Coleman’s remark taints a decisive race

The race between Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman is one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races in the nation. Because this contest will help determine which party controls the Senate, there has been some concern that the candidates would use dirty tactics in their campaigns. The campaign so far has been mostly free of acrimonious accusations. However, Norm Coleman’s recent remark that if Wellstone had gotten his way on defense spending, more American soldiers would have lost their lives in Afghanistan was out of line.

The remarks were aimed at Wellstone’s votes on certain military spending bills. Coleman accused Wellstone of voting against 16 of 17 major defense appropriations in the last 10 years. In a recent appearance on Minnesota Public Radio, Coleman said, “We would have lost more lives on the ground if we followed his judgement.” This dirty politicking is an unfortunate, but not unexpected, twist in what will probably be one of the nation’s hardest-fought Senate races.

Coleman’s remarks were aimed at an uninformed segment of society, whose votes can be easily influenced by such dramatic and specious reasoning. It is, of course, impossible to know if more soldiers would have lost their lives as a result of Wellstone’s voting. It is easy to assume that less funding means lower technology and fewer weapons, but Americans were not exactly fighting against a superpower. The United States was fighting a country that essentially did not have an air force or navy. Wellstone’s votes against increasing funding five years ago wouldn’t have changed that fact today. As a result, to assume that less funding would have caused more American deaths is illogical reasoning. The net effect on American lives is actually impossible to calculate, especially considering that to increase defense funding could mean withholding funds from other programs such as domestic AIDS prevention, cancer research, environmental regulations or any other demonstrably life-saving program.

If Coleman wants to criticize Wellstone’s voting record, he should provide information to Minnesotans on the content of these defense bills. He needs to clearly delineate his arguments by citing experts who understand their impact. By providing good, clear information, all Coleman then needs to do is point out that Wellstone voted against the bills. He would then have properly drawn attention to an aspect of his opponent that he feels is worrisome, and he would have given the voters the ability to make informed decisions.

Coleman needs to exercise even more restraint than usual because of the national importance of this race, which has been clearly demonstrated by President George W. Bush’s two appearances in the state to support Coleman’s bid. Because of this local and national significance, Minnesotans have a responsibility to vote intelligently, considerately and based on sound information. To do that, Coleman must provide facts that enable informed decisions, instead of spreading sensationalistic, inappropriate propaganda.