Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias Before the first bomb was dropped on Baghdad last week, we seemed destined to find ourselves engaged in yet another war.

The front lines of this fighting could be found not only on the national network television news. It was also prevalent right here in South Dakota, in coffee shops, at American Legion meetings, among farmers checking the markets at grain elevators and women who stopped while shopping for groceries to chat.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle set tongues wagging across the nation March 17. Negotiations had collapsed at the United Nations and President Bush was about to deliver an address in which he gave Saddam Hussein a 48-hour deadline to accept exile or face war.

Before Bush�s speech, however, Daschle said, �I�m saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we�re forced to war.�

The South Dakota Democrat added that he was �saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn�t create the kind of diplomatic effort that so critical for our country.�

�Fermez la bouche, Monsieur Daschle,� House majority leader Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, said in a written statement. Translated from the French, the remark roughly means: Shut your mouth.

Daschle �is a friend of mine, but I�m appalled at what I read he said,� said Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said Daschle�s comments �may not undermine the president as he leads us into war and they may not give comfort to our adversaries, but they come mighty close.�

Then the explosive volleys began � not in Iraq, but in the inbox of my e-mail. People from all across the nation felt obliged to let South Dakota media, including, apparently the Plain Talk, know their feelings about the remarks made by one of the state�s favorite sons.

Or maybe they just wanted to vent.

�South Dakota would do well to get rid of Tom Daschel (sic) and send him to France. There is nothing he would not do for political gain,� wrote Frank C. Wilson III of Boone, NC. �His blaming this war on the president�s diplomatic failure is a case in point. How do you stand this unpatriotic boob? He is an embarrassment to your state.�

I found this short but not sweet note right after Daschle�s speech from Joseph Novak, who left no address. He simply described himself as A Proud American. �An open letter to Senator Daschle,� he wrote. �We are almost at war. Shut your mouth.�

Roger Motsinger of Clinton, IL, let us know that �Your senator spends more time criticizing the president then he does Saddam Hussein who has put people in acid baths and cutting their tongues out because they did not agree with him; beheaded Iraqis who have defied him ? Daschle should be ashamed. ASHAMED! Daschle seems to hope the war does not go in our favor; he hopes the economy does not rebound; he hopes that everything will go wrong under President Bush so that he can further spread his socialistic idealogy?�

�I am so disappointed in your politicization of President Bush�s decision to give Saddam Hussein an ultimatum. President Bush�s final decision, and you know this, had nothing to do with HIS failed diplomacy. He went out of his way to do more diplomatically than I believe was warranted to deal with the Iraqi tyrant,� wrote Garth W. Eisenbeis, Elk Grove, CA, in a direct letter to the senator that he shared with us. �You know what he is doing is right, or were you just doing the politically expedient thing last year when you voted for the resolution authorizing the use of force against Saddam and his Iraqi government? You cannot have it both ways, Senator! You are talking out of both sides of your mouth and trying to convince your constituents, the wonderful people of South Dakota, that you have our country�s interests at heart?�

Mike Brocklehurst of Albuquerque, NM also blew off steam by writing a letter to Daschle, and zapping a copy to my computer�s e-mail.

�Concerning your comments about President Bush, to paraphrase, �President Bush�s miserable failure at diplomacy.� You should be ashamed of yourself; it is one thing to politic in the normal course of events, but as a nation at war with terror and with those that support terror playing politics and trying to gain an advantage with your comments are despicable ? Your words were shallow and you showed your true colors � as a man that puts his politics and self-interests before the good of the country?�

In a letter titled �Thanks for Taking the Heat off of Massachusetts,� James E. Canty of Concord, MA wrote �For years now I have thought that our state had the most left wing out of touch politicians in the nation. Tom Daschle has proven me wrong. His continued rants and raves about Bush and the United States policy in dealing with Saddam Hussein has gone overboard. He talks about the need to use diplomacy, yet uses none himself. Daschle is starting to make Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank look moderate.

Thanks Mr. Daschle!�

�South Dakota Liberate Us!� wrote Cliff Pinne, who hails from somewhere in Texas, according to his area code. �I had been to South Dakota several years ago, but I remember the state to be very beautiful and the people to be very friendly. What planet did Tom Daschle come from? I honestly don�t understand where his hate speech comes from. Can you help me? Please, please, please ? liberate us from his babyish meanderings! Our republic deserves better, the people of South Dakota deserves better!�

I could go on and on � my e-mail is bursting with other correspondence that has a similar tone.

There�s a temptation to declare a winner in this thankfully bloodless war of words. The victor is easier to determine than you might think.

The winner is ? us. You, me, everybody who calls the United States home.

It�s easy to understand how people here in the heartland, where we tend to wear our patriotism on our sleeve, can get upset by any indications of dissent.

It is that very right, however, to disagree, to voice one�s opinion, that makes this country the greatest on earth.

You never heard any news reports in recent months about Iraqi government officials who said they were saddened at the way Saddam Hussein was treating his citizens.

There�s a good reason for that. Breathe a negative word about Saddam anywhere in Iraq, and you�ll likely find yourself in a dungeon somewhere, where you�re given plenty of time to think about what you said before you�re shot.

The tradition of dissent is strong in America. Indeed, the values of free speech and individual liberty are at the core of our existence.

Free speech and individual liberties were granted to America not by the authors of our Constitution, but by its dissenters.

The debate that was waged over the ratification of the Constitution brought together an odd coalition of dissent. Some were concerned with the lack of judicial safeguards in court proceedings; some were concerned with freedom of the press; some were concerned about the sovereignty of state governments.

But although these various dissenting groups were clearly the losers in the ratification debate (the Constitution was, after all, ratified against their wishes), their collective dissent gave birth to the Bill of Rights � and eventually to the concept most Americans have of the Constitution � that it protects their rights.

It seems ironic that the goals of a dissenting coalition became the core beliefs around which American constitutionalism is founded.

Finding unity in a nation as diverse as the United States, the founding fathers knew, would be impossible. They wisely recognized that for American citizens to truly be free, they had to have the ability to freely and intellectually cuss and discuss among themselves.

That gift of freedom means Daschle can keep on criticizing Bush, and all of us, if we wish, can criticize Daschle.

Without a one-way ticket to the nearest dungeon.

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