Memory of Senator Wellstone
To the Editors:
Sen. Paul Wellstone should have died, peacefully,
when he was wise and gray, surrounded by friends and family and
all those that loved and admired him as the sunset over the Minnesota
countryside. Instead, he died when a small twin-engine plane violently
slammed into a bog on a cold day in the Iron Range. This bleak and
lonesome death was not simply tragic or unjust for such a compassionate
and principled man and his family, but heartbreaking for Wellstone’s
millions of supporters both in Minnesota and around the country.
Wellstone was the last unabashed liberal. He tirelessly defended
the most vulnerable and marginalized citizens: the poor and destitute,
the mentally ill, immigrants, children and minorities. He made no
apologizes for helping the weak and disenfranchised before the rich.
He once told a reporter that he could not look at the faces of poor
citizens and explain to them that the government had no money for
housing, healthcare or childcare programs, but could spend 1.7 trillion
dollars on tax breaks.
He served as the conscience of his party and the lone voice for
the voiceless. He had an unrelenting faith in the generosity and
hope of the American people. His warmth, charisma and devotion united
steelworkers and environmentalists, pacifists and veterans, and
rural farmers and urban immigrants. Wellstone’s terrible death
leaves a gapping political chasm just as JFK, RFK and Martin Luther
King Jr., left during the 1960s. He was impassioned but never polarizing.
His dissenting vote was always cast for his constituents. He never
reveled in or glorified his role in the Senate. He showed that constructive
engagement in an imperfect system could produce results. He mastered
parliamentary procedure and quietly and diligently worked hard to
ensure that even if a bill was sure to pass he could offer substantive
amendments to protect the defenseless.
We, at Oberlin, need to learn from his example and ensure that we
do not marginalize ourselves, nor should we ever forget that our
goal should be to lift all of those who struggle to make a better
life and to constantly remind society that it cannot turn its back
to the suffering of others. We must never marvel in our own rebellious
or contradictory nature. We always must look for ways to ensure
that our voice is heard and the dreams of good people are never
The most meaningful tribute that can be made to Wellstone, a hero
and defender of the helpless, is to carry on his efforts. To Paul
Wellstone: a man with a fierce spirit, enormous heart, pragmatic
wisdom and ideal dreams, all of which will never die.
–David A. Leahy