To the left is a picture of Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota, with Senator Daschle and Stephanie Herseth behind him, railing against the "Taliban wing of the Republican Party" at a Herseth rally yesterday in McKennan Park in Sioux Falls. His statement has generated a firestorm--see here, here, and here--and calls for Johnson, Daschle, and Herseth to apologize for the remarks. The immediate context is the House special election next week that Herseth is competing in against Larry Deidrich (Stephanie memo to Tim: we're running a "postive" campaign and trying to tar our opponent for launching "negative attacks," remember?)(see this for Stuart Rothenberg's comments about Herseth "crying wolf" on "negative" ads). The broader context is the major speech Senator Daschle gave earlier this month decrying the "startling meanness" in American politics and denouncing the tactic of "demonizing those with whom we disagree." (see this USA Today story about Daschle's speech). Instead of intervening after Johnson's remarks, however, Daschle stood by and clapped. Ironically, in his "meanness" speech, Daschle said Johnson was compared to Saddam Hussein during the 2002 election cycle and that was unfair. First, Johnson was not compared to Hussein. The ad said that Hussein and others posed a potential WMD threat and therefore a missile-defense system was needed and criticized Johnson for voting against the system. Daschle's continued statements that Johnson was "compared" to Hussein are completely wrong and simply a straw man for him to flog. Here's the text of the ad:
VO: Al Quaeda terrorists. Saddam Hussein. Enemies of America. Working to obtain nuclear weapons. Now more than ever our nation must have a missile defense system to shoot down missiles fired at America.
Yet Tim Johnson’s voted against a missile defense system 29 different times. One of the most liberal records in Congress.
Is this a question of patriotism? No. It’s a question of judgment. John Thune supported a missile defense system every time. John Thune. Putting national defense and American security first.
Nowhere in the ad is Johnson "compared" to Hussein. It compared two records on the question of anti-missile defense. To distort the ad by saying it compares Johnson to Hussein is designed to claim the mantle of victimhood. To not object when Daschle is standing right next to Johnson when he directly says that Republicans are members of the Taliban is hypocrisy. Daschle has selective outrage--his major speech on "meanness," it should be noted, didn't mention any Democrats. SDP and Sibby have more. Johnson is also being ripped on talk radio.
UPDATE: Senator Johnson says he's not apologizing.
UPDATE II: The Washington Times is now reporting on the Taliban comments. Congressman Tom Reynolds is now criticizing Herseth:
"Stephanie Herseth holding a rally where the senator (Johnson) she says she hopes to emulate compares political opponents to some of the most notorious murderers in history is a betrayal to all South Dakotans," Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., the chairman of the GOP's House campaign organization, said.
"Her continued refusal to demand an apology for these comments can only mean that she accepts them and their hateful message."
UPDATE III: Sibby has been calling the offices of Herseth, Daschle, and Johnson and getting the run-around.
UPDATE V: Daily Kos is raising questions about Deidrich's voting record on child abuse. Ugh. First the Taliban comment, now this.
UPDATE VI: KSFY also reported on Johnson's response: "It has to with a very small faction who have attacked my religious faith, attacked my patriotism." What?!? Who exactly has attacked his religion and patriotism? And who exactly is in the "Taliban wing"?
UPDATE VII: The South Dakota Family Policy Council now weighs in with this release:
Senator Johnson Reveals Contempt for Christian Religious Liberty SIOUX FALLS—The South Dakota Family Policy Council responded to comments made by Sen. Tim Johnson at a rally for Stephanie Herseth. Johnson said, “[H]ow sweet it’s going to be on June 2 when the Taliban wing of the Republican Party finds out what’s happened in South Dakota.”
“This says more about Tim Johnson than it does about anybody else,” said South Dakota Family Policy Council executive director Robert Regier. “Sadly, he and Senator Daschle and Stephanie Herseth have turned their backs on God’s church on key issues such as infanticide, religious freedom, and homosexuality. Their contempt for the Christian worldview reveals an ugly double standard in the liberal mantra of ‘tolerance.’
“Referring to followers of Jesus Christ as the ‘Taliban’ does nothing to dissuade us from playing an integral part in the political process. In fact, it has the opposite effect. If Christian conservatives were complacent before Sen. Johnson’s slander, they’re awake now,” Regier said.
The Family Policy Council has scheduled a rally for pastors and Christian leaders at the University of Sioux Falls Stewart Center at noon on Thursday.
“What Johnson, Daschle, and Herseth consider extreme, most South Dakotans consider mainstream,” Regier added. “That Republican and Democratic conservatives believe in the inalienable right to life, the freedom of religion, and traditional marriage shouldn’t come to a surprise to our congressional delegation.”