BY PHIL BARENGOLTS
Last year, the Democratic Party lost one of the closest elections in U.S. history, despite economic prosperity and a Democrat in the Oval Office. So was it the candidate or the party? If the words of a future candidate are to be believed, it may have been both.
In a likely prelude to a Presidential run in 2004, Senator Thomas Daschle (D-SD) discussed the changing ideals of the Democratic Party without revealing too much about his substantive views. The running theme of the speech, which was sponsored by the HLS Democrats and broadcast on C-SPAN, was best summarized by Daschle himself. “The basic premise is that we’re all stronger as a family, stronger together than we are separate,” he told an overflowing crowd in Langdell North.
Characteristically, though Daschle received but a smattering of applause for declaring support for a Constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to control campaign spending, the loudest cheers of the night came in response to a partisan jab. “If you want to move the country forward, you put it in D. If you want to put it in reverse, put it in R,” Daschle joked.
Daschle was unapologetic in his support of the Clinton administration and took frequent timeouts from the general point of his speech to remind the crowd that the current administration has rolled back many of Clinton’s more ambitious advances. Daschle stirred the crowd by noting a few prime examples, such as ergonomic workspace regulations, spending for international family planning and ambient arsenic levels provisions.
Daschle also addressed a number of substantive issues where he believed the Democrats had an upper hand in public opinion. He stressed the importance of continued and expanded financial assistance for college tuition, proclaimed support for computer literacy by the 6th grade and asserted his support for a patients’ bill of rights and improved access to coverage for prescription drugs.
Daschle also took time to criticize the Bush tax cut proposal. Arguing that it was too large and based on dubious revenue stream projections, he instead pushed the Democrats’ proposal for a smaller tax cut that targeted middle income households rather than the highest income earners.
The question and answer period provoked a more substantive look at the issues, though Daschle still managed to maintain his political poise and not reveal too much about his stance on many issues. Some of the more interesting highlights of the Q&A included Daschle’s admission that the Democratic party was not unified on the issue of a National Missile Defense System. “[I] personally believe it’s a mistake because it doesn’t work,” Daschle stated, citing the need for more research and the potential to alienate allies as sticking points in his opposition to deployment.
Daschle’s take on Supreme Court nominees was straightforward. He proclaimed that he would merely look for someone who was qualified and fit the political mainstream, although he expressed concern that the Bush administration may try to elevate extreme judges.
When asked about diversity and affirmative action, Daschle laid the issue at the feet of the audience. “As I look out onto this room, I only wish I could see more diversity than I do,” said Daschle, who then proceeded to state his desire for expanded affirmative action programs.
The most anticipated and loudly applauded comment was one that was not an answer at all. Asked about who would be the Democratic nominee in 2004, Daschle simply responded that there were many qualified candidates and he would leave it at that. It remains to be seen whether Daschle feels he is one of those qualified enough to make a run at the Presidency.