Last updated on 2014.07.13
David Newquist knows how to bum me out. His pessimism about South Dakota's political landscape makes it hard to keep up hope for liberal democracy in our fair state.
Hearing my complaint about the difficulty of finding good candidates to challenge the Republican status quo, Dr. Newquist explains the paucity of Democratic standard-bearers as the logical result of sensible people steering clear of the character assassination the SDGOP adopted as standard operating procedure in 2004 to defeat the successful and well-accomplished Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle with the pretty but feckless John Thune.
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 as a House of Representatives that was feckless and lacking in accomplishment. To challenged 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 who was a successful lobbiest for the airline industry had once been a beauty queen for whom 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 [David Newquist, "A State That Gave Up Politics for Character Assassination and Petty Hatred," Northern Valley Beacon, 2014.07.10].
But it takes two to tango, and those two aren't just the SDGOP and mudslinging mercenrary Dick Wadhams. Newquist says those scurrilous attacks work only in a defective political culture where a majority of voters accept them:
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 [Newquist, 2014.07.11].
Newquist says the South Dakota Republican Party "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 [Newquist, 2014.07.11].
Newquist says that as long as power-seekers outnumber problem-solvers and as long as South Dakotans don't mind the destructive games those power-seekers play, we're hosed. People of good conscience will emigrate, and South Dakota will breed supermajority conservative Legislatures and wild-eyed red-state moochers for the foreseeable future.
If Newquist is right, changing South Dakota's political course isn't just a matter of finding more liberal candidates and dedicated statehouse reporters; it's a matter of changing a culture fueled on conservatism and ugly spite.