Dayton v. Kennedy

Returning Senator Mark Dayton to the Ranks of the Idle Rich in 2006

1/28/2005

Grow: Senator Substance

Doug Grow: "Dayton has substance and...has never been afraid to take political risks."

Doug Grow, Star Tribune
January 27, 2005

Mark Dayton was speaking, from his soul, on the hallowed floor of the U. S. Senate.
The Minnesota Democrat's passionate speech was delivered Tuesday in the so-called debate over whether the Senate should confirm the nomination of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state.

"I don't like to impugn anyone's integrity," Dayton said in the final moments of his speech. "But I really do not like being lied to repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally. It is wrong. It is undemocratic. It is un-American and it is dangerous. It is very dangerous and it is occurring far too frequently in this administration."

Dayton's words didn't just fall on deaf ears. They fell on virtually no ears at all.

He believes there were four senators on the floor of the Senate as he spoke in this mighty debate that was not just about Rice, but about U.S. foreign policy.

"Ted Kennedy was there, two or three others," he said. "We have a lot of good speakers here. We don't have many listeners."

Dayton's speech about Rice and the veracity of the administration obviously had no impact on the Senate. On Wednesday, senators voted 85 to 13 to confirm Rice.

The one-sided nature of the vote could be seen as underscoring the commonly held view that Dayton, who is up for reelection in 2006, is a vulnerable target for the Republican Party.

But it is just as possible to see him as a national leader of opposition to the administration.
Right off, that may seem an absurd proposition.
Dayton doesn't create tingles of excitement -- except among Republicans eager to run against him. He has jarring syntax (it's more powerful to read a Dayton speech than to hear one). And he grades low on "schmoozability' scales.

Yet he has potential leadership strengths, the greatest being that he's been one of the few consistent critics of the administration's foreign policy and its veracity problems.

You don't have to agree with him to acknowledge that he was one of the few in Washington with enough heart to say that he didn't think going to war in Iraq was a good idea. He's had the courage to say that the war is not going well.

This criticism is from the heart. He genuinely believes that deception rules the day in D.C.

In a phone conversation Wednesday morning, Dayton recalled a pre-war meeting he had on Sept. 28, 2002, with Rice, then-CIA Director George Tenet and four senators.

"They passed around a 6-inch section of a metal tube," Dayton said. "They repeatedly said that this was absolute proof that Iraq had a program" for building nuclear weapons.

"I learned later that even their own experts didn't agree with that assessment. If she [Rice] didn't know it at the time, she certainly knew it later, but there was never a call saying, 'We misinformed you.' "

He says he gets more information from daily newspapers then he does from top-secret Senate briefings.

More and more, Dayton's clearly stated remarks have been picked up by the national news media, which means he'll gain a growing number of friends and enemies.

Dayton, a leader? Minnesotans involved in the peace movement or politics gasp -- at first -- at the thought. After the initial shock, though, most acknowledge that Dayton has substance and that he never has been afraid to take political risks. (In the early 1970s, for example, he was on President Richard Nixon's infamous enemies list. "Others deserved it more," he said, humbly.)

Substance is a hard sell.

But Chris Gilbert, a political science professor at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., fears that because Dayton is up for reelection, people will listen not to what Dayton says, but to the political implications of his words.

"Everything he does is going to be trapped in a reelection narrative," Gilbert said. "We're in a period when loyal dissent gets dragged down as partisan politics. ... Every elected official deserves better than that."

But Dayton does have one more thing in his favor: He's got a vastly bigger audience outside the Senate than inside.

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