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Daschle says 'shrill' talk radio spurs threats

Democratic leader cites talk shows

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle:
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle: "All of the Rush Limbaugh wannabes have a very shrill edge."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sharp and "shrill" commentary from some talk show hosts has led to increased threats against public officials, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Wednesday, counting himself among those who have received such threats.

Daschle, D-South Dakota, would not elaborate on the kinds of threats against him, but said that as Republicans criticized him throughout the year, the threats went up.

"When I was accused of being an obstructionist, there was a corresponding, a very significant increase in the number of issues that my family and I had to deal with. And I worry about that," said Daschle, whose office last year received an anthrax-laced letter.

Daschle credited Republicans for success in getting their message out, saying they deftly blend politics and entertainment and use talk radio to rev up their listeners in favor of their issues.

But, Daschle said, the tone of some commentaries has led to increased threats on him and his family.

"Rush Limbaugh and all of the Rush Limbaugh wannabes have a very shrill edge. And that's entertainment. We were told that even people who don't agree with them listen because they're entertaining," Daschle said.

"But what happens when Rush Limbaugh attacks those of us in public life is that people aren't satisfied just to listen. They want to act because they get emotionally invested. And so, you know, the threats to those of us in public life go up dramatically, on our families and on us, in a way that's very disconcerting," he said.

Limbaugh played Daschle's comments on his show Wednesday, telling his listeners, "Every time the Democrats lose either elections or a major issue, they blame me, they blame talk radio, and they blame you."

The outgoing majority leader said the ability of radio talk show hosts to gin up emotion among their listeners is akin to religious fundamentalism outside the United States.

"You know, we see it in foreign countries and we think, 'Well, my God, how can this religious fundamentalism become so violent?' Well, it's that same shrill rhetoric, it's that same shrill power that motivates. Somebody says something and then it becomes a little more shrill the next time. And then more shrill the next time. And pretty soon it's a foment that becomes physical in addition to just verbal," said Daschle.

Despite his concern, Daschle said Democrats have to learn to emulate Republican tactics to some extent.

"We were just talking with some experts a couple of days ago about how, if we're going to try to break through as Democrats, we have to have the same edge that Republicans do," he said.

Daschle has said Democrats were hurt during the midterm elections because of their inability to get a clear message out to voters.

But Daschle dismissed calls to redefine the party in the wake of defeat. He said the range of liberals to moderates in the Democratic party makes it hard to clearly define.

"Our party is who we are. You know, we're a very diverse party. That's been one of the strengths, I think. It's always been that way. I don't think we've ever been as uniformly consistent philosophically as the Republicans," he said.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, asked about Daschle's comments, said he didn't know of any threats.

"I've found people to be pretty upbeat and very generous and kind, even when they don't agree with everything I say," Lott, R-Mississippi, said.

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