presents The Angry Liberal
November 4, 2002
The Wellstone Memorial - An Inspirational Farewell to America's Finest Senator
by The Angry Liberal
I would give anything to have been in Minneapolis last Tuesday. For those who missed it, Tuesday saw a University of Minnesota sports arena filled to overflowing with the family, friends, and supporters of the late, great Senator Paul Wellstone. An event that began as a dignified tribute to America's most independent senator and the only real Liberal in Washington rapidly ascended into an outpouring of emotion from Wellstone supporters. Tears often mixed with thunderous applause as speaker after speaker reminded those present of Wellstone's integrity, decency, and aspirations for the state of Minnesota and the nation. What started as a solemn tribute to a fallen leader ended as best damn political rally I've ever seen.
To understand the power of this event, one only needs to look at those who attended. The room looked like America. There were people in formal funeral attire sitting next to folks in tee shirts. There were veterans and neo-hippies. There were people whose skin shown with every color of the rainbow. And what was the common thread connecting all these groups? It was Liberalism. Paul Wellstone represented Liberalism in its purest form. He became a politician to give a voice to those without one. He understood that decent Americans have always been champions of the oppressed. Our Statue of Liberty calls to them around the world with the following inscription:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Think about that. Paul Wellstone was one of the few politicians who still allowed the Statue of Liberty guide his way through life. Republicans have always welcomed the poor to America as long as the poor were willing to scrub their toilets for sub-minimum wages. But what if a poor worker wanted to educate her children or buy a house? Even worse, what if she became sick or disabled? Usually her employer simply cast her aside in favor of the next desperate worker. Traditional Liberals like Wellstone recognized the obvious injustice inherent in this system and sought to remedy it through government. They taxed Americans, asking the most of those who most benefited from the cheap labor of the poor, and enacted some programs to recognize the basic human rights of all Americans.
Traditionally, conservatives just griped about having to help pay for these programs and bad-mouthed Liberals for supporting them. In post-Reagan America, however, a new breed of Republican has emerged that would have offended the staunchest conservatives among us just a few decades ago. These people were born of the rich and powerful, who realized that fighting the federal government was a waste of time. Why oppose government when they could buy it instead? Why not just send forth an army of polished and well-funded politicians who wish to change the government into an instrument of the rich and powerful? Such a government could enact laws that legalize indefensible corporate and entrepreneurial activities, allowing the worst among us to profit from bad bookkeeping, energy manipulation, dirty air, and offshore tax shelters. Such a president could pack the Supreme Court with right-wing morons to misinterpret existing laws for the benefit of the few, going so far as to subvert the election process if necessary. Instead of using the power of our nation's laws as a counterbalance to the excesses of unbridled capitalism, why not use them to oppress the oppressed and see to the needs of the needless? My friends, you don't hear the rich and powerful talking trash about the government these days because they own it. This is why we are discussing tax cuts for dead billionaires in a time of war and huge federal deficits. This is why we are talking about privatizing Social Security at a time when our 401(k)s are hemorrhaging. This is why we talking about extending the world's worst tax cut beyond the next decade while we are borrowing money to pay for the damn thing even as we speak. Our politicians are talking about issues that benefit the rich during a time when the poor and the middle class are suffering because that's what they were sent to Washington to do.
The people attending last Tuesday's memorial service knew this. They knew that the hopes and needs of working Americans have been swept aside in Washington. Thus, the very mention of Paul Wellstone's ideals and beliefs swept through the crowd like a bolt of lightning, evoking a passion seldom seen at political events. At long last, somebody was talking about issues that ordinary Americans care about. You will never find that level of emotion in the rows of empty suits at a Republican fund-raiser no matter how much money the candidate promises to kick back to his campaign donors.
What we witnessed Tuesday was an arena full of people cheering the notion of sacrifice so that others may live and prosper. There weren't many in attendance who would benefit from a minimum wage increase, and all would clearly pay for it with an additional penny here and there for the things they buy every day. Despite this, the cheer that erupted when the increase was mentioned nearly took the roof off the building. What a striking contrast to the Republican "What do I get if I support you?" mentality.
It was a very emotional experience to see selflessness discussed in public. Thousands of people in that arena had the unique privilege of sharing grief over the loss of their champion, as well as the jubilation of being brought face-to-face with other decent Liberal Americans. Looking around the room, they saw firsthand that Liberals are the finest of Americans, no matter how often Rush Limbaugh finds time between commercials to dispute it. That group of grieving Liberals left the arena ready to gnaw their way through concrete. No talk of tax cuts will ever inspire that level of passion in the selfish and greedy on the other side.
To the family, friends, and constituents of the beloved Paul Wellstone, please know that I grieve right alongside you. To those who missed the memorial, I urge you to keep an eye on C-SPAN for a repeat broadcast this weekend. To those on the other side who were uncomfortable about a memorial service becoming a political rally, I say the following: The next time a politician who represents the soul(?) of your party is killed a few days before a close and crucial election, we'll cut your side a hell of a lot more slack that you cut us. And finally, to the decent Americans who share our grief and our ideals, please know this: It is not too late to take your government back from the George W. Bushes of the world. Please vote Democratic on Tuesday, even if doing so forces you to hold your nose in the voting booth. And when you wake up Wednesday, begin the search in earnest for the next candidate who, like Paul Wellstone, inspires hope for a better, more just America. I promise you that she, or he, is out there.
Write The Angry Liberal at: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2002, The Angry Liberal
otherwise noted, all original