Tom Daschle, Former U.S. Senator of South Dakota, Delves Deep Into Politics

Tom Daschle, Former U.S. Senator of South Dakota, Delves Deep Into Politics

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Maha Neouchy
October 22, 2012

During the second SMLS of the semester, fall interns were given the opportunity to witness the spirit of true bipartisanship. TWC hosted Tom Daschle, former U.S. Senator from South Dakota and former Majority and Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate. The event was moderated by Larry Korb, former advisor on the Reagan-Bush election committee and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Although the two guest speakers represent different sides of the political spectrum, they have been friends throughout their careers  and sat down to discuss their views and opinions surrounding the current presidential campaign.


The event began by Daschle telling the audience a historical anecdote about the founding fathers at the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. When Benjamin Franklin was asked whether the United States would be a Monarchy or a Republic, he yelled back that the U.S. would be a Republic, if we can keep it. That is when Daschle transitioned into the "four legs democracy stands on."


Four qualities that make up democracy


It is Daschle's belief that in order to uphold a true democracy, there are four specific qualities that should make up its foundation:


  • Participation
  • Good Leadership
  • Tolerance
  • Respect for the rule of law

Problems plaguing the political world


When asked by Korb about his views on the current presidential election, Daschle responded that the "primary election has become just as important or even more important than the general election." He also went on to discuss some of the main problems in the political world today including:


  • The airplane: "Some people leave on Thursdays and come back on Tuesdays to govern on Wednesdays." The U.S. needs representatives who maintain a constant presence in Washington, D.C.
  • The media: "The media reflects people who are on both the left and the right, but unfortunately it isn't as credible as it used to be in the past."
  • The money chase: "The money chase has exacerbated problems in Washington, D.C. today." During Daschle's first Senate race, he needed to raise $1.5 million. During his second campaign, the number was an astronomical $25 million.

Daschle reflects on the life of George McGovern


Finally Korb asked about the passing of Daschle's close friend, George McGovern, who served as the U.S. Senator of South Dakota and ran in the 1972 presidential election as a Democratic nominee. He sadly passed away the day before the SMLS. Daschle commented on two values that McGovern upheld throughout his life, which included every individual being entitled to a good education and a good healthcare system. As Daschle put it, it was McGovern's belief that the "degree to which you're healthy and educated, is the degree to which you can contribute."


Dialogue with audience members


At the end of the moderated discussion, Daschle and Korb took questions from TWC's fall interns:


Olivia DiNucci, Law and Criminal Justice intern and student at Emerson College, was fascinated by the cost of Daschle's Senate campaigns. She asked about "different regulations that can possibly be implemented to change the amount that candidates spend on a race?" Daschle responded by saying that "money is free speech and cannot be limited by the government. That's what public financing is all about." The only way that regulations would be legal is if the U.S. "changed the definition of free speech under the Constitution, which could ultimately have very negative consequences on our Republic."


Kianna Murphy, Law and Criminal Justice intern and student at Florida Southern College,  commented on the gridlock that the U.S. Senate has experienced in the past couple of years. She asked whether or not "the current party in the Senate should be voted out or if that is impossible?" Daschle shared that this topic is "an ongoing debate in our country today. The question of whether or not members of Congress should stand their ground or give their ground. We shouldn’t just by default give into the vocal minority; we should be engaged." Currently, it's not as important to think about what party someone is affiliated with. What is important is whether you are "constructive or deconstructive in the political process. It is important to have 20/20 vision and be involved. As interns we need both your involvement and your vision."


Akilade Akiwumi, International Affairs intern and student at the University of South Florida, asked Daschle if he thought the "backlash against the Obama administration is a cultural backlash? Do you think a less liberal administration will face less backlash?" Daschle responded by saying that he didn’t feel that the Obama administration was as liberal as the media portrayed. He used the example of the healthcare bill: "Many Democrats proposed that Obama should go with the approach of providing all Americans with Medicare. But rather than take that approach, he used the model that the Heritage Foundation, one of the most conservative think tanks in Washington, D.C., put forth. This approach is a state-by-state market based approach that Republicans preferred and shows that Obama was governing from the middle.


Derek Cantu, Political Leadership intern and Bradley University student, spoke about his presidential preference. Although he will be voting for Romney, he doesn’t feel like his vote really matters since Illinois has traditionally been blue and will most likely go to Obama. Cantu then asked Daschle what his opinion on the popular vote is. Daschle responded by telling the audience that he had become less certain of his position on the Electoral College after the 2000 election. He feels that the institution itself compartmentalizes the election. In 2000, the only state that really mattered was Florida. Had we "recounted all other close votes, the U.S. citizens could have been waiting six, seven or eight months to find out who they had elected." In regards to the Electoral College, Daschle feels that the recount is the only advantage and that it may have to be implemented again in the upcoming election.


Max Blaushild, Law and Criminal Justice intern and student at Emerson College, voiced his concerns about the deficit because he doesn’t see a practical way to reduce it. Daschle touched on the four ways that we had achieved such a severe deficit:


  • The U.S. has fought two wars without funding
  • The U.S. funded not one but three tax cuts without offsets
  • The economic recession has been equivalent to the Great Depression
  • The U.S. passed additional programs like Medicare, which also didn’t have any offsets

Daschle also commented on the state of our revenues and expenditures. Right now, the percentage of revenues in the U.S. totals 16 percent while our expenditures total 23 percent. What the U.S. Needs to do, according to Daschle is "bring revenues up and expenditures down."


Fiona Rumohr, Law and Criminal Justice intern and international student at the University of Calgary, vocalized her feelings about a less engaged country when it comes to government affairs and the government as a whole. She asked Daschle if this is because of the role that the media plays. He responded by echoing his disdain for the media and its preoccupation with "gotcha" journalism. During the campaign for presidency, candidates "haven't spent enough time talking about climate change and the media needs to do a better job of informing the public. Even during the debates, we get more sound bytes than thoughtful discussion."


Moderator Korb ended the discussion by asking "if Obama were to call and asked you to advise him about nuclear weapons, what would your advice be?" Daschle ended the event voicing his concerns on nuclear detonation being an inevitability. It is imperative to bring this issue to a higher priority and touch on it with a lot more emphasis."


The SMLS was able to capture the views of the two major political parties in the U.S. today, the media's role in influencing the general public and the deficit. It was a thoughtful discussion of where the U.S. currently stands and where it may end up in the future. TWC would like to thank Tom Daschle and Larry Korb for providing such wonderful insight and facilitating a wonderful discussion with TWC fall interns in Washington, D.C. For the semester.


[View photos of the event on our Flickr channel]

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