- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

Bill Janklow, Republican governor of South Dakota, just signed into law a bill forbidding Tom Daschle from running simultaneously for president and Senate re-election in 2004. Maybe the people of South Dakota, unlike some in Washington, recognize the ambition driving Mr. Daschle. After spending a quarter of a century in Congress, the Senate majority leader has decided that 2004 will be his year. Mr. Daschle wants to be president.

Mr. Daschle's recent criticism of President Bush's conduct of the war against terror tipped off his burning White House ambition. He had no alternative policy to offer Mr. Bush. There are no war blunders or disasters for Mr. Daschle to criticize. He even repudiated his own posturing when polls indicated it was not playing well in Peoria. The Senate majority leader was simply showing his fellow Democrats that he could stand up to an enormously popular Republican president. The soft-spoken South Dakotan's words and actions indicate a desire to position himself as the Democrat's challenger to Mr. Bush in two years.

Mr. Daschle presents his criticism of Mr. Bush in a calm yet calculating manner. More in sorrow than in anger, he worried aloud on recent Sunday talk shows about how the Bush administration intended to set up a "secret" government and hadn't told him the plans. He then whined that Mr. Bush wasn't notifying him in advance of every step he was taking in the war. What's going on in those coffee klatsches he's having every week at the White House? Mr. Daschle expressed to the media, of course, his doubt about the administration's militant rhetoric toward America's enemies. Was it wise to refer to Iraq, Iran and North Korea as "the axis of evil?" Were the Bush administration's war on terror aims too ambitious and open-ended?

Mr. Daschle's political play for self-promotion failed miserably, just as his speech on the economy did a month ago. Seven brave American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan soon after his Sunday remarks. Mr. Daschle hastily reversed himself on Monday: "As we look at our circumstances today, I think there is no question that there is strong support for the troops and for the president's leadership." Columnist Michael Kelly, a hard-bitten former combat correspondent, observed that it was "perfectly fine" for Mr. Daschle "to fret and worry and carp on Sunday television. It is just not serious."

Mr. Daschle realized quickly that being perceived as anti-American during a war was not in his political best interest. He was simply pushing the envelope to find the Bush administration's soft spots and reminding everybody that Mr. Daschle was still the big Democrat on the political campus.

Wartime constrains Mr. Daschle from being too partisan on foreign policy. Unless a disaster like Vietnam occurs, the former Air Force veteran must defer to a wartime president. However, domestic policy offers many opportunities to remind liberal special interest groups of his anti-Bush leadership. Leftist special- interest groups, led by NOW and NARAL, demand that Mr. Daschle aggressively fight Mr. Bush's picks to the federal bench.

The smearing of Charles Pickering, a fine federal district judge, is about Mr. Daschle positioning himself for the presidential nomination in 2004. It does not matter to the left that the Democrat-controlled Senate unanimously confirmed Judge Pickering back in 1990. It does not matter that Judge Pickering compiled a fine record as a judge and got the approval of the beloved American Bar Association. This is about politics. Mr. Daschle shoots down Judge Pickering in his calm, calculating and low-key way and quietly bottles up the nominations of other judicial nominations to prevent them from even getting a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. By skillfully doing the left's bidding on judges, Mr. Daschle can secure their support for his presidential run.

Mr. Daschle's self-promoting agenda is now set on undermining Mr. Bush's economic policies. He brilliantly obstructed and weakened Mr. Bush's financial stimulus package by using delaying tactics and the amendment process. When Mr. Bush demanded quick action to stimulate the American economy out of a recession, Mr. Daschle demanded that Mr. Bush revoke the 2001 tax cuts enacted with the help of 10 Democratic senators. He continues to hold up the energy bill despite the pleas from the American people and the opportunity to reduce our dependency on Middle East oil. With an estimated 750,000 new jobs that would be created by the bill, the economy might fully recover which would not fit well into the Democrats plans for 2002 or 2004. Pushed by the Sierra Club and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Mr. Daschle and the Democrats believe recession is the issue to run on in the fall 2002 congressional elections.

If Mr. Daschle attacks Mr. Bush with little backlash, he can position himself properly for the 2004 primary season, which begins in just 655 days. If the 2002 fall elections go as Mr. Daschle hopes, Democrats will add to their slim one-vote lead in the Senate and take back the House of Representatives. Democratic Party regulars will then join with left-wing special interest groups in hailing the brilliant Senate majority leader.

And if the war on terror starts to go badly, who will be better positioned to lead the Democrats to victory in 2004 than Tom Daschle? Of course, Americans may be worse off if Mr. Daschle's methods work, but that rarely factors in to the ambition of a politician. Mr. Daschle must be made to pay the political price as he tries to garner support from the left. Maybe it's time for Republicans in Washington to recognize Mr. Daschle's political ambition.

David N. Bossie is president of Citizens United. He is a former chief investigator for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

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