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April 28, 2006
Quit Digging

Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton, recently selected by Time Magazine as one of the top five worst Senators in office, just can't seem to stop justifying his inexplicable office closing shortly before the 2004 presidential elections. The Star Tribune tries to assist him by giving him another shovel with which to dig the hole ever deeper:

As Sen. Mark Dayton contemplated closing his office because of a terrorist threat 18 months ago, he huddled privately with his top aides, who warned him that such an unprecedented decision would spell his demise.

"I said, 'If you close the office and you do so alone, you'll be committing political suicide. You'll be isolated.' ... I think my prediction bore out," said Jack Danielson, Dayton's chief of staff.

For Dayton, D-Minn., it is the one issue that won't go away, dragging him down more than a year after he announced he wouldn't run for a second term and playing a key role in Time magazine's decision last week to pan him as one of America's five worst senators.

"It is likely to be my Senate epitaph, which is not what I would choose," Dayton said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office. His office is fighting back, providing new behind-the-scenes details on his decision, which he says he's still convinced was right.

Dayton then tries to explain how dire the intel sounded when first released to Congress. He claims that he only had his staff in mind when he shut the office down and sent them home, even though his was the only Congressional office to close down in fear on the basis of that intelligence. The Star Tribune includes accolades from the staffers and their families for this decision, even as it also reports that Dayton's chief of staff (and presumably a member of the same office) tried to warn him repeatedly that doing this on his own would destroy his career and reputation.

What the Strib fails to include are the contemporaneous reactions of his peers when he unilaterally shut down his offices, including observations from his own caucus that Dayton's actions appeared unstable:

The surprising response by the freshman senator from Minnesota to the latest in a series of warnings prompted ridicule and a flurry of angry reactions yesterday. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said Dayton's decision was "ill-informed." Minnesota's senior senator, Norm Coleman (R), called Dayton reckless. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) compared him to the boy who cried wolf. Colleagues on both sides of the aisle whispered "paranoid." ...

Dayton's reaction to the extreme possibility was ridiculous, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said.

"It's not based on any credible information that's come in. Nobody knows why he is doing what he is doing," Ramsey said. "It doesn't take a brain surgeon to think that the White House and the Capitol are targets. But there is no credible information about planned attacks -- nothing to set off the reaction we saw." ...

"He's damaged us. He's unnecessarily panicked people across the United States," said Norton, who has often questioned the federal government's security moves in the capital. "Now we have a member of Congress who steps out and says, 'I'm going to tell you something the rest of Congress won't tell you.' That's unfair to the entire security network that is in constant communication about this place."

No matter how one tries to sell it, Dayton's actions showed a remarkable lack of testicular fortitude in wartime. When 99 out of 100 Senators all read the same intel and all come to the conclusion that it doesn't require the government to shut its doors in panic and fear, it highlights the pusillanimity of the 100th member. Dayton can spend the rest of his life trying to justify it, but it won't wash. Most of us here in Minnesota saw this as either another example of Dayton's emotional instability or a rather transparent attempt to embarrass the administration on national security in the days before the election. I lean more towards the latter than the former, and I believe Dayton's bitterness on this topic comes from the fact that his fellow Democrats allowed him to twist in the wind instead of following his example.

Dayton should remember the First Rule Of Political Holes: quit digging.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 28, 2006 6:53 AM

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