Washington Post Gushes Over New Senate Majority Leader Daschle

(This report courtesy of the Media Research Center.)

“The Smiling Majority” declared the upbeat headline over a glowing June 6 Washington Post “Style” section profile of new Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. The jump page headline promised: “Tom Daschle, Changing the Tone in Washington.” Despite months of partisan-bashing of every Bush policy — recall a Lexus versus a muffler on the tax bill — veteran Post editor and reporter Robert Kaiser insisted Daschle is “a man from the pre-poisonous age of American politics.”

Kaiser also described Daschle as “a moderately liberal Democrat.” But a quick ratings check determined that Daschle has a higher liberal rating than his apparently more moderate predecessor, George McGovern.

An excerpt from the top of the June 6 profile, which carried the subhead: “Sen. Tom Daschle Is at the Top Of the Political Game. All Agree His Success Is Due to His Winning Way.”

Tom Daschle has new shirts — nifty ones with wide, spread collars that come up a little higher on the neck than your standard-issue senatorial white shirts. They look like fancy English shirts, many striped or checked in blue, most with French cuffs.

This is Tom Daschle of Aberdeen, South Dakota. What's the story on the shirts?

“My family used to complain to me that my shirts were too ragged, not what you'd expect for the Democratic leader [of the Senate],” the newly most-influential man on Capitol Hill explains. “So for my birthday and Christmas last year they bought me some of those shirts and expected me to wear them.” Are they English, or what? “Nordstrom's, places like that.”…

Now Daschle is the leading Democrat in town and, arguably, in the United States. The shirts, and the fellow in them, are about to get a lot more visible.

What will America see? An unusual Washington player. He still spends two months a year in South Dakota, but Tom Daschle has been playing the Washington game for nearly three decades. His record suggests that he has taken to heart the old-fashioned saying that there's no limit to what you can do in this town if you don't care who gets credit for it.

So even now, as he assumes the Senate majority leadership, Daschle's name evokes no memorable anecdotes or images, recalls no soaring oratory or cloakroom confrontations. There's no Daschle doctrine, no legislative monument that bears his name, no public notoriety at all, really. He's from another era — a politician without a compulsion to be seen, quoted, praised. And yet, if you talk to the people who have worked with him over those three decades, you hear quite amazing descriptions:

“He's the best I've seen,” says Bennett Johnston, the former Democratic senator from Louisiana. “He works as hard as any senator I've ever seen,” says Bob Bauer, a Democratic lawyer who was Daschle's legal counselor in the impeachment trial of 1999. “Of all the many people I've worked for in politics,” says Ron Klain, a principal aide to Bill Clinton and Al Gore after leaving Daschle's staff, “he is by far the most easygoing.” “If you look up 'patience' in the dictionary,” says Michael Meehan, Daschle's political director for four years and now his man at the Democratic National Committee, “there's a picture of Tom Daschle.”

Even Republicans find it difficult to speak harshly of Daschle. “I served with Tom in the House Agriculture Committee,” says Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), “and I've served with him in the Senate for a long time, and I can't find anything to say about him that's unpleasant.”

Steve Bell, for most of two decades the senior aide to Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), sounds like a critic when first discussing Daschle: “He's very tough, very partisan, very clever. He is implacably after the possession of power.” Then Bell's tone changes: “In other words, he's a professional…. He's a guy you can deal with.” Whom does he remind Bell of? “He reminds me very much of [former Republican leader Howard] Baker,” Bell replies. Baker is Bell's personal political hero. He's also — with Mike Mansfield, the Senate Democratic leader from 1961 to 1977 — one of the men Daschle cites as model majority leaders.

Daschle has no visible enemies. This is unusual, to say the least. There are senators who detest Trent Lott, the outgoing majority leader — both Democrats and Republicans. George Mitchell of Maine, Daschle's predecessor as Democratic leader and another rather soft-spoken senator from a small state, was the object of fierce Republican hostility. Robert S. Byrd, Mitchell's predecessor, was a remote, self-important majority leader who, far from being difficult to dislike, was hard to like.

These attributes make Daschle a throwback, a man from the pre-poisonous age of American politics. Fierce partisanship has infected Capitol Hill for a generation; animus and ill will are now routine. But Mansfield and Baker didn't engage in aggressive partisan hostility — indeed, his friends have said for years that partisanship, not least in his own party, is what drove Baker to leave the Senate when he was still a relatively young man of 59. So Daschle is sending a signal when he names as his models those lions of a very different Senate.

The signal is not about ignoring partisan differences. Daschle is a moderately liberal Democrat, always has been, and isn't shy about promoting his views on divisive issues. The signal is more about style. Daschle's is reassurance personified….

“Moderately liberal” as opposed to just plain liberal? Daschle’s lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union (ACU) is 13 percent. His lifetime rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) is 83 percent, making him more liberal than fellow South Dakotan George McGovern, the man who personified liberalism for decades, who earned a 75 percent lifetime rating from the ADA.

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