Partisan actions at Wellstone’s memorial should have been kept out

Chris Schafer

I was on the golf course when the state first heard the news of a plane crash in northern Minnesota. By the time I made it back into the clubhouse, cursing the terrible handicap that is my banana slice, local news stations were already announcing that it was indeed Sen. Paul Wellstone’s plane and that the senator, his wife, daughter, advisers and two pilots were dead. In a matter of moments that morning, politics and life in Minnesota were turned completely upside down.

Then, on Tuesday night, the state buried its fallen senator and tried to say goodbye to one of its most endeared public servants. At least, that’s what this state should have been doing. Instead, the somber, mourning crowd was swirled into an intense political rally when Wellstone friend Rick Kahn took the stand. Kahn urged the crowd to win this election for Wellstone and the other victims of that tragic accident. He challenged the audience to continue the senator’s work and champion his causes. He also challenged Republican politicians who Wellstone respected to aide the senator one last time by supporting his platform on Election Day. The seedy head of a Democratic pep rally had been festering all night long, but Kahn’s comments finally popped it open.

Sure, we saw the hints. The giant camera shots of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale on the big screen. We heard the crowd cheer at their appearances. Remember the boisterous applause Mondale received when he appeared on the screen? That wasn’t scripted at all, now was it? We also saw the pictures of Sen. Trent Lott and former Sen. Rod Grams, hearing the crowd snicker and grumble. Evidently, in order to mourn the loss of an individual, you must be in his own respective party. Otherwise, you’re just not welcome.

It is disturbing to see such partisan actions at a venue that should have nothing to do with politics. Have there not been enough politics in the media this past six months that we must use the funeral service of a public servant as a means to advertise a party and push for more votes? Isn’t there a moment when we, as a collective, stand back and realize the loss of human lives is more important than any election of which they might have been a part? As we gather to mourn the loss of Wellstone, shouldn’t that time be spent remembering his accomplishments and what he did in the past rather than planning and lobbying for the future?

I would sincerely hope so on all of these counts. Even the slightest stray from moral sense represents a sad example of our nation’s political obsession. At one point during his speech, Kahn asked all of us to take a week away from politics and remember the man who was Wellstone. Excellent advice, Mr. Kahn. Perhaps you should consult your own speech and see where you went wrong.


Chris Schafer’s column appears biweekly. He welcomes comments at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected]