A unique political talent

by Dan Maruska

The death of Sen. Paul Wellstone is a historic, traumatic loss for the state of Minnesota as well as for the nation. Wellstone was truly one of his generation’s most respectable political leaders, one who actually fulfilled the promise of his talents. Tragically, we have witnessed one politician after another prioritize their own interests over actually making a difference with whatever unique talents they had. Paul Wellstone will be missed for many reasons, including his passion, genuine concern for others, amiable relationships with political adversaries and rare version of political courage. Arguably, one of the most important reasons he will be missed nationally is that he selflessly pursued his policy agenda without ever elevating his own interests over genuine priorities unlike so many other politicians.

Former President Bill Clinton had an immeasurable amount of charisma and intelligence, and he was perhaps the most captivating personality to inhabit the White House since President Dwight Eisenhower. He chose, though, to use his assets to antagonize his political opposition and pursue extramarital affairs. A truly international leader, Clinton could have influenced probably any type of change he wanted. Ultimately, his talents went mostly unused, or perhaps more accurately, misdirected.

Gov. Jesse Ventura had the ambition, personality and interest to enact fundamental reforms in the way Minnesota’s government responded to its constituents. He entered the governor’s race with little popular support, but he quickly rose in the polls because of his populist beliefs and reform agenda. However, it is now obvious that Ventura was more interested in capitalizing on his political popularity and the return of his celebrity status than he was about truly enacting any real reform; he constantly engaged in conflicts with the media, other politicians and even voters. His departure from politics is perhaps even more tragic than Clinton’s because his tremendous promise and talents were so connected to the Minnesotans he immediately distanced himself from.

Wellstone, however, used his talents to the best of his abilities. Although nearly a foot shorter than the commanding Ventura, and certainly less handsome than Clinton, his energy and tenacity made him an even more captivating figure. A true policy wonk with a doctorate in political science from the University of North Carolina, Wellstone combined his full intellectual capabilities with his enormous energy in such a way that he could certainly be called the hardest-working member of the Senate. This tremendous effort, unique among politicians, is perhaps his greatest legacy.

Dan Maruska is an editorial board member and welcomes comments at [email protected]