Pat Buchanan, Tom Daschle spar at Show Me Center

Friday, October 1, 2010
Pat Buchanan, right, makes his opening statement as Tom Daschle, left, and moderator Reginald Dale take in his points on national politics Thursday at the Show Me Center. The two political figures opened this year's Southeast Missouri State University Speakers Series. (LAURA SIMON~lsimon@semissourian.cm)

Tom Daschle is a standard-bearer of the Democratic Party, particularly its moderate and liberal wings. As both a majority and minority leader, the former U.S. senator from South Dakota gained a reputation for consensus-building even as he worked to expand government's role.

Pat Buchanan is the conservative who led a "pitchfork revolution" against the GOP establishment in three unsuccessful presidential campaigns. The political commentator served in the Nixon and Reagan administrations and remains a passionate voice of limited government and fiscal conservatism.

The two may be miles apart in political ideology, but they agree on one thing: There's a leadership and inspiration vacuum in Washington, D.C.

Buchanan and Daschle addressed party politics, the economy, health care and a divided nation Thursday night at the Show Me Center. Nearly 400 people watched the civil sparring in an event titled "A View of Current Events Facing the Nation," the kickoff of the 2010 University Speakers Series at Southeast Missouri State University.

At a news conference moments before, Buchanan elaborated on a syndicated column he recently wrote asking the question, "Is the Republican establishment losing it?" The short answer, he said, is yes.

"I'll be honest, I don't think the Republican Party has yet demonstrated the leadership and the unity and the ideas to lead the nation, frankly, from the White House and the Congress of the United States," Buchanan said. "I don't believe they've corrected their errors" from 2006 and 2008.

This despite huge gains by conservative candidates, fueled by a tea party movement in the lead-up to next month's midterm elections. Buchanan said he's confident Republicans will make big gains, although he's not convinced they will retake control in both houses of Congress as they did in 1994.

Daschle concedes Democrats could be in serious trouble at the polls as anxiety over the struggling economy and high unemployment color Election Day decisions. The problem for Democrats and Republicans alike, Daschle said, is the divisiveness and bickering in an environment that treats politics as sport.

"I would love to see more inspiration -- the kind of visionary leadership that we need now more than ever," said Daschle, first elected to the House in 1978, where he served eight years before his election to the Senate.

Reginald Dale, senior fellow in the Center for Strategic and International Studies, moderated the session.

Some of the more passionate discussion arose when Dale asked each man to offer an assessment on the war in Afghanistan. Buchanan, a critic of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, asserted Obama is "not a war president."

"This is a president who is leading a war who believes in his heart that we can't win with the resources we have," Buchanan said.

Daschle countered that the president is trying to balance the realization that Afghanistan is not going to be the next nation-building success story, like South Korea or Taiwan.

Buchanan said the rise of the tea party, led by its "Middle American radicals," are similar to the people who supported his presidential runs.

"They feel that they are losing the country they grew up in, they feel it's slipping away. And they feel like politicians won't do anything about it," he said.

Buchanan describes himself as a natural-born pessimist, and the times and its politicians aren't inspiring him with a great deal of confidence.

"It's kind of like 'Thelma and Louise,'" he said. "I don't know how far we are from the cliff, but I know it's out there."

Despite the challenges, Daschle said he remains optimistic about the American future.

"There is an amazing level of resiliency in the American character," he said.

mkittle@semissourian.com

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