Friday, October 25, 2002

Minnesota Missing a Mensch

Minnesota Missing a Mensch
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
October 25, 2002

It was an eerily chilling coincidence that I should be reading the Oct. 24 Washington Jewish Week article “Jew vs. Jew in Minnesota race,” when the FOX News Channel broke the story about the tragic death of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone. (The article focused upon the race between the two Jewish senate candidates incumbent Democrat Wellstone and Republican challenger Norm Coleman.)
Wellstone, 58, a true liberal’s liberal in virtually every sense of the word, died in a plane crash this afternoon several miles from the Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport, about 175 miles northeast of Minneapolis, oddly enough while on his way to a funeral. Adding to this tragic event was the fact that Wellstone died while traveling with his wife of 39 years, Sheila, and the couple’s daughter Marcia. Also killed in the twin-engine plane were the pilot, co-pilot and three campaign workers. Wellstone family survivors include sons David and Mark along with six grandchildren.
With the Nov. 5 election looming just 12 days away, the Wellstone Senate re-election campaign against former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman has ended suddenly leaving the Wellstone team, the state of Minnesota and indeed the nation in a state of shock.
While it is typical of people to memorialize the dead with platitudes and not speak ill of the dead, sincerity or lack thereof can easily be discerned. With the death of Senator Wellstone, those remembering him, on both sides of the aisle, such as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R) and former vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro (D) as well on no side of the aisle such as the state’s Gov. Jesse Ventura (I), recalled the fallen Senator with genuine honesty and candor.
Senator Wellstone, a college wrestler at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. for 21 years, won his Senate seat in 1990 and again in 1996. An outspoken member of the Upper House, Wellstone rarely wrestled with the idea of compromising his principles. He voted his conscience – something that all who remembered him agreed upon.
Short in stature, but tall in energy and integrity, Wellstone would debate fiercely in the Senate chamber for what he believed in, but never made it personal. “Senator Wellstone was a man of deep convictions,” said President George W. Bush from Texas this afternoon while hosting the leader of China.
In spite of vast political differences, those who disagreed with Senator Wellstone professionally, found him to be affable, likable, possessing a good sense of humor and a degree of charm. I count myself among the people with those opinions – this from an out of state Coleman supporter.
During a visit to Capitol Hill several years prior to making Virginia my home, my friend Troy and I ventured in to Senator Wellstone’s office for some reason I cannot recall. This liberal’s liberal emerged from an ongoing meeting to chat briefly with two ardent Republicans not from Minnesota and also had a picture taken with the two of us. (The Senator had more hair and I had fewer pounds than I’m sure either of us would have admitted.)
Senator Wellstone made a bid in 2000 for the Democratic nominee for president, for all of about five minutes. He also authored the book Conscience of a Liberal much akin, but diametrically politically opposite of the 1960s effort, Conscience of a Conservative, written by one of my political heroes, the late Arizona Senator Barry M. Goldwater, who I had met and interviewed in 1995.
“Senator Wellstone was dedicated to serving the state with great passion,” said GOP challenger Norm Coleman as he announced the suspension of his campaign for an appropriate period of mourning. As both candidates are Jewish, that period of suspension by the Coleman campaign should be through the period of Shiva, the Jewish period of mourning for a week following the funeral, excluding the Sabbath.
Agree or disagree with his politics, Senator Wellstone was a mensch, standing by his principles and voting his conscience like Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Sanford D. Horn is a writer living in Alexandria, VA.

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