willingly dive into a cesspool and expose herself, her family, and her friends to the infections that attach to one.  The intelligent way to deal with a contaminated disaster area is to evacuate.  And that is what many people have done and are doing.   They are making political and social choices with their minds and their feet.

That is a revered  American tradition.  The western frontier was settled by people who were dissatisfied with the social climate and the opportunities offered by eastern communities, and so, those frontier people packed up and moved on. 

The social and political climate of their Old World homelands are the reasons our ancestors emigrated to America to evade the oppression and toxic environment for healthier prospects on our frontier.  When Germany of the 1930s launched its pogrom of discrimination, oppression, and persecution, people emigrated to America.  At the end of World War II, some top scientists and scholars who had worked  in war projects were evacuated from Germany and brought to the U.S.  These emigres and evacuees became the central figures in the development of our nuclear and space programs.  The custom of planting one's intellectual talents in healthier soils is one of the traditions that built our nation.   It is a process that has shaped South Dakota's current social and political state.  Except South Dakota  experiences the rejection aspect of the migration; it drives off people of talent and aspiration; it does not attract them. 

The Noem campaign was a shadow of the Thune campaign, but the basic elements were there.  They consisted of insisting that Herseth-Sandlin's loyalties were in D.C. and Texas, that her family was involved in collusive relationships that disqualified her from honest service, and that she believes, said, and did things that she demonstrably does not believe, did not say, and did not do.  Some Republicans were infuriated that she brought up the impressive driving and court appearance violations of Noem and charged Herseth Sandlin with being responsible for a negative campaign.  There is a huge intellectual and moral difference between citing someone's documented record of behavior and making up charges that have no foundation in fact and are, in fact, refuted by the record. 

Historians and informed observers have remarked that America is undergoing some of the collective psychological syndromes akin to what Germany experienced after World War I.  After it was defeated in that war, its people felt humiliated and, like those schoolyard bullies, sought to reestablish some sense of power by persecuting minorities, adopting attitudes of fascist belligerence, and bestowing leadership upon those who spoke to their ignorance, their prejudice, and their capacity for hatred.  Scholars have explored why the country that excelled in intellectual rigor and creative arts could be swept up IN the incoherent rages of Hitler.  The answer was in the desperate need to regain a sense of power, a desperation that abandoned all the intellectual and moral restraints reflected in the monuments of their culture.  Power was the driving force, and the people submitted to the social organization principles of the dog pack.  Hitler was the alpha dog that promised to lead them to a new prominence, and they submitted.  

The U.S. has not been soundly defeated in a single war.  It has, rather, been found irredeemably wrong in Viet Nam, Iraq, and now Afghanistan.  It did perform according to American principles in Bosnia.  However, it has been displaced as the world's greatest producer and manufacturer of industrial goods by China, the other countries that comprise the Pacific Rim, and Europe.  It is lagging in some areas of science and technology with a resurgence of breakthroughs in Europe and research and development in Asia that is competitive.  The right wing has assumed a stance of chauvinistic belligerence as the answer to these competitive threats to eminence.  But what is more dangerous to the U.S. is that the last election revealed a kind of desperation in which people who reject science, tolerance, and reasoned discourse have been thrust into leadership roles.  

The nation as a whole is experiencing the retreat into denial and belligerent posturing that signals that old  self-esteem problem that besets those schoolyard bullies, and that tidal wave that has swept over the land is a wave of anti-intellectualism.   That  portion of the nation that queues up and cowers behind bullies to protect them from threats they do not apprehend are grasping for anything and anyone who promises to restore their flagging self-esteem.  South Dakota has been the laboratory, perhaps an incubator, for this kind of  reaction.

Those who wonder about the future of the Democratic Party in South Dakota include Democrats.  There is no doubt that one-party rule has dominated South Dakota from the time of its statehood, with a few brief exceptions.  And there is no doubt that cultural attitudes in South Dakota underlie that dominance.  What people inside the party understand and those outside it cannot acknowledge is that the party is greatly affected by a constant outflow of the young, the talented, and the aspiring.  

Since the election of 2004, I have commented many times on this blog about the losses the party has  taken.  As one who maintains a list of active party members in my region of the state, I have had to carry out a monthly exercise in deleting names from the list.  Many of those names include seniors who have died or relocated to other places, but a most significant trend is the rate that those in their productive years are leaving the state.  Within my own circle of friends, I have commented that people are leaving the state to the point where those of us left behind feel somewhat abandoned.  And added to this during the past election campaign was an attitude of diffidence among those who remain.  They seemed to be saying, I may be stuck here, but I don't have to participate in the degrading nonsense that comprises South Dakota politics.  One blogger claimed that while the right wing bloggers are celebrating that wave of rejection, the lefties don't seem to have noticed.   During the get-out-the-vote part of the campaign, we told told one young Democrat that if party members did not get out and vote, the Republicans would sweep the election.  His response:  "Who cares?"   He said he was concentrating his efforts on what is better for his career and his family.  And that does not include South Dakota.

The bully  caucus is resentful that their opposition is not going to engage them.  The rituals of South Dakota politics are so depraved and degraded that they have created a cultural field of waste and contamination.  It is not time for engagement; it is time for evacuation.  Unlike people in Haiti, the people in 
America have some choices left open to them.

An example of the hopeless mindset that is driving people out of the state, mentally and physically, can be examined in the responses to a blog post of mine following the election. The main point of the blog was that the national media had focused so much on the personality conflicts and deviance during the election campaign that it ignored the pressing issues.  Those who commented did not address that point at all.  However, one point had the effect of poking a stick into a rattle snake den.  It is the point that if we are to start reducing the federal budget, we will have to include farm subsidies.  And for a state that is so predominantly dependent upon federal handouts for its survival, the elimination of those programs would be devastating to the agricultural economy of the state.  One comment cast the usual charge of socialist to the post, and I replied that a state that is dependent on so many federal handouts is about as socialist as a state can get.  

I have been engaged in reporting on farm programs since I had that responsibility as the farm editor for a newspaper in the early 1960s.  There has been a bipartisan concern about the degree to which the farm programs might become a major source of farm income so that it could turn American agriculture into a version of the collectivist system that was such a failure for the Soviet Union.  What the commenters cannot grasp is that the matter is not a partisan issue.  Both liberal and conservative politicians from urban areas think that budget cutting has to begin with  farm programs.  

The comments reflect the attitude that any government money that goes out to people is socialism.  But don't tamper with Social Security, Medicaid.  Or farm programs.  

The comments are typical of the taunts of the schoolyard bullies.  But the the playground is getting to be an empty place.  People of sensibility just won't participate in those games.

The Democratic Party is a diminished presence in the state, no doubt.  The essential question is how many Democrats are left in the state who care.  Or think it worth the bother.   

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States