OP-EDS

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November 1, 2002

Remembering Senator Wellstone

It was a front-page headline for sure. A sitting senator, engaged in a tight re-election race, killed in a plane crash along with his wife and oldest daughter. The news immediately shocked political insiders, who calculated the effect Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone's death would have on the makeup of the Senate next year. It also provoked an outpouring of grief, not just from the people of Minnesota, but from publicly-inclined citizens from across the country. Nearly everyone who knew of Wellstone had something nice to say about the man, and their words were not the insincere pabulum that usually comes to the recently deceased, but the honest reflection of a man whose political reputation was one of sincerity and conviction.

I am a conservative Republican. Wellstone was a leftist even by Democratic Party standards. In 1996, he was the only Democrat running for re-election that year to vote against President Clinton's popular welfare-reform bill. He voted against both wars in Iraq. Yet he also bucked his own party by voting against the sanctioning of gay marriage. By senatorial standards, he was refreshingly iconoclastic, but unlike John McCain, who goes out of his way to let everyone know that he is a maverick, Wellstone was low-key. From the Senate floor to Meet the Press, Wellstone rarely engaged in snide rhetoric when speaking about "the other side." He spoke in measured tones, issuing the calm of a man who believed that he was working with reasonable human beings and that his ideas, not the way that he would speak them, would have the desired effect. He was brave enough to realize that politics is not a zero-sum game.

Minnesota has been the home of many unique and self-effacing political characters, and Wellstone added to that tradition. Standing 5 feet, 5 inches tall, Wellstone was a sickly kid who got below an 800 on his SAT, yet got through the University of North Carolina with a Phi Beta Kappa key and a Ph.D. in political science. After serving 12 years as a professor, he ran for public office in 1990 with a grassroots campaign, defeating a two-term incumbent to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Senate history, after being outspent seven to one by his opponent. He had a streak of independence and relative frugality (his low-budget ads flaunting his campaign's pauperism struck a chord with voters, showing that people love honesty).

Wellstone took that independence to the Senate, where he openly aspired to be a Barry Goldwater of the left—a man bursting with energy and ideas, willing to forgo a decent chance at the presidency for the sake of his own ideals. Although the claim of being for "the working man" has been co-opted to the point that it is meaningless, with Wellstone it was scripture. He was never self-conscious about his leftist positions, even if they frequently brushed up against socialism. Republicans like me, who have gotten increasingly frustrated with President Bush's complacency in office (that's right, kids, he's really not much of a conservative), have to find their public heroes somewhere.

It is difficult to say what will happen now. In another weird twist to what has been a bizarre year in politics, it was announced that former Presidential candidate Walter Mondale will run in Wellstone's place. The rationale for placing him there is somewhat cynical. Obviously as an established name, Mondale has the best chance of defeating Republican Norm Coleman and preventing that seat from changing hands. Nowhere was the Democratic party's strategy more evident than at Wellstone's funeral Tuesday, where remembrance of his life gave way to insanely partisan promotion of Mondale's candidacy. It's sad that people are remembering Wellstone by using his death as a campaign opportunity, and it's doubly cynical that they are using the excuse "that's what he would have wanted."

Well, politics is politics, and when power is at stake, principles (like nice guys) usually get left behind. That's just the way it is. But that spectacle aside, it is not naïve for students who are interested in politics to learn from Paul's example—that a man with honest courage and persistence can be a force in the highest levels of government. By Sean Wereley

Maroon Viewpoints Contributor

It was a front-page headline for sure. A sitting senator, engaged in a tight re-election race, killed in a plane crash along with his wife and oldest daughter. The news immediately shocked political insiders, who calculated the effect Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone's death would have on the makeup of the Senate next year. It also provoked an outpouring of grief, not just from the people of Minnesota, but from publicly-inclined citizens from across the country. Nearly everyone who knew of Wellstone had something nice to say about the man, and their words were not the insincere pabulum that usually comes to the recently deceased, but the honest reflection of a man whose political reputation was one of sincerity and conviction.

I am a conservative Republican. Wellstone was a leftist even by Democratic Party standards. In 1996, he was the only Democrat running for re-election that year to vote against President Clinton's popular welfare-reform bill. He voted against both wars in Iraq. Yet he also bucked his own party by voting against the sanctioning of gay marriage. By senatorial standards, he was refreshingly iconoclastic, but unlike John McCain, who goes out of his way to let everyone know that he is a maverick, Wellstone was low-key. From the Senate floor to Meet the Press, Wellstone rarely engaged in snide rhetoric when speaking about "the other side." He spoke in measured tones, issuing the calm of a man who believed that he was working with reasonable human beings and that his ideas, not the way that he would speak them, would have the desired effect. He was brave enough to realize that politics is not a zero-sum game.

Minnesota has been the home of many unique and self-effacing political characters, and Wellstone added to that tradition. Standing 5 feet, 5 inches tall, Wellstone was a sickly kid who got below an 800 on his SAT, yet got through the University of North Carolina with a Phi Beta Kappa key and a Ph.D. in political science. After serving 12 years as a professor, he ran for public office in 1990 with a grassroots campaign, defeating a two-term incumbent to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Senate history, after being outspent seven to one by his opponent. He had a streak of independence and relative frugality (his low-budget ads flaunting his campaign's pauperism struck a chord with voters, showing that people love honesty).

Wellstone took that independence to the Senate, where he openly aspired to be a Barry Goldwater of the left—a man bursting with energy and ideas, willing to forgo a decent chance at the presidency for the sake of his own ideals. Although the claim of being for "the working man" has been co-opted to the point that it is meaningless, with Wellstone it was scripture. He was never self-conscious about his leftist positions, even if they frequently brushed up against socialism. Republicans like me, who have gotten increasingly frustrated with President Bush's complacency in office (that's right, kids, he's really not much of a conservative), have to find their public heroes somewhere.

It is difficult to say what will happen now. In another weird twist to what has been a bizarre year in politics, it was announced that former Presidential candidate Walter Mondale will run in Wellstone's place. The rationale for placing him there is somewhat cynical. Obviously as an established name, Mondale has the best chance of defeating Republican Norm Coleman and preventing that seat from changing hands. Nowhere was the Democratic party's strategy more evident than at Wellstone's funeral Tuesday, where remembrance of his life gave way to insanely partisan promotion of Mondale's candidacy. It's sad that people are remembering Wellstone by using his death as a campaign opportunity, and it's doubly cynical that they are using the excuse "that's what he would have wanted."

Well, politics is politics, and when power is at stake, principles (like nice guys) usually get left behind. That's just the way it is. But that spectacle aside, it is not naïve for students who are interested in politics to learn from Paul's example—that a man with honest courage and persistence can be a force in the highest levels of government.