I’m not going to pretend to know much about loss or tragedy or remembering great men. Nothing like what has just happened to the Wellstone family has happened to me in my young, naive life.
I do know about the power of ideas. Ideas can motivate individuals to action like few other avenues in this world. The noblest men hold ideas central to their own souls. They hold their ideas at any price even when the more material objects in life might suffer as a result.
I didn’t agree with many of Sen. Paul Wellstone’s ideas. I’ve spent countless lost hours of my life campaigning against many of his treasured causes. But it’s because of the conviction he felt for those causes that I’m writing this testament today.
Wellstone was about the only politician I’ve ever seen who could inspire people to vote for him solely on his character. In 1996 and also this year, I’ve tried to talk countless friends of mine out of voting for the guy. I’d point out how his policies are wrong and “crazy.” My friends would often agree that they didn’t like how he voted in the Senate. They’d then turn and look at me, however, and say “Wellstone’s the only guy who acts on what he believes, and we need someone like that. Damn it, he’s getting my vote.”
And I agreed with them. Wellstone truly believed in helping the “little guy,” the poor and downtrodden, the old and infirm. His fiery speeches brought me to my feet. I could tell he wanted the same things I did: better schools, more jobs and a cleaner environment, among other things. He had a completely different idea about how to accomplish those things, but he had a genuine conviction nonetheless.
How many other senators, or even politicians in general, have the same devotion to just causes and noble ideas? I can think of no more than a handful throughout the nation.
Was Wellstone partisan? Of course, and to the core. But he was partisan because he believed his party would bring greater justice to our nation, not because it would bring success to his campaign. Even though I couldn’t stand most of his politics, I was often secretly glad Sen. Paul Wellstone was in the Senate calling hypocrites to task and reminding Democrats of why they joined their party in the first place. His vote on Iraq this month impressed me perhaps the most. To most senators, a vote against the war resolution would have sunk their re-election chances. For Wellstone, that vote reminded voters, even though they disagreed with him, that he was a man of idealism and courage.
I got to meet Wellstone once at the Minnesota State Fair. I had a controversial question on immigration law I thought I could corner him on. He could see what I was doing, though, and he handled the situation well. He pointed out that the Senate’s alternative law would have caused even more harm to immigrants, and he had helped make a bad situation better. I was impressed with his honesty and composure. I couldn’t come up with much more to say, and so he ended the short conversation with “So that’s what I think, but it’s a fair question.”
Today the whole of Minnesota, all parties alike, are saying “Thank you, Paul” for the beacon he’s been to idealists on all sides – this capitalism-crazed libertarian included. In future years I’ll think about Wellstone’s rise from academia to the halls of power and say, “One of us made it.”
Paul, may the light of Apollo shine on you and your family, always.
Anthony Sanders welcomes comments at [email protected]
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