Sen. Paul Wellstone and his Republican challenger, former senator Rudy Boschwitz, don’t agree on anything when it comes to the principal issues at stake in November’s election. On taxes, the role of government in the economy, affordable health care, and welfare reform, Wellstone and Boschwitz are diametrically opposed. Nevertheless, the candidates are relying on similarly frivolous and irrelevant campaign tactics. Wellstone and Boschwitz publicly delivered post-primary promises to stick to key issues and avoid pointless attack ads. Nevertheless, both have reverted to mean-spirited name calling and distorting each other’s political records.
In his most recent shenanigan, Boschwitz inducted Wellstone into the “Liberal Hall of Fame.” He explained how retiring a tie-dyed jersey with the senator’s name on it represented his party’s rejection of what he derided as Wellstone’s tired sixties-era ideals and hippy-like faith in big government. Boschwitz’s Hall of Fame billboards replaced his team’s long-standing “Welfare Man” ads featuring a cartoon depiction of Wellstone wearing tights, scarf and codpiece, and the moniker “Paul Welfare.” But while Boschwitz is quick with the liberal jokes, he refuses to elaborate on his own political agenda beyond curt promises to downsize government.
Wellstone, for his part, is hopping mad after enduring nearly a year of scathing attacks. Last winter, the Republican National Committee sponsored ads lambasting his uncompromising commitment to a host of federally funded social programs. The senator capitalizes on every opportunity to belt out screaming accusations that his opponent is a Christian Coalition guru committed to carrying out the “Gingrich agenda.” Wellstone’s disingenuous contention that the survival of Medicare and Social Security ride on his re-election, moreover, is as hollow as Boschwitz’s ad falsely blasting Democrats for raising taxes on the middle class by $3,800.
Certainly there isn’t anything unusual, or even unexpected, about both candidates going negative in what has become one of the most heated and high-profile congressional races in the nation. It’s just that in Wellstone and Boschwitz, Minnesota voters have a distinct choice. When two political philosophies are so radically different, mindless insults and exaggerated partisan criticism are entirely unnecessary. The dopey campaign gimmicks merely obstruct voters’ access to important information about their entirely divergent perspectives.
Wellstone is without question one of the most unabashedly liberal politicians in the U.S. Senate. And while Boschwitz isn’t as many notches to the right of moderate on the political spectrum as his opponent is left, the ideological distinctions between the candidates are virtually textbook caricatures of the differences between liberal and conservative views. Both candidates could and should have taken the political high road and crafted campaigns energized by honest discussions about their genuine policy differences. That way the electorate might have been spared at least some of their childish pranks.