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Thursday, July 10, 2014

A state that gave up politics for character assassination and petty hatred

{Corrections have been made for omissions and errors made in the posting process.}

Some bloggers have berated the Democrats for not putting up a candidate for state attorney general to oppose Marty Jackley.  As I no longer hold an office in the party and am not active as present because of a medical regimen that keeps me occupied so I have no information on the efforts to recruit an attorney general candidate.  However, I was asked to help find potential candidates and recruit a prospect for the U.S. Senate race in 2010 and know the reasons that people, especially Democrats, are reluctant to enter politics. 

A case in point was made by independent candidate Mike Myers on a recent Argus Leader 100 Eyes video.  Myers' original running mate for lieutenant governor had to withdraw from the race because of some family health issues.  He was asked how he ended up with former Republican legislator Lora  Hubbel as a replacement.  Myers recounted how he had contacted a physician he knew who accepted the challenge.  But the next day the physician called Myers and said his wife objected.  Myers’ words are that she said she would do bad th ings to her husband if he ran for office.
That reason of family objections was a common one raised by potential candidates we talked with in trying to recruit candidates  o run against John Thune. Families, especially the effect on children, were a prime consideration.  So was integrity of character.

Democratic strategists realize that the only way to defeat a Republican is to launch a malicious campaign of character assassination that appeals to the penchant for the hateful rage that has become the political criterion for electability.  Most astute Democrats recognize that politics have changed and see nothing but harm and damage to themselves and their families coming out of  campaign.  That is because politics changed in South Dakota ten years ago.

I have written about this many times before, but people who have histories and strong attachments to South Dakota find it hard to admit that the essential character of the state has changed.

When Thune challenged Tom Daschle in 2004, he hired Dick Wadhams as the campaign manager and dutifully recited the  scripts Wadham supplied him with.  Wadhams returned to the state as a campaign advisor to Mike Rounds and is now employed by the state Republican Party.  Thune had acquired a record in the House of Representatives that was feckless and lacking in accomplishment.  To challenge Tom Daschle, who is a highly accomplished legislator, he could not afford a comparison of records or stances on the issues.

The strategy was to avoid issues, policies, and legislative record and accomplishment and attack Daschle personally.  A most successful ploy was to play to the resentment among South Dakotans of anyone who has accrued success and recognition outside the boundaries of the state.  The Thune campaign played up Tom Daschle’s attaining the majority leader of the Senate as an abandonment of the people of the state for the culture of Washington, D.C ., and declared it as his major residence.  He still owned and returned to his house Aberdeen, where his mother lived when he returned to the state.  The campaign also attacked the press for the coverage it gave to the Senator and Senate majority and played up the assumption the press had liberal leanings and gave Tom Daschle partial treatment.  Then it attacked Daschle because his wife who was a successful lobbiest for the airline industry had once been a beauty queen for whom, the campaign implied, he abandoned his first wife.  The Thune campaign also knew that Daschle is of a principled character that would not engage these personal assaults in kind. 

The  Thune campaign hired a history professor of the neocon bias at South Dakota State to write a blog dedicated to the character assassination of Tom Daschle,  In 2004, blogs were a recent development and very few people in the general public were aware of or read them.  The anti-Daschle blog gave voice to the campaign strategy that Thune and his surrogates were covering the state with.  The character assassination went so far that during a television debate show Thune accused Daschle of giving aid and comfort to the enemy for his opposition to the war in Iraq.  Giving aid and comfort to the enemy is how  the Constitution defines treason.  The Thune campaign also portrayed Daschle’s opposition to a Constituional amendment forbidding flag desecration as limiting free speech and because laws were already on the books dealing with the matter as an unpatriotic betrayal.  This imposed on a man who served in the Air Force as an intelligence officer from a man who had no military service. 

During the last months of the campaign I was a member of a group that campaigned for Tom Daschle in the East River part of the state.  What struck me was that people who opposed Daschle did not bring up issues and policies, but abused the campaigners with a personal hatefulness against Tom Daschle.  I and a few others registered concern about the intensity of the responses, but most of the campaigners were loyal South Dakotans who dismissed the reactions as that of a small minority of hateful people who did not reflect the more benign and wholesome aspects of the people of the state.

Daschle, of course, lost.  And as conservative blogs showed up on the Internet, they continued the personal discrediting and character assassination of  Tom Daschle.  In South Dakota, as is true of the Limbaugh believers in our nation, the GOP has abandoned any sincere discussion of issue for character assassination as the total purpose of its campaigns.  In South Dakota, character assassination is embraced or dismissed as acceptable among a majority of the voters. The designated voice of the state GOP,  South Dakota War College, when it is not posting hackwork tributes to its candidates is totally devoted to the discrediting and malicious besmirching of Democratic candidates. Its posts have a disregard for accuracy and factual truth.  It is simply an exercise in mindless scurrility.  If this is, as it claims, the most read blog on state politics, that defines a state with a cultural climate that people of good and good purpose wish to avoid.

The Argus Leader published an editorial after the state GOP convention berating the party for passing a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Obama.  Its main point is that it was a foolish resolution and made the state look like a conclave of backward rubes.  Like many loyal South Dakotans, the Argus Leader, because of circulation and advertising considerations, cannot afford to point out that the GOP is the majority party, it has controlled state government for decades,  it is electing its candidates to federal offices, and it, in fact, defines the essential character of the state.  The dominant attitude in the state is that of ignorant, malevolent rubes who love to hate and dwell on personal  resentments they harbor against those who achieve and have successes in other parts of the world.

When it comes to recruiting candidates to run against the South Dakota GOP and it’s  assassination squads, few people want to subject themselves to the toxic stress and damage against their characters, which have destructive effects on families.  As one person who rejected a run for the Senate four years ago put it, there is no point in campaigning among people who aren’t interested in solving problems but only want to hold power and demolish any opposition through their angry hatreds
The declining Democratic voter registrations probably reflect a trend.  People who think politics is about serving people, not defaming and insulting them, want out of here.  Good, loyal Democrats cannot face what the state has become, even though many studies point to it  as one of the most corrupt states in the union.  Like their ancestors who left the Old World to escape corruption and oppression, many South Dakotans are following that precedent in their culture rather than try to convert those who oppose them to a more benign, good-willed way of life.  What is represented in the defamatory campaigns of John Thune and Kristi Noem is what the majority has voted for.  The state is not the kind of place  that respects good will and good purpose. 


Tara Volesky said...

Excellent article Mr. Newquist. I hope Pat Powers reads this.

Tim said...

Your comments are on the money, my kids are gone for all the reasons you have stated, and they left with my encouragement. If my roots weren't so deep I would get out as well. House is almost paid for, maybe then I get out.

Douglas said...

I find most personal attacks of politicians distasteful. Now and then what may be a legitimate concern sounds like a personal attack.

However, I don't think any Democratic candidate has the luxury and status to ignore negative personal attacks by the GOP ratpack of pols, publicists and corporate media.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States