Reflective Daschle urges Dems to 'stand up' for their beliefs

Former Senate Minority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is urging fellow Democrats to stay true to their party’s principles without bending to tough new tactics contemplated by Republicans.

In a telephone interview from his home in Northwest Washington on his last day in office, after a career spanning 26 years in Congress, Daschle acknowledged that the “obstructionist” label was a factor in his being driven from office by Republican John Thune.
Former Senate Minority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is urging fellow Democrats to stay true to their party’s principles without bending to tough new tactics contemplated by Republicans.

In a telephone interview from his home in Northwest Washington on his last day in office, after a career spanning 26 years in Congress, Daschle acknowledged that the “obstructionist” label was a factor in his being driven from office by Republican John Thune.
patrick g. ryan
Former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle at his Foxhall Road N.W. home yesterday.

But Daschle, who just turned 57, said he hopes fellow Democrats will not back down as a result of his loss. “I think it would be the wrong lesson to learn from my experience — somehow not to stand up for what you believe and do the right thing while you’re here,” he said.

Asked whether the Democrats need to change direction after losing seats in both the House and Senate, as well as their bid for the White House, Daschle said it was “essential that we continue to find ways to make it a stronger and more vigorous party than it has been.” But he added, “I don’t think that it means morphing into a second Republican Party or some entity that is not reflective of our philosophical and political approach.”

Daschle made his comments on the eve of a trip to New York City, where he said he plans to meet with several investment-banking and law firms about job possibilities.

He also has spoken to a number of colleges, universities and other institutions.

He said he plans to remain involved in South Dakota issues as well, focusing on rural development and American Indians, while doing some work with his alma mater, South Dakota State University.

He said he doesn’t plan to become a lobbyist. “I have nothing against those who lobby, and my wife is a very good one herself,” he said. “One in the family is probably all we need.” Linda Daschle is a successful lobbyist for Baker Donelson.

Daschle warned of the erosion of some of the Senate’s long-standing traditions and cautioned Republicans not to undertake the so-called “nuclear” option of forcing an end to Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees.

“I worry about the degradation of the institutional character of the Senate,” he said. “That will be seen in a dramatic way if we go through what is commonly referred to as the nuclear option where yet another institutional characteristic so unique to the United States Senate will be obliterated.”

“I worry about the institution and its demise and what effect it could have on our democracy in this republic were it to continue to erode as we’ve seen over the course of the last few years,” he added.

Daschle took some parting shots at House Republicans, whom he has chided for political extremism over the years, when asked about Republican leadership efforts to change House ethics rules to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

“I think you see the arrogance of power,” he said, “and with that arrogance come mistakes that not only are regrettable for the country but ultimately will be seen as regrettable for the Republican caucus and party. This is exactly what got Democrats in trouble in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Ironically, we’re seeing some of the same mistakes being made again.”

Asked for his assessment of President Bush as he begins his second term, Daschle called Bush a very “likable and disarming individual.” But he said Bush also is “rigidly ideological and in some ways uncompromisingly partisan, and when he is in that mode there is little you can do.”

In the face of such tactics, Democrats must stay united, Daschle said, “because it’s only through our unity that we have any strength. As soon as we lose the unity, we lose any negotiating ability, and ultimately then, just by picking off a few Democrats, the president and the Republicans have all they need.”

Daschle called the debate on Social Security reform a “classic example” of a case where the parties have profound differences. He said that Democrats should work with Bush to make the system more viable but that the fight against privatization is an example of where Democrats should stand their ground.

“I think it’s one of those times where Democrats urgently need to be counted and stand up for something they feel is as important to our country as anything we’ll be taking up this year.”

Daschle brought up his close personal relationship with former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), with whom Daschle worked to help steer the Senate through President Clinton’s impeachment, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and an anthrax attack on Daschle’s office.

“We were unlikely friends, and I don’t know the degree to which today Senator Lott is even able to acknowledge that friendship, but I think it’s really what got us through these crises we faced when we were both leaders.”

But he was less forthcoming when asked to assess Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). “Senator Frist is a good leader, too. He has a different style. I had a good working relationship with him as well.”

On the war in Iraq, which he and most Senate Democrats initially supported,
Daschle said the situation “is increasingly looking like a quagmire. I think that it’s very, very difficult to see how we extricate ourselves from Iraq in the near future.”

Asked how he would like to be remembered, Daschle replied, “I guess if I can be remembered for anything, it would be that I was a good leader and that I reflected well on the people of my state in leadership capacity as well as my role as a United States senator. If that could be generally acknowledged, I guess I would feel satisfied.”

Daschle predicted that yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony for new members, which he didn’t attend, would be “bittersweet.” He put his visiting mother on a plane back to Aberdeen, S.D., on Monday and said she advised him to “just keep looking forward.”

“I think that’s about as good a piece of advice as one can have,” he said.