Tom Daschle, standing before reporters, always appeared to have been air-dried by South Dakota's Badlands. In truth, he was reared in the kindlier environment of its eastern side. Curious about what the Senator thought of the anthrax affair, I picked up his book at an outlet store.
The book is "Like No Other Time, the 107th Congress and the Two Years that changed America Forever." It is written with the added skill of Michael D'Orso. Much of the official minutia was provided by federal offices, which became clearer in the prologue. When 9/11 was still in the destructive phase, Tom Daschle heard heavy airplanes flying over the Capitol. As a former Air Force officer (in Intelligence connected to SAC) he knew something was afoot. His emphasis on detail about Congress' evacuation and the misery and drudgery of cleaning up anthrax from his staff's offices (also some of Senator Feingold's staff) permeates stories of people and events.
While the 2000 election played out in tortuous detail in Florida, Senator Daschle wondered what his job would be. His Senate term would not expire until after the 2004 election was consummated. If Al Gore won, he would finally be Majority Leader. Regardless, there was a strong indication that the Senate would be split nearly 50-50. Trent Lott, current Majority Leader, and he would need to fashion a Senate able to take care of changes required by a new administration.
Once George W. Bush was in the White House, the customary introductory meetings lent an aura of cooperation. But by the time Senator Jim Jeffords resigned from the Republican Party to be an Independent, caucusing with Democrats, all bets were off. And when the World Trade Center was hit, the necessity to write new laws governing security and intelligence required even more consensus building.
The White House sent the Patriot Act to Congress on September 17 with a request for passage by September 21. In the Senate, Democrats were divided on how much power the bill would provide the President's men. Just satisfying them enough to create a defendable bill was challenge enough. To reach consensus at a conference call with the solidly Republican House made drafting even more difficult. What finally made passage possible was the sunset clause.
Through all the Bush initiatives, Democrats were in the 107th Congress just about where they are in the 110th. Whether the Democratic Senate leader is in the majority or not, he still was confronted with the herding-cats syndrome. Daschle did what he could, knowing that a steamroller Republican House had to be reckoned with. He outlines the thorny questions concerning Homeland Security, especially after the Bush administration decided to go along in having new legislation. Before 9/11, Senator Lieberman, Chairman of Governmental Affairs Committee, put a proposal in play for some reorganization of domestic security. By the time a Department of Homeland Security was espoused by the Republicans, a standoff was apparent. Democrats objected to dropping civil service protection for those put in the new bureaus. During a speech in September 2002, Bush publicly castigated them for being unpatriotic by not sending the legislation to the White House. Daschle admits he was livid and by the time his party caucused, he recognized the pattern was what they were up against. While congressional recess allowed for midterm election campaigning, the Republican House ballooned a bill for the lame duck session of the Senate to ratify. Especially egregious was gutting some of the aviation security measures by allowing contractors to be considered "anti-terrorism technologies" in order to shield them from liability. On page 215, is the explanation of how Texas A & M was granted tens of millions of dollars as a homeland security research center, no bid and no competition. Was Secretary Gates asked about that when he was confirmed to DOD after the 06 election?
But back to the 2002 campaign. In South Dakota, John Thune came out against Tim Johnson. Although the seat remained Democratic in that election, it was Daschle in 2004 whom Bush had his sights set for. The Washington Monthly published an article in January, attacking Linda Hall Daschle, a lobbyist for aviation interests, who was Tom's second wife. She previously had held positions with the Civil Aeronautics Board and the FAA, and had clearly made her activities known to prevent conflict of interest.
The strongest kind of friendship existed between Paul Wellstone and Tom Daschle, extending to their families. In late October 2002, Daschle was out visiting his constituents and putting in good words forTim Johnson. His office tracked him down in a remote area to tell him about the fatal plane crash of the Wellstone family. Daschle was scheduled to meet for his goddaughter's wedding in Minnesota, and had arranged to campaign with his friend Paul after that. The news was personally crushing, and he said that when his son Nathan called him he just broke down.
With thoughts of honoring Wellstone's legacy and of finding a candidate to take his place, the Senator concentrated on seeing that the Senate and other dignitaries had a chance to present themselves with appropriate respect. The ceremony was held in the basketball arena of the University of Minnesota to a packed crowd. As the program continued, it intensified to the point where some Wellstone supporters booed. What should have been a moment for the Democrats, somewhat similar to the assassination of John Kennedy, was seen as politics of the worst kind. Trent Lott and his wife left early, because of how their plane was scheduled to leave for Mississippi. Daschle apologized for the bad taste and Lott said he understood. (In December 2002, Lott "screwed up" in his comment concerning Strom Thurmond and the Senate was presented with a majority leader in the form of Bill Frist. Lott called Daschle and apologized over his remark but that was a private matter which I would not have known without reading the book.) Classic political hardball played out. Minnesota Governor Jessie Ventura, an Independent, championed the cause of Norm Coleman over Walter Mondale, which he justified since an Independent was not running.
One of the threads which shows throughout is the evenhandedness of Tom Daschle. He had friends on both sides of the aisle in the Senate, not least of whom was Trent Lott. The two often were apart on legislation but together on the need to carry out the business of government. In 1982, as Daschle was campaigning for McGovern, Trent Lott switched from the Democratic to the Republican party to run for a vacated Senate seat.
The book was published in 2003, which was also when Tom Daschle saw his party's fortunes changing. In the prologue he explained how he briefly considered running for the presidency in 2004 and decided it was not something he wanted to do.
With the 108th Congress being even more Republican than before, Daschle continued to try to steer his party on a course away from the extravagances of George W. Bush and his pre-emptive attitude toward foreign policy. And the administration continued to enjoy press backstabbing of Daschle. J. Bottum, a native South Dakotan and Books and Arts Editor of the Weekly Standard, weighed in on April 27, 2004. This time it was to explain Senator Daschle's Catholic faith as not quite ready for excommunication over the abortion issue, but somewhat worse. The "partial birth" issue was coming on strong and Thune was not only a noted basketball player but also a graduate of a small evangelical college, located in California.
After his defeat by Thune in 2004, Tom Daschle took advisor positions in a law firm and with Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. I saw him listed as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. In the Spring of 2008, he is expected to be a David Rubenstein Distinguished Visitor at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany .
Reading less than 300 pages, I found a look back at further blossoming of neoconservatism into American culture. What makes it easy to reference is the index. There will you find the names of many persons, primarily in government, with whom the Senator interacted. It's a tale of political stridency, but not strident. Crown Publishers advises one to go to www:randomhouse.com. At the discount store, I bought it for one-fifth of its original price.