- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

The closer one gets to elections or wars, the further one gets from the truth. And when both an election and a war approach at the same time, one needs a political chromatograph to detect any true statements in the public domain. Used in science, a chromatograph takes a chemical mixture carried by liquid or gas and separates it into its component parts as a result of differential distributions of the solutes as they flow around or over a stationary liquid or solid phase. But science is easy compared to politics. In science, all the electrons and protons are assembled in their known ways, and the scientist can objectively identify each neatly separated substance he observes. But in politics, lies do not differentially distribute themselves as they flow around or over the communications media, and therefrom to individual public minds. In politics lies freely associate with truths often separated by no more than a human breath.

Consider the recent declamations by the majority leader of the Senate Tom Daschle. He undoubtedly said many things that were true. For example, he said: "We ought not to politicize this war. We ought not to politicize the rhetoric about war and life and death." That sounds truthful enough. But who was doing the politicizing? Thanks to the able reporting of Jim VandeHei in last Saturday's Washington Post, we learned that "Democratic leaders say Daschle gained some political leverage with his caucus members, and in negotiations with the White House, by distancing himself from the president … Several Democratic senators had criticized Daschle for coming out so quickly in support of a war resolution … Lawmakers and aides described him [Daschle] as increasingly agitated by his political predicament in the days leading to his fiery speech … 'There were internal and external benefits' to that speech, said a senior Democratic leadership aide. 'This strengthens his hand.' "

"Gained political leverage." "Agitated by his political predicament." "Strengthens his hand." These are hardly the phrases to describe an outraged, apolitical patriot appalled by the politics of others. Perhaps the most telling piece of this bit of political chromatographic reporting in The Washington Post is the line that Mr. Daschle's caucus had criticized him for supporting President Bush on the war resolution. The sordid implication of that sentence that cannot be evaded is that senior Democratic senators told their leader, Tom Daschle, that his support of the president on the war resolution was bad politics for the Democratic Party. So, Tom obliged his co-partymen, reversed his patriotic support of the president, and in the interest of his party viciously attacked the president for the offense that he Mr. Daschle was himself committing at that very moment: politicizing the war. The man and the moment met. The supreme test of a statesman was given. And Mr. Daschle flunked: He placed party before country. It is all right there in the quoted words of the Senate Democratic leaders and staff on page A6 of the liberal Washington Post.

But we should not be too quick to condemn Mr. Daschle. It has been a tough time for him. Only last year, after Jumping Jim Jeffords turned over the keys of power to him, Mr. Daschle was being lorded as the most brilliant Senate leader since old Daniel Webster. And with his new and unlikely fame arrived America's bitch goddess the yearning for success in the form of presidential mentioning. Yes. Remarkably, inexplicably, Tommy Daschle the indoorsman from South Dakota was being seriously mentioned as the next president of the United States of America. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy Daschle. Why not? It's true, he had no discernible personality, and had only been in Senate leadership for 12 minutes but now was his moment. He would prove himself to a scoffing world. Unfortunately, the world was not ready to unscoff.

Leading a Senate with a one vote majority is tricky. After a year in office he had little to show for his time. The week before the end of the fiscal year he had not passed one of the 13 appropriations out of the Senate. He had not passed prescription drug subsidies (after an embarrassing failed effort in July). He had failed to politically capitalize on the Enron mess, the plummeting stock market mess, the fizzling economy mess, the Kyoto treaty mess, the Middle East mess. He couldn't even stop a half-ga-ga Senator Byrd from hijacking the Senate floor for a homeland security bill filibuster. The scuttlebutt in the Democratic caucus was that the Republicans were likely to take back the Senate in a month. And that would be the end of Tom Daschle. He would become the Jerry Ford of Senate majority leaders a one-year, unelected anomaly. So in his pride and agony (and a new pink tie) he let it all out on the floor of the Senate. It was about more than war and peace, life and death. It was about Thomas A. Daschle the 44th president of the United States.

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