Whipped Dog Daschle

Charity compels us to feel a genuine sympathy for Democratic Senate Leader Tom Daschle. He’s had a rough time of it recently. Last year his office was sent an anthrax-laden envelope that could have killed or seriously sickened members of his staff or the Senator himself. In early 2000, Daschle managed to gain control of the Senate for the Democrats by inducing Vermont Republican Senator Jim Jeffords to become an independent and vote with the Democrats for organizational purposes. Unfortunately for Daschle, Democratic Senate control lasted less than two years, as Republicans regained the majority in the Senate and extended their majority in House in the 2002 mid-term elections.

Daschle has long been criticized by Conservative pundits and commentators, but after the 2002 elections he was also roundly criticized by the Left for his failed leadership. Given a sluggish economy, Democrats had high hopes of maintaining and extending their hold on the Senate and re-taking the House. No wonder Daschle feels beleaguered. One receives the impression that Daschle feels like Senator Morris Udall who having lost in a primary to Jimmy Carter is reported to have said, “The people have spoken — the bastards.” [1]

What else can explain Dachle’s pouting and whining performance last week when he complained that criticism from Conservative talk show hosts was inducing threats on him and his family? Daschle specifically lashed out at Rush Limbaugh for calling him — now prepare your self — an “obstructionist.” Daschle complained that when he was labeled an obstructionist, “There was a corresponding, a very significant increase in the number of issues that my family and I had to deal with. And I worry about that.” Surely Daschle does not believe that the use of this pejorative induces violence, or he would not have used the same precise term himself to label his Republican adversaries.

It was not like Alec Baldwin who on national television said “We should go to Washington and stone Henry Hyde to death… And then we should go to his house and kill his family.” Baldwin was surely jesting, but these remarks were far more irresponsible than characterizing someone has an “obstructionist.”

Politics has always been filled with lively and colorful invective. Perhaps the British are the most adept at the quick insulting witticism. Of one opponent, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once remarked, “The right honorable gentleman is reminiscent of a poker. The only difference is that a poker gives off the occasional signs of warmth.” Of another he said, “A crafty and lecherous old hypocrite whose very statue seems to gloat on the wenches as they walk the States House Yard.” It is too bad no one made a similarly clever observation during the Clinton perjury scandals.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was the recipient of many insults. She was labeled as the “Attila the Hen” by MP Clement Freud; the “Immaculate Misconception” by MP Norman St John-Stevas; and a “half-mad old bag lady” by MP Tony Banks. Reagan also had is poetically proficient detractors. Gore Vidal once described President Ronald Reagan as “a triumph of the embalmers art.” The Democratic Party used to have a cartoon at its web site showing George Bush pushing a elderly lady in a wheel chair down stairs. It was not particularly clever, but certainly not unexpected. [2]

Politics requires self-possession and a skin as thick as an elephant’s. Daschle seems to have forgotten how to laugh at himself and lost the ability to reconcile himself to both political victory and defeat. Perhaps Rush Limbaugh will mercifully ease up on Daschle. As Disraeli once said of another political opponent, “Debating against him is no fun, say something insulting and he looks at you like a whipped dog.”

[1] This quote is also attributed to Dick Tuck who lost a legislative race in California.
[2] Insult Monger.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.