Double-standards in South Dakota


Geraldine Sealey
May 26, 2004 12:23AM (UTC)

While rallying voters last week in South Dakota at an event promoting House candidate Stephanie Herseth, Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson said a segment of the Republican Party reminds him of the Taliban. Republican outrage ensued -- how could the senator say such a thing, asked Herseth's opponent, Larry Diedrich. I'm not supported by terrorists, Diedrich said, as if anyone really thought he was, but by the many fine young and old people, farmers, business people, and working people of South Dakota. Diedrich demanded an apology. Johnson then issued a statement saying: "If any Republicans were offended, I apologize."

Now, think what you will about the Taliban remark, that it's all-too-typical for politicians and really anyone from opposing political and ideological camps these days to resort to "You're like Hitler, no You're like Hitler" arguments. Does it really advance political debate, or get us to any kind of clarity of thought, to say someone resembles the Taliban? Probably not. And when you're Tim Johnson, and you spend however many days defending and explaining yourself at the expense of promoting a Democratic candidate in an important House race, you'd have to admit that however good it felt to make the Taliban remark, it probably wasn't worth it.

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But in Johnson's case, the remark was more payback than anything else. Those who are outraged now that he would dare make such a comparison are clearly forgetting, conveniently, the negative, offensive campaign Republicans ran against him two years ago questioning his patriotism and comparing him to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. A TV ad, showcasing Saddam's face while questioning Johnson's commitment to a strong defense (even though he voted for the Iraq resolution), was particularly hurtful and bogus because Johnson's son Brooks fought the Taliban in Afghanistan. Johnson was the only member of Congress, in fact, who had a child fighting in that war. In his statement about his Taliban remark at the Herseth rally, Johnson said he was pointing his rhetoric directly at the people responsible for those hateful ads.

Did Republicans, so outraged now over Johnson's remark, ever apologize? Hardly. Instead, GOP challenger and South Dakota congressman John Thune, who went on to lose the race he fought so nastily, chalked up the Saddam ad to "major differences of opinion."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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