The collapse of Richard Gephardt's leadership of the House Democratic Caucus did not occur on November 5, when the party lost seats in an election where history and economic trends suggested that it should have gained them. That result was simply a confirmation of the crisis that had been evident for more than a year. From the first days of George W. Bush's selected-not-elected presidency, it was clear that Gephardt was unprepared to serve as the leader of Congressional opposition to a Republican president. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he simply stopped trying. That doomed Democratic chances of taking over the House in 2002, as Gephardt failed to define an opposition agenda and took positions out of sync with his own caucus.
That was never more evident than on October 10 when, after Gephardt helped craft the resolution authorizing Bush to launch a unilateral attack on Iraq, the majority of House Democrats voted against the plan. In surprising result, 126 House Democrats opposed it with only 81 joining their leader Gephardt in supporting it.
Among the Democrats who opposed the resolution was House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who won the caucus' Number 2 leadership position last year. Pelosi, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, argued -- as did Senate Intelligence Committee chair Bob Graham, D-Florida -- that the Bush administration had failed to make a case for its position. "I have seen no evidence or intelligence that suggests that Iraq indeed poses an imminent threat to our nation," she said, in one of the most powerful indictments of the resolution. "If the Administration has that information, they have not shared it with the Congress."
Pelosi's stance placed her in direct opposition not just to the Bush administration but to Gephardt. And it stirred immediate discussion among House Democrats about what it might be like to be a genuine opposition party. An aggressive progressive, Pelosi has long argued that Democrats need to clearly distinguish themselves from Republicans on domestic and international issues. Now, she can point to Tuesday's election results -- in which Democrats who opposed the Bush agenda on taxes and war ran better than those who compromised with the administration -- as confirmation of her view.
With Gephardt stepping down as minority leader, Pelosi is running hard to replace him. She is not starting from scratch. Speculation about Gephardt's departure -- in order to focus on a 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination -- was rampant in the House even before the election, and Pelosi has been quietly organizing support. But she was not alone in that endeavor. Another prominent House Democrat, Caucus chair Martin Frost, D-Texas, has been running just as hard as Pelosi. On Thursday, a third candidate, Harold Ford, Jr., a 33-year-old centrist from Tennessee, entered the contest with a promise of "a clean break from the ways of the past."
With Gephardt's announcement that he is stepping aside, the contest for the top Democratic leadership post in the House went into high gear. Democrats are set to choose a replacement for the minority leader on November 14. Pelosi is generally seen as the frontrunner, while Frost is expected to be her most serious competitor for the spot. Ford, a close ally of former Vice President Al Gore who is attempting to position himself as a youthful alternative is not expected to prevail -- but his run will do nothing to harm his status as one of the party's rising stars.
Pelosi is reported to have collected commitments from 110 House Democrats to support her candidacy. That would be more than enough to secure the position in a House that, depending on final results from Tuesday, will include 204 Democratic representatives and five delegates from US territories and the District of Columbia.
Commitments of this sort are no guarantee of support in the closed caucus vote, however, and Pelosi's backers do not intend to coast through the next several days. They know they will be involved in a serious internal campaign against Frost, one of the ablest strategists in the House.
It would be a mistake to see the Pelosi-Frost fight purely as a left-right struggle. Pelosi is one of the most progressive members of the House, with a voting record that frequently displays 100 percent support for the positions advanced by organized labor, environmental and consumer groups. But Frost, despite his Texas roots, is no southern conservative. He too has earned his share of 100 percent AFL-CIO ratings over the years. Pelosi has support from some conservative Democrats, who see her as an able fund raiser and an effective spokesperson for the caucus. Frost has liberal supporters who respect the leadership role he's played in coordinating congressional campaigns over the years.
That said, there are clear distinctions. Where Pelosi was a leading foe of the Iraq resolution, Frost supported it. Pelosi has in recent years been an outspoken critic of the corporate free-trade agenda, while Frost has a mixed record that includes a vote to permanently normalize trade relations with China. (That vote by Frost so angered local United Auto Workers members that, in 2000, they removed desks that had been donated for use in the congressman's campaign office. He has since been more supportive of labor's position on trade issues.)
For his part, Ford stands well to the right of both Pelosi and Frist. He voted for the Iraq resolution, regularly supports the corporate free-trade agenda and has a long record of cosy relations with the conservative Democratic Leadership Council. In short, he stands to the right of where Gephardt positioned himself.
While Pelosi and Frost both have more liberal records than Ford, Frost is clearly attempting to position himself to the right in the leadership contest. That was obvious as Frost and Pelosi staked out their visions for how House Democrats should present themselves in the next Congress. "I think that (Pelosi's) politics are to the left, and I think that the party, to be successful, must speak to the broad center of the country," said Frost. The day after Tuesday's vote, Frost's spokesman Tom Eisenhauer was even blunter, telling reporters, "The country moved to the right yesterday. And House Democrats won't win the majority by moving further to the left."
Pelosi, for her part, is arguing that Democrats need to distinguish themselves from Republicans. "To win back the House in 2004," she says, "we need a unified party that will draw clear distinctions between our vision of the future and that espoused by the Republicans."
Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was barely into his post-Election Day press conference when he smiled and said, "I know I cost the Bush family a little money." Spoken like a true fundraiser. He meant that the Democrats, by mounting what seemed to be a competitive campaign in Florida against Governor Jeb Bush, had forced the Republicans to spend more money and time than they had planned to defend the President's brother. On a bad-news morning, McAuliffe cited this as an accomplishment.
What a straw to grasp! Fellow Democrats, feel good today, we caused a bout of indigestion at the House of Bush. No doubt, the election results--with the Senate swinging Republican--was one giant roll of Tums for the Bushies. McAuliffe then went on to proudly describe how the party in 2002, under his guidance, spent three times as much as it ever has on midterm elections. Again, spoken like a fundraiser. McAuliffe hailed the grassroots structure he developed, and the record amount of small-donor money the party bagged.
McAuliffe also talked up Democratic pickups in gubernatorial contests. But what he didn't mention was message. In fact, he argued that message was not the issue. The Republicans' edge, he insisted was "tactical, not ideological." What had turned the election, in his estimation, was George W. Bush's relentless campaigning on behalf of GOP candidates. Worse, those sly Republicans had used hundreds of millions of dollars in special interest money to blur the differences between Republicans and Democrats on prescription drugs and Social Security. McAuliffe maintained the election results "do not reflect an ideological shift" and that the nation is in the "same place" as it was after the 2000 election: "50-50 parity."
McAuliffe has spinned himself into delusion. It's true that that the Republicans achieved their macro win in the Senate by squeaking by in a few close contests (while adding to their majority in the House). But what happened to McAuliffe's old line that the Ninny-in-Chief and his fellow Republicans were going to be routed by a combination of Democrats outraged over Florida (including still pissed-off African-Americans) and voters upset over their most recent 401(k) statements? The United States may remain a 50-50 nation--though it feels more like 52-48 at the moment--but within that split culture, Bush has proven he is a political power, and the Democrats have demonstrated they have no juice. This is not the "same place" as post-2000. Bush has been affirmed--as has his agenda.
Message matters. Bush had one: support me, the war, and tax cuts. That was pretty straightforward. The Democrats offered, we're not Bush and vote for us if you're anxious about the economy even though we don't have a comprehensive plan for dealing with it. Not much of a bumper sticker there. Besides, we're-not-Bush is not a great plan when the President is scoring approval ratings in the mid-60s. "Ultimately," Senator Patty Murray, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (who joined McAuliffe at the press conference), observed, "we could not compete with the bully pulpit and a wartime president." Now she tells us.
One reason the Dems couldn't compete was that they had no overarching theme that cut through the clutter of the campaign. Democrats did little to differentiate themselves from Bush and the GOP on war and tax cuts, and they made it easy for the Republicans to muddy the distinctions in issue areas where Democrats traditionally possess an advantage. Take health care. If the Democrats are only proposing a prescription drug benefit for seniors--and not a more comprehensive initiative, such as universal health coverage--then the GOPers can easily cook up their own proposal and play the Democrats to a tie.
The Democrats failed to exploit the wave of corporate crime and the growing gap between the corporate class and the rest of America. Bush ended up going along with the modest legislation passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate. Couldn't the Democrats come up with measures too tough for Bush to accept? Moreover, the Democratic Party, which eagerly pockets corporate contributions, has failed in recent years to establish itself as an institution that steadily stands up to corporate excesses and champions the interests of workers, investors, and consumers. The public recognizes that Democrats are generally less in bed with corporate special interests than Republicans. But it does not--nor should it--see Democrats as righteous opponents of corporate favoritism and political corruption. As soon as the Enron scandal broke, Republicans were quick with the newsclips showing that Democrats had taken money from Enron execs and that high-profile Democrats (paging Joseph Lieberman) had previously done the bidding of the accounting industry and blocked real reform. Remember James Carville and other Democratic strategists crowing at the start of 2002 that Enron would do in the Republicans? That corporate malfeasance would overshadow the war on terrorism as an issue in the 2002 elections? That was a pipe dream. But especially so with the Democrats' mixed record.
Mixed record--that's true of the Democrats on many important matters, such as the war against Iraq and Bush's millionaire-friendly tax cuts. While McAuliffe was shaking the money trees, he neglected to craft an unmixed message for his candidates. Neither did the two other party leaders: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. In the words of Al Gore, it is time for them to go. (Probably Gore, too. We'll get to him in a moment.)
For four elections in a row, Gephardt has failed to win back the House. This time out, he demonstrated he had no clue as to what might be an effective strategy. His strategy of embrace-the-President flopped. And it was not easy to tell whether his actions were motivated by his presidential ambitions or his leadership responsibilities. (To be fair, he probably found it tough to sort that out himself.) And what did Daschle do as majority leader to improve the Democrats' chances on November 5? He failed to use the Democrats' control of the Senate to develop a compelling and discernible agenda.
Certainly, it may be too difficult for any Democratic leader to ride herd over a party that is so ideologically disparate that it can be home to both Paul Wellstone and Zell Miller. This is a party that is gridlocked, at war with itself over Iraq and Bush's tax cuts. But that's the challenge of leadership, and neither McAuliffe, Daschle nor Gephardt has figured out how to do it.
It's time for regime change. (New reports based on confidential sources are already saying Gephardt is poised to quit as Democratic House leader to explore a White House bid. I don't see how he turns a four-in-a-row losing streak into a successful presidential campaign.)
While we're on the subject of change at the top, Gore does not look swell the day after. Where was the Election 2000 anger that was supposed to be an asset for Democrats? Jeb Bush stomped the Democrats in Florida. And African-American voters--who supposedly were the most enraged about the recount mess--do not seem to have flooded the polls on behalf of Democrats in Florida, Georgia, Maryland or Massachusetts. In Georgia, Republican congressman Saxby Chambliss upset Democratic Senator Max Cleland, a decorated war hero. In Maryland--a state with a five-to-one Democratic edge in voter registration--Republican Bob Ehrlich trounced Democratic Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. In Massachusetts, Republican Mitt Romney defeated Democratic Treasurer Shannon O'Brien. As even Democratic loyalist (and apologist) Donna Brazille complained before the election, Democrats were practicing "drive-by" politics, zooming past urban voters (meaning African-Americans) and trying to appeal to suburban swing voters. That's another way of saying the Democrats had no message to inspire a crucial bloc.
To bring it back to Gore, if Democratic outrage is no longer a force, his prospects diminish. While Gore did take strong exception to Bush's dash to war, he, too, tried to bash Bush on the economy without developing any alternative. During the campaign, he delivered a speech in Washington that lambasted Bushonomics, but refused to say what he would do about Bush's tax cuts. His big idea: call on Bush to change his economic team.
If the current Democratic leaders took a powder, could Senator Harry Reid, the Democrats' number-two in the Senate, or Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority whip, do any better? There is no easy way out for the Democrats. But the flip answer is, can they do worse? Neither Daschle nor Gephardt were able to capture the imagination of the public, at a time when, according to the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, Democratic Party identification is declining faster than Republican Party identification. And at the DNC, why stick with Terry McBucks, a slick Clinton holdover obsessed with money over message?
The Democrats would be unwise to leave the party in the hands of a man who believes that what derailed Democrats on November 5 was mainly the "tactical" problem posed by Bush. After all, who does he think the Democrats will be running against next time?
Conservative Republicans will take charge of the US Senate as a result of Tuesday's voting. But the nation's newest senator, at least for the time being, is not singing from the right-wing songbook on questions of war and peace.
The man chosen to temporarily occupy Paul Wellstone's seat in the Senate says that he will echo the late Minnesota senator's opposition to the Bush administration's approach to war with Iraq.
Dean Barkley, the nation's newest senator, was sworn in as Minnesota's interim senator after Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura appointed him to hold the seat that has been vacant since Wellstone died in a plane crash October 25. Barkley will not be a senator for long.
State and federal officials are still debating whether Barkley will be a short-term senator or a very short-term senator. Minnesota law seems to require that Republican Norm Coleman, who on Tuesday narrowly defeated Democrat Walter Mondale be sworn in as soon as he is certified as the winner of the contest in mid-November. However, Senate rules are read by some as suggesting that Barkley should be allowed to serve through early January, when new senators traditionally take their places.
No matter how long his tenure turns out to be, however, Barkley promises to be a feisty independent in the tradition of Ventura, whose 1998 gubernatorial campaign he organized. Barkley was a founder of Minnesota's Reform Party, which evolved into the Independence Party with which he and Ventura are both affiliated.
The new senator describes himself as a social liberal and a fiscal conservative, but that shorthand does not begin to describe the complex player who has made a career trying to upset the two-party system in Minnesota. Barkley first earned a measure of national attention as a prominent backer of Ross Perot's 1992 Reform Party presidential bid, and a Reform Party candidate for the House and the Senate in 1992, 1994 and 1996. (Barkley's 1994 Senate bid secured 5.4 percent of the vote, winning "major party" status for the Reformers under Minnesota election law. That designation assured Ventura a place in the 1998 gubernatorial debates and access to public financing for that year's campaign.)
Barkley's political roots run much deeper, however -- all the way back to the politics of protest in the early 1970s. Raised in Wright County, in the same rural Minnesota region that former Vice President Hubert Humphrey was from, Barkley grew up to be a Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party precinct coordinator. But in the early 1970s, he broke with the state's "Humphrey Democrats" to organize Wright County for George McGovern's antiwar presidential candidacy.
While Barkley moved to the center on many economic issues -- a journey that took him out of the DFL by the early 1990s -- he remains dubious about military adventurism abroad. Speaking on Minnesota Public Radio after he was selected to fill the Senate seat, Barkley said he shared Wellstone's opposition to granting President Bush a blank check to wage war with Iraq.
Barkley also noted that he greatly respected Wellstone's independent streak -- despite the fact that he had challenged the DFL Senator's 1996 reelection bid -- and recalled that they had worked closely on campaign finance and government ethics issues. The new senator said he would keep Wellstone's staff in place.
Does that mean that, despite his Independence Party membership, Barkley will caucus with Senate Democrats? Not necessarily. Despite calls from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, Barkley said, "I don't really care which party controls the US Senate."
The Minnesotan said he would try to work closely with the Senate's other independent member, Vermont's Jim Jeffords, who talked at length with Barkley on Monday. Jeffords joined Wellstone and 21 other senators in voting against the Iraq war resolution last month.
Barkley's mentor in Washington will be former US Senator Lowell Weicker. He says he'll be staying at Weicker's Virginia home throughout his short tenure in the Senate.
Weicker, it should be recalled, served in Washington as a liberal Republican from Connecticut until he lost his seat in a campaign that saw Democrat Joe Lieberman run to his right. Weicker later left the party and was elected governor of Connecticut as an independent, third-party candidate. An old ally of Jeffords, Weicker has been a frequent critic of conservative policies advanced by the Senate Republican leadership and the Bush administration.
Mark Twain was no fan of war, which he described as "a wanton waste of projectiles," and he nurtured a healthy disdain for anyone who suggested that patriotism was best displayed through enthusiastic support for military adventures abroad. The phrase "our country, right or wrong" was, he argued, "an insult to the nation."
But Twain's deepest disgust was reserved for politicians who played on fear and uncertainty to promote the interests of what would come to be called the military-industrial complex. Describing how Americans were frequently goaded into war by their leaders, Twain recalled: "Statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."
Twain, a longtime leader of the old Anti-Imperialist League, uttered those words a century ago. But for opponents of George W. Bush's election year efforts to justify war with Iraq, they ring truer than most of what has been said by Republican or Democratic candidates in Tuesday's congressional contests.
So much truer, in fact, that some antiwar activists have decided to vote for Twain.
Never mind that the author of "The Innocents Abroad," "Tom Sawyer," "Huckleberry Finn" and "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" has been dead since 1910, nor even that "Mark Twain" is merely the pen name for the prolific Samuel Clemens. Voters in western Wisconsin will be casting ballots Tuesday for Mark Twain for Congress.
The Twain campaign was started in the old Mississippi River town of LaCrosse, where activists with the La Crosse Coalition for Peace and Justice were upset with US Representative Ron Kind, a Democrat who voted in October for the House resolution authorizing George W. Bush to wage a unilateral war against Iraq. Kind, a co-chair of the New Democrat Network, the congressional arm of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council, was the only one of five Democrats in Wisconsin's House delegation to vote in favor of the resolution. In fact, a pair of Wisconsin Democrats, Senator Russ Feingold and Representative Tammy Baldwin, were among the most outspoken congressional foes of the resolution. Baldwin was one of the chief organizers of opposition forces before the House vote on the Iraq resolution, which saw a majority of House Democrats oppose the president's position.
But Kind voted with a minority of House Democrats to give the president what Constitutional scholars have described as "unprecedented" war-making powers. Kind has said that, while he shares many of the reservations expressed by his constituents in regard to launching a war against Iraq, he thinks Congressional support for the president's position could cause Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to be more cooperative – thus making it possible to avoid war.
Kind's explanation has not gone down well with all his constituents in a sprawling district where antiwar demonstrations and meetings have been held in a number of communities. But Kind's foes in this fall's contest did not exactly wow peace activists. Republican Bill Arndt is a pro-Bush, pro-war conservative, while Libertarian Jeff Zastrow offers little in the way of a progressive alternative to Kind. "We didn't see any competition for Kind, and we wanted to let him know we are disappointed in him," explained Daniel Poler, a Coalition for Peace and Justice member.
So the peace activists decided to launch a write-in campaign for Mark Twain. "It's a protest against the government and candidates, Kind in particular, for not listening to those of us against a war in Iraq," declared Poler. In the local newspaper, he explained the simple logic of the campaign: "A write-in vote for ‘Mark Twain' will send a message to our representatives that we are very disappointed that our voices were not heard."
In a sense, Twain was a natural choice. The author visited towns on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi, and wrote of them in his classic book, Life on the Mississippi. He even praised LaCrosse's "stately red brick buildings," a fact frequently mentioned in a city where the downtown is still made up of stately red brick buildings. Besides, Poler explained, in a city that prides itself on its river heritage, "(Twain's) name is easy to remember."
Kind is not exactly sweating the challenge. The congressman is confident that he will best the author and all other comers. And for good reason. LaCrosse is a reliably Democratic city, and Kind, a three-term incumbent, is popular in the surrounding rural counties that make up Wisconsin's Third Congressional District. Yet, the region has a long history of peace activism, going back to the days when it was a hotbed of support for former US Senator Robert M. La Follette and the Wisconsin Progressives who opposed World War I.
After the House vote on Iraq, a local activist paid $1,800 for space on a prominently placed billboard, which now reads, "No War with Iraq. Ron Kind Should Resign." And the LaCrosse Peace and Justice Coalition has organized a number of antiwar demonstrations, including one at a downtown park on November 2, where the Twain candidacy was promoted. Write-in campaigns rarely yield big tallies on election day. But the Twain campaign seems to be connecting with some voters; a pre-election letter to the editor from LaCrosse resident John Schaldach criticized Kind's vote on the Iraq resolution and noted that, "A friend e-mailed me today about a grassroots campaign to write in Mark Twain for the 3rd congressional district in protest of Ron Kind's vote on the resolution. In that (Kind) is facing extremely weak opposition, this seems like a safe year to register a protest vote."
Thus, Schaldach concluded, "On Nov. 5, I will vote Mark Twain."
Despite Schaldach's commitment, the Twain campaign remains an uphill effort. That's probably for the best, as the author never showed much interest in winning a place in the US Capitol. It was Twain who observed that: "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress."
In a state that prides itself on letting corporations off easy – especially local firms such as the DuPont chemical conglomerate – candidates for the position of Delaware Attorney General do not typically talk about throwing corporate criminals in jail. But Vivian Houghton is not a typical candidate for the top law enforcement job in Delaware – or, for that matter, most states.
A politically savvy lawyer with a long track record of high-profile involvement in Delaware debates on issues of concern to organized labor, women and minorities, Houghton has shaken up the contest for Attorney General this year by mounting a sophisticated Green Party campaign that pulls no punches. "If a worker commits a felony, she or he is jailed. Yet the state routinely makes companies, whose environmental violations contribute to Delaware's high cancer rate, pay token fines," says Houghton, who is running against Republican incumbent Attorney General M. Jane Brady and former U.S. Attorney Carl Schnee, a Democrat, in the most hotly contested statewide race on Tuesday's Delaware ballot. "As Attorney General," Houghton promises, "I will possess the toughness to cancel a company's corporate charter if the company either commits a gross violation of its charter or repeatedly violates state regulations."
It is rare to hear talk of pulling corporate charters coming from politicians in Delaware, a state that maintains deliberately weak regulations and enforcement practices in order to encourage corporations and banking institutions to incorporate there. (For instance, Enron chartered 685 subsidiaries in Delaware.) It is rarer still to hear talk about corporations contributing to high cancer rates in a state where the DuPont chemical conglomerate retains immense business and political power.
But Houghton is not easily intimidated. After all, she knows her way around Delaware politics. A veteran of dozens of issue-based campaigns for equal rights for women, civil rights and labor causes, she has helped run dozens of Democratic campaigns over the years, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1988 campaign in the state. She quit the Democrats in 2000 and joined the Greens in time for Ralph Nader's presidential campaign of that year. "The Green Party represents what I idealized the Democratic Party to be," says Houghton, citing the Green platform's commitment to economic and social justice. Houghton was also attracted by the party's anti-corporate stance. "Why should corporate criminals be left to wine and dine each other in the Hotel du Pont's Green Room when in the same city someone can be photographed and fingerprinted by the police for just standing on a street corner?" Houghton asks.
Houghton's promise to take on corporate crime in what is often referred to as "the corporate state" has drawn enthusiastic support from Nader, who campaigned with Houghton in Wilmington last month. Comparing Delaware's lax approach to regulating corporations with Nevada's approach to gambling, Nader said, "Delaware is known as the ‘corporate Reno' of America," he said, adding that, "The biggest corporations in the world charter in one of the smallest states." A Green Attorney General in Delaware, Nader said, could become one of the most important crusaders in the nation for corporate accountability.
Whether Delaware will get a Green Attorney General is another question. While Delaware daily newspapers refer to the race as a three-way contest, Houghton is being outspent 10-1 by her foes. Yet, according to Green Party national co-chair Ben Manski, "Vivian Houghton has clearly established herself as a credible and viable alternative to the candidates of the establishment parties in a state where a lot of voters are looking for an alternative."
Houghton is one of 540 Green Party candidates – almost double the number that ran in 2000 – seeking positions up and down the ballots of states across the country in Tuesday's election. Most of this year's Green candidates are focusing on the local races where the party has done best in past elections. (Of the 157 Greens now holding public office, the overwhelming majority have been elected to local positions on city councils, county boards, schools boards and commissions.) But a number of candidates seeking statewide and national positions this year are being taken seriously. On Friday, Rev. Jackson endorsed AnnDrea Benson, the Green Party candidate for the 5th Congressional district in northwest Pennsylvania. Benson, who is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Phil English in a contest that features no Democrat, has also collected endorsements from the United Electrical Workers, the United Steelworkers, the Boilermakers and other union groups.
It is still uncommon for unions to back Green candidates in contests featuring Democrats, but Delaware's Houghton has collected endorsements from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the United Auto Workers union, which represents 7,000 workers in the state. For union voters, Houghton has distinguished herself from the Democratic and Republican contenders with a pledge to aggressively go after companies that receive tax breaks, land grants and other incentives for job creation in the state and then fail to follow through on their commitments. "When a company downsizes or relocates, workers lose their jobs, period, but the companies, on the other hand, often find ways to circumvent their job-creation promises," argues Houghton, who has been telling union members: "Politics today is almost entirely corporate driven. Let's change this. Let's work in coalition to put more justice into the criminal justice system."
This is how one homestate newspaper editorial described the U.S. Senate candidate: "...he suffers from multiple sclerosis, which makes it difficult for him to walk long distances. Nonetheless, he maintains a cheerful, laid-back demeanor -- the prototypical 'happy warrior.'" The same editorial discussed how the candidate represented "the kind of progressive politics that appeal to a broad spectrum" of voters, noting that, "He has consistently championed green issues such as salmon (protection), renewable energy and a ban on offshore oil drilling. He's pro-choice. He supports assisted suicide. He opposed the Iraq resolution and backs the Patients' Bill of Rights. He is a staunch defender of gay and lesbian rights. He has the blessing of local labor."
The newspaper is not located in Minnesota and the "happy warrior" candidate with a touch of MS and a penchant for progressive politics is not the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone.
Rather, the editorial in question is an endorsement of Oregon U.S. Senate candidate Bill Bradbury, which appeared in Portland's popular Willamette Week newspaper two days before Wellstone died in a Minnesota plane crash. As in Wellstone's first Senate race, a 1990 challenge to Minnesota Republican Senator Rudy Boschwitz, Bradbury is not being given much chance to upset Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith. Yet, just as Wellstone did in 1990, Bradbury is using a combination of edgy progressive politics, grassroots organizing and good humor to get his challenge on the radar.
Bradbury, a friend of Wellstone's, is getting a boost from anti-war activists in Oregon and across the country.
Last-minute contributions from thousands of opponents of the Bush administration's approach to Iraq have given Bradbury, Oregon's elected Secretary of State, extra money for a final television advertising push. The Democratic challenger has used the money well, closing out his campaign with a much-discussed television commercial that features the candidate picking up an huge white megaphone and asking: "Is Gordon Smith listening to Oregon?"
That ad highlights stark policy differences between the two candidates on hot-button issues such as abortion rights. But the surprise element is Bradbury's criticism of Smith for supporting President Bush's demand for blank-check authority to launch a unilateral attack on Iraq. Democratic strategists in Washington -- as well as Democrat leaders in the House and Senate -- have told Democratic candidates to steer clear of the war issue in order to avoid being accused of disloyalty to the president. But Bradbury is having none of it. In his advertisement, in debates and at campaign stops across Oregon, he has argued that Smith's vote in favor of the Congressional resolution on Iraq was out of synch with the sentiments of mainstream Oregonians.
Noting that Oregon's other senator, Democrat Ron Wyden, as well as four of the state's five representatives in the U.S. House, Democrats Earl Bluemenauer, David Wu, Pete DeFazio and Darlene Hooley, voted against Iraq resolution, Bradbury is talking up the state's tradition of questioning U.S. military adventurism abroad. Recalling two of the state's most highly regarded former senators, Democrat Wayne Morse and Republican Mark Hatfield -- both of whom were passionate critics of the Vietnam War -- Bradbury says, "Our greatest leaders, like Senators Wayne Morse and Mark Hatfield, have recognized the importance of asking hard questions. I am dismayed that, in the rush toward war against Iraq, our President and his advisers have failed to address vital questions about this enterprise."
Bradbury's decision to make Smith's vote on the Iraq issue is rare this year. While a number of Green Party candidates have raised the issue in their uphill House and Senate campaigns, only a few Democrats and renegade Republicans have done so. What evidence there is from the campaign trail suggests that the war question plays differently than Bush administration aides and Washington pundits anticipated, however. Wellstone clearly advanced in the polls after taking a very public stance in opposition to the resolution -- indeed, on the day the senator died, a full-page advertisement appeared in Minnesota newspapers highlighting his anti-war stance as a positive with the state's voters. (Notably, when Walter Mondale accepted the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party nomination for Wellstone's seat, the former vice president devoted much of his speech to the fact that he shares Wellstone's position on Iraq.) In Iowa, Republican Jim Leach has been using his vote against the resolution to make the case that he puts Iowa values ahead of his party affiliation.
Will Bradbury's anti-war message play to his advantage in the Oregon race? The last poll put him down 19 points, so Bradbury has a lot of ground to make up before November 5. But he is getting plenty of positive publicity, newspaper endorsements and public support -- from former President Bill Clinton, among others -- in the final days. He also continues to get contributions via the MoveOn.org website, which has been encouraging foes of the Bush administration's approach to Iraq to contribute to members of the Senate and House who voted against the congressional resolution, and to candidates such as Bradbury who have indicated that they would have opposed the resolution. Of more than $250,000 in contributions to the Bradbury campaign in the week before October 30, $150,000 were online donations linked to the MoveOn.org PAC's "Regime Change Begins At Home" campaign.
If everyone out there who's worried about the Bush agenda votes on November 5, we can engage in a little regime change of our own. http://www.moveon.org/PAC_regimechange2/ ">Download , print, post and distribute MoveOn's free Regime Change Begins at Home poster. MoveOn has also identified numerous http://www.moveonpac.org/moveonpac/ ">Congressional candidates nationwide involved in hotly contested races who by virtue of their antiwar voting record deserve progressive support. The http://www.progressivemajority.org ">ProgressiveMajority has assembled a similar http://www.progressivemajority.org/candidates/ ">list .
There are many good ideas for improving the flawed way that US elections are conducted. Chief among these are Instant Runoff Voting proposals, which would increase voter choice and widen the electorate.
Instant Runoff Voting is a way of deciding elections that ensures that a winning candidate receives a majority of votes rather than a simple plurality. http://www.fairvote.org/ ">The Center for Voting and Democracy offers all the arguments. And check out the http://www.fairvote.org/kit.htm ">IRV activist kit for tips on how you can get involved.
California's http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20020819&s=cooper2 ">Proposition 52 is also worthy of support. The Election Day Voter Registration iniative (EDVR) is a concrete reform which would allow people to both register and vote on election day. With voter participation at an all-time low (24.6 percent of eligible voters took part in California's March primaries), Prop 52 should be a no-brainer but its passage is still far from assured.
There are numerous ways you can help http://www.electiondayreg.com/join.cfm ">make Prop 52 a success : Staffing a phone bank, helping out at campaign headquarters, walking precincts, and, of course, contributing funds, can all make a difference in the last days before the vote.
Another state ballot iniative that deserves national attention and support is Oregon's Measure 23 which would ensure access to affordable quality health carefor all Oregon residents through a comprehensive plan providing payment for medically necessary health services. This would be a nice model for the rest of the country if passed.
New Yorkers: Despite the lackluster gubernatorial campaign, there is a choice this Election Day. Your vote can help build a progressive, multiracial, worker-led movement. How? By voting for Democrat Carl McCall for governor on the http://www.workingfamiliesparty.org/ ">Working Families Party line. Read http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20021118&s=editors3 ">Pull That WFP Lever , from the most recent issue of The Nation for the full argument.
Washington loved Paul Wellstone more in death than in life.
In the days following his demise in an airplane crash--which also claimed the lives of his wife, his daughter, three campaign associates, and two pilots--the senior senator from Minnesota was widely praised by all. Robert Novak hailed him as a "happy warrior" quick to engage in playful banter. ("Oh no. Call off the press conference, Novak's here.") Fred Barnes complimented Wellstone for not being a "hater" and for being "a wonderful guy...an unswerving liberal, always true to his conscience." David Gergen called him, "A brave man who always remembered the little guy and fought for him in the Senate." Vin Weber, a Republican congressman-turned-lobbyist, observed, "He was in it for the things he believed in, whether people agreed with him or not." Morton Kondracke praised him as a "small-d democrat...[who] loved to talk...on the floor of the Senate and also just talk with ordinary people." Chris Matthews described him as "an academic man who had the guts to run for office," and noted "people respected his integrity, his fidelity to his beliefs....It's good to have some people in the Senate who read some books." Tony Snow remarked, "Paul Wellstone was a good, truly good, human being, whose personality and example will outlive his causes."
On Wellstone's side of the aisle, Ted Kennedy said, "all of us admired his fight." Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle called Wellstone "the soul of the Senate...a gallant and passionate fighter, especially for the less fortunate.""
It is true that Wellstone was well-liked. He was a high-energy, jovial man who relished a fierce debate. And he was as un-self-important as senators come. Many have noted he would even chat with the elevator operators and cafeteria workers in the Capitol--a remark that says more about Wellstone's colleagues than Wellstone himself. (Wellstone's mother was a cafeteria worker, which embarrassed Wellstone when he was a child. As an adult, he made it a point to meet and talk to cafeteria workers when he visited schools and other places.) Wellstone was boisterous and good-humored, never bitter. The compliments are not insincere.
As a friend of Wellstone, I appreciated all the kind words about him and his wife Sheila, who was a full partner in and out of the Senate office. But there was something disquieting about the flood of tributes. Why, we might ask David Gergen, is it so noteworthy that a senator looked out for the interests of "the little guy"? Isn't that what every member of Congress should do? NBC News correspondent Lisa Myers made the same man-of-the-people point in a report on Wellstone's death: "Today the little guys lost a giant voice in the Senate." If speaking up for the "little guys" is an honorable deed, why was Wellstone not widely celebrated for doing so when he was alive? Earlier in his career, Wellstone notes in his book, The Conscience of a Liberal, Myers did a segment on him and was asked by an anchor, "Does anyone in the Senate take him seriously?" She answered, "Not really."
Certainly, Wellstone impressed more members of that exclusive club as the years went by. He entered the Senate, after his surprising win in 1990, saying he "despised" Jesse Helms. Yet he went on to forge a cordial relationship with the right-wing zealot and even co-sponsored legislation with him. And his alliance with Republican Senator Pete Domenici on legislation that requires health insurers to cover mental illnesses demonstrated Wellstone could form coalitions and do the heavy lifting. (Wellstone's older brother Stephen suffered a severe mental breakdown while a college student. Wellstone, then 11 years old, visited him every other weekend at the Virginia State Mental Institution. He later wrote, "The institution was a scary, depressing place: decrepit buildings, patients in institutional uniforms sitting on benches or wandering aimlessly. I didn't see how anyone could get better in that place. I was more angry than frightened. I could not believe that vulnerable people who were sick, especially my own brother, could be treated so badly. These visits were a radicalizing experience. I didn't know what to do about it, but I knew this was an injustice." His brother eventually improved, was able to finish college, and became a teacher, all the time struggling with mental disease.)
Was he the "soul of the Senate"? Senator Tom Harkin, the only politician chosen to speak at the memorial for Wellstone and the others in Minnesota, echoed Daschle's phrase in saluting his best friend in Congress. No doubt, Wellstone, as self-effacing as he was, would have taken pleasure in that description. Yet he would have asked, why does the Senate need a soul? Why is it that not every Democratic senator is renowned as a gallant fighter for the less fortunate? Wellstone, now gone forever, is acclaimed for having voted his conscience--having chosen conviction over political calculation, as if that was a remarkable act. In Washington, such behavior ought not to stand out.
But it does. Wellstone was liked, but hardly emulated. He was not the toast of the town, not the big "get" for the talk-show bookers. He was not lauded as the "soul of the Senate"--except by his ardent supporters. People snickered in 1999 when he considered running for President. If he took an unpopular position--forcing a recorded vote on a savings-and-loan bail-out, or pushing Senators to relinquish receiving gifts from lobbyists--the common line was not, "There goes Mr. Integrity, looking out for the little guys." It was more, "Wellstone's being a pain in the ass again." But grudges were not held because he was personable, and kept his politics from becoming personal.
The real example he set was not that he was friendly to all--politicians, pundits, and commoners. There are plenty of amiable men and women in Washington. (Jesse Helms, after all, is reputed to be a wonderful boss.) Wellstone might have been the most good-natured member of the Senate, but he set a more important standard in how he achieved power and what he did with that power. It's easy to talk to cafeteria workers; he crafted legislation and voted with them in mind.
Wellstone came to the Senate as a community organizer. A professor at Carleton College, Wellstone had taught students how to organize and gain political power outside the classroom. When he ran for the Senate in 1990, as an impoverished candidate, he stuck to the same model: taking clear and strong progressive stands and motivating like-minded volunteers to devote their time and energy to the grunt work of campaigns. He invited them to join not just a political party but a cause.
His path to the Senate was unlike that of most of his colleagues, many of whom rely on either personal fortune or big-money donations from millionaires or special interests to buy a campaign structure and television ads. He demonstrated that modern democracy can be a meritocracy in which an ideas-driven candidate can claim high office by convincing enough of his neighbors to help.
Shortly after his reelection in 1996, I saw Wellstone and congratulated him. It had been a tough race. Rudy Boschwitz, the incumbent whom he defeated in 1990, had tried to regain the seat by spending millions of dollars on attack ads that depicted Wellstone as a welfare-loving, out-of-touch 1960s throwback. Yet Wellstone won with a comfortable nine-point margin. (That was more than the 5-point win he had secretly predicted when I saw him before the election. During that visit, at my request, he had taken a blank page from my notebook, written down his guess of the final results, and sealed it an envelope.) So, I said to him, you figured out a strategy to counter all those nasty Boschwitz ads. Wellstone explained it was not a matter of strategy, it was a matter of work. Becoming excited, his right hand chopping the air, he exclaimed: This is how we did it--5000 volunteers, 400 phone lines, 200,000 windshield flyers, 50,000 door-hangers. He hadn't won because of any clever strategic positioning. He bagged 1.1 million votes the old-fashioned way--with an organization. "What we did was a model for others, he said. "I want to make sure people realize that."
But most in Washington don't play politics that way. (One exception is Senator Russell Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, who was encouraged to run for the Senate, in part, by Wellstone's 1990 victory.) I have wondered if Wellstone's colleagues were jealous of the guy who made it to the Senate on his own terms in a way that comes straight out of the anybody-can-grow-up-to-become-a-senator civics textbook.
The manner in which he was elected rendered it easier for him to vote his conscience. He owed only his constituents--a group that extended beyond Minnesota's borders and included Americans who shared and fought for the progressive values Wellstone championed. (His non-Minnesota fans became an essential part of his political base; much of the money he raised in 1996 and this year came from national direct-mail solicitations.)
He rarely let them down. He did vote for the Defense of Marriage Act, legislation that was designed to block gay marriages. Gay and lesbian activist were outraged, and so were other Wellstone fans. "What troubles me," he later wrote, "is that I may not have cast the right vote on DOMA. I might have rationalized my vote by making myself believe that my honest position was opposition. This vote was an obvious trap for a senator like me, who was up for reelection. Did I convince myself that I could gleefully deny Republicans this opportunity?…When Sheila and I attended a Minnesota memorial service for Mathew Shepard, I thought to myself, ‘Have I taken a position that contributed to climate of hatred?'"
All elected officials in Washington take dives. Most take many. This was one of the few for Wellstone. He was the only Democratic senator facing reelection in 1996 who voted against the so-called welfare reform legislation. GOPers rubbed their hands together, eager to run against "Senator Welfare." But he survived that challenge. And weeks before he died, he was the only Democratic senator in a close race who voted against the measure authorizing President Bush to launch war on Iraq whenever he sees fit. Republicans considered that vote a gift--potent ammunition they could use in Wellstone's neck-and-neck race with Norman Coleman. Following that high-profile vote, though, polls indicated Wellstone had opened a slight lead over Coleman. Was it due to the fact that Wellstone had followed his conscience? No one will ever know. But there was no immediately recognizable harm.
Shortly after the Iraq vote, I ran into an adviser to a Democratic senator who had voted in favor of the resolution. That senator, too, was also up for reelection. "Don't tell me," I said to the adviser, "that Senator ______ really believes voting for this was the right thing to do." The adviser shook his head, "Of course not." So why vote for it? "Listen, this thing is going to happen, they had the votes. So should he have sacrificed himself? Would you rather have a war with _______ in the Senate or a war without _______ in the Senate. That's the real choice."
What about leadership? I asked. "Remember the two senators who voted against the Tonkin Gulf resolution in 1964," the adviser responded. "They both lost their next election." But Wellstone voted against the Iraq measure, I shot back. "That's Wellstone," the adviser replied. "He's different."
Different, indeed. He never fretted about being on the wrong side of a 99-1 vote. Not that he liked it. But he realized this would occasionally happen. I always thought it would be tough to be that alone, that exposed (politically). But Wellstone, as far as I saw, was ever optimistic, always upbeat--almost to an annoying degree. As a quasi-pessimist, I often tried to coax him into conceding that a situation looked grim, perhaps hopeless. He never obliged. After the 1994 elections handed the Republicans control of both houses of Congress for the first time in decades, Wellstone was upset but not down. "We don't have time for despair," he said. "The fight doesn't change. It just gets harder. But it's the same fight." The ebb and flow of political power in Washington concerned him, but never weighed upon him. Wellstone viewed himself a participant in a long-term struggle for social and economic justice and for a safe and sound world, an endeavor which was under way before he hit the scene and which would continue after he departed. And he always seemed truly grateful for having the chance to play his part. When politics is a calling, rather than a career, the inspiration never ends. And there are few in Washington who inspired others as much as did Wellstone, a short, balding man, with a loopy smile and an awkward gait.
Politics, he once said, "is what we dare to imagine." Before he came to Washington, many Americans could only imagine a senator like Paul Wellstone. But he proved that the dream of having passionate, caring, for-the-people representation in Washington--of having an utterly unabashed populist liberal who lived his principles in the hallways of power--could happen. He demonstrated that he could find his place in Washington, even if he was not embraced by the town; that he could find common ground with ideological foes in pursuit of the public interest; that he could joust with the pundits; and that he could serve nobly and effectively without ceding too much to the capital's culture of calculation and compromise. Wellstone showed progressives how much is possible. His presence here, these past twelve years, expanded their imagination.
[To read a sample of Wellstone's own words, click on the link below.]
MINNEAPOLIS -- "We pay tribute to a leader -- a true DFL liberal..." shouted US Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, invoking the initials and the ideological tradition of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party to honor his fallen colleague, Senator Paul Wellstone.
The Iowan's battle yell drew the loudest cheers of a night filled with tears, laughter and passionate reflection on the legacy of the Minnesota senator Harkin described as "the soul of the Senate." The crowd of more than 20,000 that packed a University of Minnesota arena and an adjoining sports center rose in a foot-stomping, fist-pumping frenzy as Harkin continued: "That's right! A DFL liberal who constantly reminded those of us who are Democrats of the real center of gravity in our party -- the progressive grounding of our being: that everyone should be able to reach their whole potential in our society," Harkin bellowed as the crowd stood and cheered."
The official memorial service for Wellstone, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia and campaign aides Will McLaughlin, Tom Lapic and Mary McEvoy -- who perished Friday in a plane crash on Minnesota's Iron Range -- was more a rally than a funeral. Busloads of Wellstone partisans from across the state poured into Minneapolis to share the memory of the man many of them had marched with, rallied with and campaigned with across two decades of struggle against conservatives in both the Republican and Democratic parties.
But the bus everyone recalled was the green school bus that Wellstone road across Minnesota in his successful 1990 campaign for the Senate, and that was rolled out once more for an intense 2002 campaign in which Wellstone was targeted for defeat by the Bush White House.
Harkin, the only national political speaker invited to address what was essentially a local event, recalled Wellstone's green bus again and again in a speech that owed a good deal more to William Jennings Bryan's turn-of-the-century populism than to the stilted speaking styles of comptemporary politicians.
"Paul Wellstone was a hopeful man. Green was his color -- the color of springtime, the color of hope, the color of that bus he climbed on 12 years ago as set out on his journey for a better Americ," Harkin recalled. "Paul didn't want it to be a solo voage. He wanted us all onboard. And, now, we must all continue Paul Wellstone's journey for a better America."
Harkin was the last of a succession of speakers who left little doubt that the first leg of that journey leads to next Tuesday's voting when, if all goes as appears to be planned, the DFL will elect former Vice President Walter "Fritz" Mondale to fill the late Senator's seat.
Mondale did not speak Tuesday night. But he was greeted with applause more thunderous than that given former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, Senator Edward Kennedy and a who's who of Dmocratic Party leaders -- along with a smattering of Republicans, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi. (Lott got the most boos, something Republicans were immediately spinning as evidence that the event has been "too partisan.")
Mondale had said that he would not address the question of whether he would pick up Wellstone's mantle and carry it into the election until after a decent interval had passed. That interval come to a close Wednesday morning as Republican Norm Coleman, the White House-selected candidate for the Minnesota Senate seat, began campaigning again. Wednesday night, the DFL did indeed pick Mondale as their candidate.
While none of Tuesday night's speakers made explicit "Mondale for Senate" pitches, few left any doubt as to their fervent hope that Wellstone's supporters would, by electing Mondale, "win one more election for Wellstone." The theme of the night, repeated in songs, signs and new green campaign buttons was "Stand Up, Keep Fighting" and fighting words were in abundance.
"We will carry on the fight. We will carry on the struggle," was the booming promise of Mark Wellstone, the senator's son, who recalled a note his mother had given his father shortly before they died that concluded with the line: "We will win!" "Mom, you're right," shouted Mark Wellstone, as raucous cheers filled the cavernous auditorium. "We will win! We will win! We will win!"
One of Senator Wellstone's closest friends, Rick Kahn, bluntly characterized the November election as one in which Minnesotans would face a stark choice that will decided whether Wellstone's legacy is "kept alive" or brought "forever to an end." Kahn suprised many in the crowd by naming Republican senators who had been friends of the Minnesota Democrat and were present Tuesday night -- including New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, and Ohio Senator Mike DeWine -- to: "Help us win this election for Paul Wellstone."
Kahn argued that, instead of helping Coleman, these Republicans ought to back off and let Minnesota choose a successor to Wellstone. That successor, Kahn and other speakers clearly intimated, ought to be a DFLer in the Wellstone tradition so that, in Kahn's words, the party faithful might "shout out Paul Wellstone's name in joyful celebration on one last election night."
Tuesday's night gathering was not all politics, at least not in the purest sense. Painful reflections on lost friends and family made certain that was the case.
Yet, it was also the evening when just about everyone who is anyone in progressives politics -- and some who are not so progressive -- mingled in the halls of an 14,000-seat arena that filled to capacity early and required the use of the satellite facility's 6,000 seats. (Hundreds of thousands more watched television broadcasts of the memorial program, which were aired statewide.) Former Senator Bob Kerrey, D-Nebraska, was waiting in line for a hotdog when Cornel West, the Princeton professor who is one of the nation's most widely-known and respected public intellectuals, spotted him. The two hugged and recalled campaigning together for former Senator Bill Bradley's 2000 Democratic presidential campaign. A few moments later, they had found Bradley and were reminiscing about Wellstone's role in the 2000 campaign.
Across the arena, the Rev. Jesse Jackson embraced Bill Clinton. Next to Clinton sat former First Lady and now Senator from New York Hillary Clinton. Behind the Clintons sat Mondale and Senate Majority Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota. Behind them sat Secretary of Human Services Thompson, a former governor of Wisconsin, and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. In the next row was Ted Kennedy.
But just as important to the organizers were the miners from the Iron Range, the family farmers from southwest Minnesota and the hundreds of recent immigrants -- inluding many Hmong and Somalis -- for whom Wellstone was both a senator and a friend. Recalling Wellstone's generous, self-deprecating style and his refusal to adopt the trappings of a Senator, Harkin said, "No one, no one, ever wore the mantle of senator better or used it less."
Of his late colleague, Harkin said, "He had a powerful authenticity that made a miner up in the Iron Range know that he was as important to Paul Wellstone as the president of the United States."
A pack of retired miners cheered that line, while former President Clinton was laughing and applauding. Then Harkin asked if the troops were ready to fight one more battle for Paul Wellstone on November 5 -- presumably by electing Mondale and the rest of the DFL slate. Referring once more to Wellstone's campaign bus, which became something of a shrine outside the arena Tuesday night, Harkin said, "Let's all get on that campaign bus together, that green campaign bus, that bus of hope. Let's keep it moving to a better Anerica. Keep standing up and keep fighting! And keep saying yes! To justice! To hope! For Paul! For Paul!"
Most Americans had no idea where Eveleth, Minnesota, was until they saw the maps showing where Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife and daughter, three staffers and two pilots perished in a plane crash Friday.
Not so Bob Dylan.
A native of Hibbing, a city just 30 miles from Eveleth, the songwriter grew up as Robert Zimmerman on the northern Minnesota Iron Range where Wellstone was a populist hero to the Steelworkers and other trade unionists who continue to dominate the region's politics.
On Saturday night, at a concert in Denver, Dylan made a rare reference to a contemporary political figure. The singer, who is not known for talking much at his concerts, dedicated a song to Wellstone.
"That song was for my man, the great Senator from Minnesota," Dylan said, as he finished playing an acoustic version of one of his most overtly political songs, 1964's "The Times They Are A'Changin'."
That song includes the lines:
Come senators, congressmen Please heed the call Don't stand in the doorway Don't block up the hall For he that gets hurt Will be he who has stalled There's a battle outside And it is ragin'. It'll soon shake your windows And rattle your walls For the times they are a-changin'"
Dylan's dedication and song choice fueled speculation that the Minnesota native's Wednesday-night concert in St. Paul, which comes in the midst of a remarkable week of mourning for Wellstone and the other plane-crash victims, could become one of the most distinctive forums for honoring the senator's memory in a state where just about every gathering in recent days has featured some form of tribute.
The largest official tribute was set for Tuesday night at a Minneapolis arena. As many as 20,000 people were expected to participate, including former President Bill Clinton; former Vice President Al Gore; Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson; Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota; Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, and more than half of the members of the Senate. Of special note will be the presence of Senate President pro tempore Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, who joined Wellstone is loudly opposing the resolution that authorized the Bush administration to launch a unilateral attack on Iraq.
For all the big names, however, the event is being planned by veteran Wellstone aides to highlight his populist message and grassroots support. The theme of the event will be "Stand Up and Keep Fighting." Wellstone's green campaign bus will be parked in front of the Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. Most of the speakers and performers will be Minnesotans. They will be joined at the podium by Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, who shared Wellstone's penchant for fiery economic populist rhetoric.
Neither President Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney will be present. White House spokeman Scott Stanzel told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Cheney had planned to attend the event. After consulation with the Wellstone family, however, Stanzel said, "We deferred to the family."
Stanzel acknowledged that Wellstone's family members had indicated that they did not want Cheney, who played a critical role in organizing the Republican campaign to unseat Wellstone this year, to be a part of the memorial service.