September 6, 2005
Wellstone: The Life of a Passionate Progressive
Paul Wellstone wasn't much of a student at first, although he ended up a college professor in Minnesota. His real passion was wrestling. Is that a mundane detail in his biography? Not at all, because it is the tenacity, resilience, strength, and strategic thinking required in wrestling that made Wellstone such an indefatigable fighter for America and the common good. It's a skill that most Democratic leaders lack -- and gave Wellstone an upper hand in senate fights, because a champion wrestler (as Wellstone was through college) learns to never give up. You can always be one move away from victory.
Bill Lofy's biography of Wellstone adds much needed insight into the rarest of senators, a man of principle, courage and passion. Wellstone was the real deal, an authentic representative of the people in a senate full of inside-the-beltway popinjays, who spend most of their time pleasing corporate lobbyists and cautiously making pronouncements based on the latest polling data.
Wellstone was detested by the Republican Party apparatus because he was onto their game and dangerously honest. (Although, it should be noted that many Republican senators thought highly of him as a person because he was very hard to dislike.) What made him such a threat was that the people of Minnesota respected his commitment and were on their way to electing him to another senate term, despite his voting against giving Bush powers to launch the Iraq War. The Bush Administration is content to have timid Democrats who try to shadow Bush's policies and differ with him on the margins. Wellstone showed you could take Bush head on by simply revealing the truth about Bush's failed policies -- and win.
What's more, Wellstone's personal life exemplified what the Republicans claim to uphold, but rarely do. The marriage of Paul and Sheila Wellstone was as devoted as one can get, without fusing two people into one. His family life was a source of endless strength and energy to him. Unlike Republican men who tout "moral values" as they leave home to take a "Hooters" flight to Myrtle Beach for a game of golf and bedroom games with women they aren't married to, Paul Wellstone was the faithful husband and father. The Republicans just can't stand an honest man who actually practices fidelity. They think that there must be something wrong with a guy like that.
Lofy's book is highly readable, informative and reaffirming. Wellstone was proof that the Democrats don't need to cower at the steps of the DLC. They can "move" the public away from Republican lies by simply telling the truth -- and never giving up.
And most importantly, they can do it with passion. Paul Wellstone was the modern day version of another Minnesota Democrat's sobriquet (Hubert Humphrey); Paul was the "happy warrior." He got high off of standing up for ideals, for workers in the iron ore range of Minnesota's north, for displaced farmers, for civil liberties, for the common good.
Maybe Republicans are so cynical about government because they fear people like themselves, with selfish motives and a cynical view of humanity, often end up running the government. Just look at Bush and you'd have to think that they might have a point.
But then, Bill Lofy reminds us, someone like Paul Wellstone comes along and wrestles his way to the top by giving 'em Hell -- and smiling endlessly while he's doing it. And it was a smile that came from the heart, an exuberant, optimistic smile of hope and faith in the future of America.
"The Life of a Passionate Progressive." Read it to remember that such a senator can exist. An incredible American story of representative democracy brought to life in the biography of one man who made a difference.
Bill Lofy is Communications Director of Wellstone Action, the organization created to carry on Paul and Sheila Wellstone's legacy after their death. Lofy was also a friend and confidante of the senator.