Friday, October 25, 2002

I've been trying to figure out what one can possibly say about the passing of Paul Wellstone. I was having lunch with a good friend who is a Wellstone backer when it was announced on the PA in the student union, and the room was stunned to silence. I had another meeting, we hurried out and I didn't really have a chance to say how I felt. Not that I could, because it's taken some time to sink in. Peggy Noonan's article I think puts it best.
It's good to have men and women of belief in Congress. It's tragic to lose one. ...

When conservatives disagree with liberals, and they're certain the liberal they're disagreeing with is merely cynical, merely playing the numbers, merely playing politics, it's a souring experience. When liberals disagree with conservatives and they're sure the conservative they're disagreeing with is motivated by meanness or malice, it's an embittering experience. But when you disagree with someone on politics and you know the person you're disagreeing with isn't cynical or mean but well meaning and ardent and serious--well, that isn't souring or embittering. That's democracy, the best of democracy, what democracy ought to be about.

As much as I've disagreed with this man's ideas over the years, one thing I never thought about Paul Wellstone was that he was cynical. Maybe that's why so many were ticked off when he decided to run for a third term he said he wouldn't. "Oh no," they would say, "not him! He hasn't become just another politician, has he?" (And maybe his Iraq vote was his telling us he wasn't, and maybe that's why his poll numbers went up afterward. Maybe.) He was as sincere as you get in politics. He was an academic, and someone on WCCO who worked with him at Carleton made him sound like a bit of a campus agitator -- I'm sure he'd've gotten me into one of those email debates I seem to always get into -- but you never doubted that he meant it. "Well meaning and ardent and serious" --that's all you'd want from a fellow academic. It's how we'd hope to be remembered.