All Rights Reserved © 2002 Thomas W. Day
The country lost a voice of courage this year. Paul Wellstone, my own US Senator, died along with his wife, a daughter, and several staff members in a plan crash in northern Minnesota. In the midst of a heated political battle for his Senate seat, Wellstone was, characteristically, attempting to attend a friend's father's funeral when his private plane went down attempting to land on a small, rural airport in heavy fog. Minnesotans are still in mourning, some are so grief stricken you'd think they'd lost a member of their own family.
It's possible that Paul's politics seemed so radical that you might not understand how a state could elect and love such a man. Wellstone was often called "the most liberal member of the senate." Maybe he was. He thought of himself as the voice of the voiceless. A representative for the rest of us, to put Apple's unused motto to good use. Wellstone treated his office as a calling, a sacred obligation to the people who voted for him, not just the people who donated money. He took a lot of heat from conservatives for being "anti-business." Looking at his voting record, it's hard to see how anyone could find that in his actions, but reality never gets between a conservative and his dogma. Wellstone felt that corporate interests and the ruling-rich have all the representation their money can buy and that at least one elected official should represent the other 99.99% of the population. Out of only 100 Senators, I guess, statistically, we should have felt specially lucky to have even one guy on our side.
Paul's most recent outrage was, after considerable soul searching and research, voting against granting unilateral unprovoked war powers to the G.W. Bush gang. He was pissing into the wind, since the majority of the senate did their flag-waving best to bring prosperity back to the military-industrial complex and a recession for the rest of us. You are more likely to be remembered for being right than for joining the crowd, though. Eugene McCarthy, another Minnesota Senator, was the only vote against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution that gave us ten years of the pointless, vicious Vietnam War. McCarthy's courage, Nixon's impeachment and resignation, and Johnson's appendix scar may be the only remnant of those years that history bothers to record.
History is papered with the few men who took courageous, against-the-grain stands against warlords and the mindless masses. Wellstone will be remembered as one of the few in the Senate who had a conscious to listen to, when this vote was taken. As usual, the mob carried the motion, but truth and morality rarely enter into mob action. (In fact, I can't think of a single moment in history when any majority was on the right side of an issue. It's always a calibration point to remember that less than 1% of Americans participated in the Revolutionary War. 99% of our "founding fathers" were Tories. Most modern "conservatives" would have been proud to be called Tories.)
History, though, appears to have a nose for the truth and an attraction to courage. Twenty years from now, Congress' conservative cowards will be forgotten and the few who placed their position on the line to vote against this foolish war for oil will be remembered. Paul Wellstone was one of the most courageous men in politics.
It took him a while to admit to his conscience, since he was in a nasty campaign race for reelection, but he did the right thing in the end. I guess those who knew Paul never had any doubt how he'd vote. He had me guessing, though. It's hard to know who's going to be caught up in a political stampede. I guess I haven't been involved in Minnesota politics long enough to know how difficult it would be to panic Paul Wellstone.
It's hard to imagine Minnesota politics without Paul's presence. For at least the last few decades, Minnesota has been a hot and cold place, Wellstone and Rod Gramms, the progressive and the ultimate regressive. Mark Dayton put up enough of his own money to offset Gramm's corporate and right-wing attachments and Dayton's election left Minnesota with a slight tilt toward a progressive Senate position. If Wellstone's opponent, ex-St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman, wins this election, a lot of state and national balances will be altered. Dayton is enough of a non -entity that his position is barely able to muster neutrality. Coleman is the ultimate Republican yes-man. Any butt that will further his political ambition is a butt worth kissing.
Wellstone will be missed well beyond the next few years.