By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
During a political question-and-answer session, a middle-aged, middle-class white woman hesitantly held up her hand and said: "You know, Time magazine said one reason Tom Daschle might have trouble getting elected minority leader is because South Dakota is just so...well...blah. What can we do about that?"
The heartbreak of being blah. Not a problem for the normal Texan--Not Blah is our middle name--but my protective instincts for a chunk of my old journalistic territory were roused. It's my belief that Blah can be a real selling point in this day and age. I envision an entire ad campaign based on South Dakota's Blahness.
"Come and see Normal People as they were in the days of yesteryear, when they roamed the Great Plains."
"For a cost-effective vacation, come to South Dakota for a weekend--it'll seem like a week."
"South Dakota--where people are nice."
Actually, South Dakota is one of those places that's deceptively normal. I think of it as the Land of the Consistent Aberration. Here it sits in all its pristine, Upper Midwestern normalcy, occasionally electing people such as George McGovern, James Abourezk, and Bill Janklow.
Who, you naturally ask, is Bill Janklow? The once and future governor of South Dakota. Re-elected after a long spell out of office, Janklow campaigns like a right-wing Republican and governs like a populist.
When last I covered Janklow, he was mostly known for sleeping in Doctor Denton pajamas and carrying a machine gun in his car trunk. (I believe these stories have gotten slightly garbled over the years. Some people say he carries only an automatic rifle but sleeps in a bunny-rabbit suit--you see how political myths get made.)
Now here's another odd-but-true fact about Bill Janklow: he never finished school because his promising career as a juvenile delinquent was cut short by a judge who committed him to the Marines. Janklow served in the Marines with Lee Harvey Oswald, and Janklow believes in the single-bullet theory because he says Lee Harvey always was crazy as a peach-orchard boar.
There are many wonderful Janklow stories, my favorite being the time he led an assault force on the Capitol to capture a terrorist, who turned out to be the janitor. It's the thought that counts.
Many insist that there is a kinder and gentler Janklow today, but I'm pleased to report that he denies it.
The point I'm trying to make here is that South Dakotans, in their glorious normalcy, have a habit of electing extraordinary people and then regarding them with a calmness worthy of Canadians. And Canadians, as you know, have as their national motto, "Now, let's not get excited."
Which brings us to a recent statement made by the egregious Mr. Gingrich, a man who gets excited with some regularity. In a flush of post-election euphoria--or maybe it was just a hot flash--Gingrich sneered that the Clintons are "counterculture McGoverniks."
This is an oxymoron. Come to South Dakota and check it out.
There was never anyone less counterculture than George McGovern, a minister's son and World War II hero. Not an ounce of Elvis to him, and unlike Newt Gingrich, he never tried an illegal drug. In fact, the most noticeable thing about McGovern is that he is so...South Dakotan. He's decent clear through.
So here in South Dakota, land of phlegm and blah, people are a little vexed with Newt Gingrich--actually, downright annoyed.
It's not that they agreed with McGovern politically--McGovern didn't even carry South Dakota when he ran for the presidency in 1972--but they know him. Except for being a liberal, which can happen to anyone, George McGovern is pretty much the apotheosis of South Dakota. And that's why "counterculture McGovernik" is a fighting phrase out here.
Now comes upon the national scene Sen. Tom Daschle, Democratic majority leader--not one of your aberrational South Dakotans. Daschle is a moderate, even by South Dakota standards, which means militantly moderate. And he is--it is universally agreed here--"real nice."
I myself favored Sen. Chris Dodd on the grounds that Dodd has some Elvis to him, but Daschle may yet turn out to be the right man for the times. One forebodes that after a few more months of Gingrich and Helms, people are going to be awfully relieved to hear from someone who is moderate and nice. And that's by South Dakota standards.
In one of those amazing, instant "conventional wisdom" attacks, "everyone" in Washington has decided that more military spending is a good idea; it's a cheap (!) and easy way for the White House to go along with part of the Republican plan so it will appear that all are working together smoothly in the new Washington.
Excuse me, but...why? Why would we want to spend more money on the military? We are now spending $280 billion a year, which is almost as much as the rest of the world combined spends?
Military spending in 1994 is 17 percent higher than in 1980, when the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union was a menace. Over the same period, discretionary domestic spending has increased only 8 percent.