PAUL WELLSTONE: TEN YEARS AFTER It’s been ten years since we lost Paul Wellstone, a true public servant and one of the few social movement politicians we’ve ever had. In an era of craven compromise and bipartisan austerity, it’s almost unfair to call him a politician at all. Wellstone walked the picket lines with farmers and workers. He was one of the few aspiring white politicians to “cross the color line” in 1988, as co-chair of the Jesse Jackson for President campaign in Minnesota. He was a proponent of some oft-forgotten truths: that you don’t have to sell your soul or embrace the elite consensus to get elected and that, especially for progressive representatives, grassroots organizers must be governing partners, not just election-time shock troops.
Wellstone shared these insights in our pages. Three years after his courageous vote against welfare reform, he warned that the law was “creating a new class of people, the ‘Disappeared Americans.’” After George W. Bush’s inauguration, he reminded Democrats that the real political “center” is not the one pundits and politicians talk about: “Citizens want us to deal with issues that are at the center of their lives.”
Wellstone urged a synergy that too often eludes Democrats and the left. “Policy provides direction and an agenda for action,” he argued, and “electoral politics is the main way, in the absence of sweeping social movements, that we contest for power and hold decision-makers accountable for progressive public policy.” Today his vision is alive in Wellstone Action, which trains activists and candidates (55,000 and counting) in political organizing. As an alternative to “triangulation,” says executive director Ben Goldfarb, the group is offering “the Wellstone triangle: connecting ‘core community organizing,’ ‘engaging directly in elections [as] an arena in which you can actually build and demonstrate power,’ and ‘a public policy agenda.’” There are “a lot of folks who believe you can make change in one of those three…and very few who really get how to weave them all together. That was something [Wellstone] showed, and taught, and talked about his entire life.” KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL
WHAT HOUSING CRISIS? The presidential debates have come and gone without addressing the housing crisis, which continues to affect millions of Americans. It’s “a really complicated subject, and neither candidate has a strong plan [for] how they would go forward, so they would prefer not to talk about it,” said Janis Bowdler, director of the Wealth Building Policy Project at the National Council of La Raza. The NCLR recently sponsored an effort to drop off more than 30,000 postcards at Obama’s and Romney’s campaign headquarters asking each candidate to explain his housing plan.
As ABC News noted after the debate, Obama’s 2009 housing plan, which he said would help up to 9 million families avoid foreclosure, fell dramatically short of that goal, only helping around 1 million homeowners receive permanent modifications on their mortgages—just a quarter of those who applied for help.
Meanwhile, Romney’s plan has been criticized for its lack of basic details. “The major question is, do they envision housing as a part of our economic recovery and growth in the future—and if they do, what are you going to do about it?” Bowdler said. “We haven’t even gotten the candidates to say that much.” ALLISON KILKENNY