Tom Daschle — you remember him, of course — is the co-author of a new book titled “The U.S. Senate,” which he wrote with Charles Robbins.
Daschle, a Democrat who represented South Dakota in Congress for 26 years, gave a speech at The National Archives on Jan. 23. It aired on C-SPAN2 early Sunday, and will likely pop up there again. If not, here it is.
In his speech, Daschle spoke fondly of his close relationships with other senators and politicians, especially Republicans. He said he and former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, a Republican, have been friends for 35 years.
Daschle repeated what he has told me, and others, and what he wrote in a column we published a year ago: Congress would be more effective, and get more done, if the members knew each other better, and spent time together. He said the problem is highlighted by the schedule of many members of Congress, whom he said fly home on Thursday, come back on Tuesday and try to govern on Wednesday.
That’s a point worth considering, since the House and Senate are rarely in session in recent months. Sen. John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem, both Republicans, are home in South Dakota constantly, and love to brag how often they return to their home state, and how they love to get out of Washington.
Daschle said it’s not just the schedule they keep. He said new members seem to relish the idea that they are not political experts, and do not know, nor want to know, how Washington works.
In his speech, he quoted an unnamed freshman member of Congress from his part of the country, who said this:
“A lot of us freshmen don’t have a whole lot of knowledge, necessarily, about the way that Washington, D.C., is operated. And frankly, we don’t really care.”
That syntax sounded like someone I know, so I checked. Yep, that quote comes from Noem, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Feb. 13, 2011, a month after she took office.
Daschle’s typically subdued slap at Noem is in keeping with his style, and their lives and careers. Tom Daschle spent most of his adult life in government, and believes in it.
He was a military officer, a congressional aide, a representative, and then a senator. He pondered a run at the White House in both 2004 and 2008, and was President Obama’s HHS nominee in 2008-2009 before embarrassing revelations about taxes forced him to withdraw, and turn his attentions to work as a consultant to the powerful and rich, an author, and a public speaker.
However, he has often said he will always feel connected to his home state, and was told the importance of maintaining ties here. Concerns about that led in part to his defeat in 2004 by Thune, but Daschle said he was always rooted in the South Dakota soil.
In the book, he wrote: “Eight years after I arrived, the senators of my party elected me their Leader, and one of my strongest supporters and most loyal and dedicated friends, Dick Reiners, invited me to dinner back home in South Dakota.
“Dick, then in his eighties, was a farmer. Over meat and potatoes at Dick’s farmhouse in Worthing, I asked him for advice. He paused and looked at me and said, ‘There are two things that I would hope for you. One is that you never forget where you came from. Come home. Remember us.’
“Then he pointed to some photos on the wall that I recognized readily, of his grandchildren. He said, ‘You’ve held each one of those grandkids, as have I. Give them hope. Every day you walk onto the floor, give them hope.’ ”
Daschle also told the story in his speech, pointing out the “a wonderful farm dinner” he was served. He also got a bit choked up as he revealed that it had been Reiners’ last meal; he died that night.
Noem, meanwhile, has tried hard to portray herself as a farmer and rancher, not a politician — the kind of person who skipped Obama’s inauguration while staying home and working the concession stand at her son’s basketball tournament. In her re-election campaign, she, like other freshmen Republicans, posed as an outsider.
However, she served two terms in the Legislature before amazing many observers by being elected to the House in 2010, and then winning fairly easily in 2012. Now she decides if she will run for a third term, or try to step up to the Senate in 2014. For someone who never skips a chance to bash government, she certainly seems to enjoy being part of it.
Maybe someday she will complain about the whippersnappers in Congress and how they don’t do things the way she did back in her day. Of course, she has a long ways to go to match Daschle’s more than quarter century in Congress.