Thursday, October 25, 2007

Five years later

Paul Wellstone died five years ago today. Ezra Klein has written a wonderful piece in remembrance:

Wellstone's populism was not an affectation, or a political posture. It was laced into the fabric of his personality. It's what made him different than other politicians. His measuring stick was not the poll numbers, not the editorial pages, not the political prognosticators, not the Sunday shows -- it was the farmers, the students, the seniors, the people. His fealty to them explains his frequent lonesomeness in the Senate. When the people are your judges, you can stand against the Iraq War in an election year, you can lose votes 99-1. You can fail to pass legislation, because you know the compromise would fail your constituents. "Politics is not about power," he would say. "Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people's lives. It's about advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and the world. Politics is about doing well for the people."
It's easier to be a liberal today, to be a progressive, to be proud. But there was a time when it wasn't. When liberalism in defense of peace was mocked, and moderation in service of imperialism was praised. In those days, it was hard to be a liberal. It must have been hard to be Paul Wellstone. He never showed it, though. He liked to quote Marcia Timmel. "I'm so small and the darkness is so great," she said. "We must light a candle," Wellstone would reply. He was ours. Would that he was here to enjoy the dawn.

My one and only encounter with Wellstone took place my sophomore year at Georgetown, when I met him at an event on campus and told him how much I'd loved the ads he'd used in his 1990 campaign. Next thing I knew he was asking me where I was from, what I was studying, how college was going, why they called the political science department the government department, what Pennsylvania was like, and how he'd almost gone to Lehigh but decided he wasn't into engineering. I'm sure there were more influential, more important, and more interesting people there, but I don't think he'd have paid one of them any more -- or any less -- attention and interest than he gave to a 19-year-old college kid. I have met a fair number of politicians in my life. Wellstone was the best of them.

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