Quantcast

John Nichols | The Nation

  •  
John Nichols

John Nichols

Breaking news and analysis of politics, the economy and activism.

ELECTION 2002: New Antiwar Senator

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.

ELECTION 2002: Mark Twain for Congress

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."

ELECTION 2002: Challenging "the corporate state"

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."

ELECTION 2002: Making war an issue

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.

Mourning Wellstone, Preparing for Nov. 5

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!"

Bob Dylan, Dick Cheney and Paul Wellstone

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.

Sheila Wellstone's Senate Career

When initial reports of Senator Paul Wellstone's death reached Minnesota's Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party leaders and activists immediately asked: "What about Sheila?"

The question was grounded in a mixture of human concern and political calculation. The human concern could be traced back to the fact that Sheila Ison Wellstone, the senator's wife of 39 years, seemed to maintain a personal friendship with everyone who had ever stuffed an envelope or walked a precinct for the DFL. The political calculation was an extension of that fact: People who knew Sheila and Paul Wellstone were well aware that Sheila was the Minnesota Democrat best suited to win the November 5 election and fill the senate seat left empty by her husband's death.

"You could talk to one and know you were talking to both," explained Sarah Stoesz, a former member of Wellstone's Senate staff who now serves as chief executive officer for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and South Dakota. "They were fully coupled and united in a way that is very unusual in Washington."

Minnesotans who knew the Wellstones well joked that they were really "co-senators."

So much a team were the Wellstones that, several years ago when there was talk that Paul might not seek a third term, speculation immediately focused on his wife. "There was a lot of talk, frankly, that if Paul decided not to run, would Sheila run? She was that competent and that smart and could generate just as much passion as her husband," recalled Minnesota State Auditor Judy Dutcher.

As it happened, Sheila and Paul Wellstone perished together in a northern Minnesota plane crash Friday, along with their daughter, Marcia, three campaign aides and two pilots. For those who knew the Wellstones, the news was doubly tragic: Not only had Minnesota lost a senator, Minnesota also lost the woman who – because she so clearly shared his values, his vision and his political skills – was best positioned to carry on for him.

There is a long, if not always inspired, tradition of the spouses of members of the House and Senate taking the places of deceased representatives. But Sheila Wellstone would not have merely inherited Paul's Senate seat. Her own political abilities, her extremely high profile in Minnesota, and her record of activism – particularly on domestic violence issues – put her high on lists of prospective statewide candidates long before Friday's tragedy.

In 2000, when Paul Wellstone briefly flirted with the idea of leaving the Senate to run for governor of Minnesota, he acknowledged that many members of the state's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party were speculating about a Wellstone-Wellstone ticket in 2002: Paul for Governor, Sheila for Senate. "The trouble with that," he joked, "is that I'm pretty sure Sheila would get more votes."

He wouldn't really have minded. Paul Wellstone and Sheila Ison fell deeply in love at the age of 16. "I met this cute guy out on the beach with muscles," Sheila explained, decades later. They were about as different as two teenagers could be. He was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who had settled in the Washington, D.C., area. She was a Southern Baptist whose family traced its roots back to the Kentucky coal country town of Kingdom Come, although her parents moved to Washington when she was young. When Sheila decided to drop out of the University of Kentucky three years later to marry Paul, who was studying at the University of North Carolina, Paul's father was just about the only supporter of the move. The worry was that Sheila was giving up the chance to make her own career and, in the early years of their marriage, it did look as if that might be the case.

While Paul earned a doctorate in political science, got a teaching job at Carlton College in Minnesota and began to emerge as one of that state's leading activists, Sheila took on most of the responsibility for raising their three children: David, Mark and Marcia -- the daughter who died with her parents in Friday's crash. Paul was running off to march with striking meatpackers and farm protesters, while Sheila was telling him, "Don't get arrested." (When he did get arrested at a demonstration against farm foreclosures in the 1980s, Paul recalled that his first reaction was, "Oh, man, how am I going to explain this to Sheila?")

Behind the conventional façade, however, was a far more sophisticated relationship. Sheila Wellstone played a critical role in helping Paul put together the historic 1990 campaign for the U.S. Senate that made him a national figure. Soon after Senator Wellstone went to Washington, Sheila found a desk in his Senate office and went to work. She became so much a presence around the Capitol that Democratic senators who were close to Wellstone did not ask how he was going to vote on a particular issue; instead they would inquire: "What did Sheila tell you?"

What Sheila told him was to get a lot more involved with the fight against domestic violence. Paul Wellstone came to the Senate as a economic populist with a penchant for peace and social justice causes. Sheila Wellstone helped him to recognize that passing legislation to protect abused women was central to achieving justice.

"Her work saved the lives of countless numbers of women from danger and even death," Shelley Johnson-Cline, executive director of the St. Paul Intervention Project, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press after Friday's crash. "She made it her mission to change that system. She would find out what the needs were and then go out and see them for herself."

Sheila Wellstone said she was attracted to domestic violence issues for the simplest of reasons: "I find it absolutely intolerable to think that a woman's home can be the most violent, most dangerous and oftentimes the most deadly place she can be," Sheila explained. But her activism was anything but simplistic. Mentored by Peacelinks campaigner Betty Bumpers, the wife of former Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers, she learned to use her stature as the wife of a senator to meet academics, law enforcement officials, lawyers, judges, activists and thousands of women and children for whom debates about domestic violence were not merely intellectual or legislative concerns. By 1993, she was writing pieces of legislation that her husband would introduce, including a provision to the Centers for Disease Control budget that provided funding for a project that trains health care providers to recognize and assist victims of abuse and a bill that provided money to set up facilities where parents who were separated would be able to exchange children for visitation without having to face the threat of violence.

In 1994, the Wellstones were key players in the push for passage of the landmark Violence Against Women Act.

Sheila did not have to talk Paul into voting against welfare reform in 1996. But her research provided him with information that he would use to make the case for his vote, a case that ultimately derailed Republican efforts to unseat him that year. In the late 1990s, Sheila Wellstone was an activist on behalf of moves to modify welfare-to-work requirements in order to ease the burden on abuse victims – testifying before state legislators on behalf of using waivers made possible under the Family Violence Amendment that Paul had been instrumental in passing.

On the morning Paul and Sheila Wellstone died, the media was reporting that one of the suspects in the Washington, D.C., sniper case was being held under a federal law designed to prohibit people who have been placed under a restraining order for domestic violence from possessing firearms. That rule, part of the Domestic Violence Firearms Prevention Act, was pushed toward enactment in the Senate by Paul Wellstone -- after Sheila Wellstone developed it.

Money Flows Into Anti-Wellstone Campaign

US Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota, is the Democrat the Bush administration loves to hate. White House political director Karl Rove personally selected Wellstone's Republican challenger in the November 5 election, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, and Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush have visited Minnesota again and again on Coleman's behalf.

But Minnesotans have not taken to the high-level pressure. Bush made a swing through the state last week on Coleman's behalf, but it was Wellstone whose poll numbers went up. Actually, Wellstone's numbers have been rising ever since he voted against the president's request for blank-check authorization to launch a war with Iraq. After months of too-close-to-call poll numbers, the headline of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Sunday announced, "Wellstone edges into lead in U.S. Senate race." The Star-Tribune's latest poll found the two-term liberal Democratic senator to be ahead by a 47-41 margin among likely voters.

But that doesn't mean Wellstone is sure to beat Bush, er, Coleman.After the poll results were released, a shadowy Virginia group that campaign finance analysts have linked to the Bush family and George W. Bush's 2000 campaign -- as well as to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and the Republican Party -- made a record-breaking $1 million purchase of television and radio advertising time to attack Wellstone.

The deceptively named group Americans For Job Security is behind the big buy -- which will likely exceed the amount of money the Wellstone campaign or the Democratic Party will spend in the final weeks before the election. Headquarted in Alexandria, Virginia, Americans for Security first came on the scene five years ago, when it got started with a $1 million contribution from the American Insurance Association. The American Forest and Paper Association chipped in another $1 million.

Described by the The Annenberg Public Policy Center as a "a tax-exempt conservative, business-backed pro-Republican organization formed in October 1997 to lobby for: reduced taxes, less government regulation, free trade, and downsizing government," it has been linked with a previous initiative by the US Chamber of Commerce and business lobbies that spent $5 million in the 1996 election cycle.

In May, 2000, a Washington Post report raised the prospect that Trent Lott was pressuring high-tech lobbyists for contributions to the organization, which that year launched television advertising campaigns attacking the Democratic challengers to several vulnerable Republican senators. (Among the corporations reported to have contributed to Americans for Job Security following that meeting was Microsoft. More recently, pharmaceutical firms have been reported to be prime funders of the group.)

American for Job Security president Michael Dubke has refused to reveal the sources of the funding for this fall's attack ads against Wellstone -- nor for similar campaigns by the group against Democratic Senators Jean Carnahan and Tim Johnson, who are in tight races in Missouri and South Dakota, respectively. According to Dubke, his organization has "a very strong policy that we don't discuss our members." And elections laws do not appear to require him to do so.

Earlier this year, when Americans for Job Security launched a series of attacks on Wellstone, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor party challenged the Virginia group's tax status, In a complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the party asked the IRS to determine whether Americans for Job Security was using its tax-exempt status to hide the sources of its funding.The group is registered as a trade association, a status that permits it to cloak the identities of its contributors. "This is a secret organization using its tax status to conceal its donors," said DFL chair Mike Erlandson. "I believe Minnesotans have a right to know who's contributing to this group."

While the contributors are not identified, there is a good deal of information available to suggest that this group has ties to the Bush administration, the president and his family. Toward the close of the 2000 campaign, Americans for Job Security bought commercials in at least ten major media markets to attack the prescription drug plan of Bush's opponent in the presidential race, Democrat Al Gore. According to The Brennan Center for Justice, Americans for Job Security spent $1.8 million on that attack advertising campaign, making it, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, "the most active (outside group) supporting Bush" in the 2000 campaign.

The Campaign Finance Institute has identified David Carney, a veteran political operative with long ties to the Bush family who served as the political director in George H. W. Bush's White House, as the executive director of Americans for Job Security. Dubke is another alumnus of the Bush-Quayle campaign. Benjamin Ginsberg, who was counsel to George W. Bush's presidential campaign, serves as the group's counsel.

Ginsberg earned a measure of prominence as a key player on the Bush legal team during the Florida recount fight following the 2000 election. He was the one who had to explain why the Bush campaign was so slow to file required forms detailing contributions ($13.8 million) and expenditures by the recount effort. The campaign did not submit the forms until July 15, the last day of an IRS amnesty program for groups that failed to comply with disclosure rules.

The pollster for Americans for Job Security is the Tarrance Group, which also conducts polls for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. That committee's slogan for the campaign to regain Republican control of the Senate -- by defeating Wellstone and other Democratic incumbents -- is "Working to Elect a Bush Majority."

Many Dems Reject War Resolution

A majority of House Democrats on Thursday rejected President Bush's request for blank-check authority to wage war with Iraq, despite the fact that House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, helped draft the resolution and lobbied for its passage.

As expected, the resolution authorizing Bush to order the invasion of Iraq – without a Congressional declaration of war -- passed the House and Senate easily in votes late Thursday and early Friday. The Senate approved the resolution by a lopsided 77-23 vote; the House by a somewhat narrower 296-133 margin.

The surprise came in the size of the vote against the resolution. Just weeks ago, when foes of the administration canvassed the House to determine the size of the opposition bloc, they counted just a few dozen firm votes against the administration's proposal.

Even as Thursday's vote approached, an "alternative to war" resolution proposed by US Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, attracted just 39 co-sponsors. The relatively small number of caucus members who had expressed explicit opposition to the resolution before the vote led Gephardt aides to suggest that the minority leader's outspoken support for the Bush administration's hard-line position – a stance that made opposing the president's request more difficult – would be vindicated as a clear majority of House Democrats would join the Republican majority to back the resolution.

But Gephardt, a man whose presidential ambitions are no secret, was not vindicated.

Of 207 House Democrats voting on the resolution, 126 opposed it, while only 81 voted for the measure. "I hope the story today won't be (that) this is a huge, overwhelming victory for the president of the United States and for war, beacuse it is not," said Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, who was one of the first to break with Gephardt on the issue. "I think what we did will surprise some people. This (the larger-than-expected vote against the resolution) is against conventional wisdom that 'oh, everybody's going to be with the president.'"

The 126 Democrats who opposed the resolution were joined by one independent member, Vermont's Bernie Sanders, and six Republicans -- John Duncan of Tennessee; John Hostettler of Indiana; Amo Houghton of New York; Jim Leach of Iowa; Connie Morella of Maryland; and Ron Paul of Texas.

The House Democrats who opposed the White House and their own caucus leader included Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who is also the ranking Democratic member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, D-Michigan; the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, David Obey, D-Wisconsin; the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, Charles Rangel, D-New York; and International Relations Committee members Donald Payne, D-New Jersey; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia; Earl Hilliard, D-Alabama; Bill Delahunt, D-Massachusetts; Gregory Meeks, D-New York; Barbara Lee, D-California; Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon; Grace Napolitano, D-California; and Diane Watson, D-California. They were joined by senior Democratic members such as George Miller, D-California, and James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, who told the House: "Our Constitution entrusts to Congress alone the power to declare war, a power we should invoke with great care on evidence of a clear and present danger to our country. President Bush has asked Congress to cede that power to him, to be wielded against Iraq; at a time of his choosing; with or without United Nations support; in a unilateral, pre-emptive strike, on his own determination of the level of threat Iraq poses to our national security. I will not surrender our constitutional authority."

Pelosi, the number two Democrat in the House, was equally outspoken in her opposition to the resolution. Rejecting the argument that the president needed maximum flexibility to act quickly against an immediate threat, Pelosi noted that Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet had told Congress that the likelihood of Iraq's Saddam Hussein launching an attack on the U.S. using weapons of mass destruction is low. "This is not about time," she said. "This is about the Constitution. It is about this Congress asserting its right to declare war when we are fully aware what the challenges are to us. It is about respecting the United Nations and a multilateral approach, which is safer for our troops."

Pelosi joined 70 Democrats, Vermont Independent Sanders and Maryland Republican Morella in backing Barbara Lee's amendment, which spelled out explicit support for the principle that: "the United States should work through the United Nations to seek to resolve the matter of ensuring that Iraq is not developing weapons of mass destruction, through mechanisms such as the resumption of weapons inspections, negotiation, enquiry, mediation, regional arrangements, and other peaceful means." Lee's bill was co-sponsored by 18 Congressional Black Caucus members, former House Minority Whip David Bonior, D-Michigan, and Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Dennis Kucinich.

"It is fear which leads us to war," Kucinich told the House. "It is fear which leads us to believe that we must kill or be killed. Fear which leads us to attack those who have not attacked us. Fear which leads us to ring our nation in the very heavens with weapons of mass destruction."

Another fear – that of the Bush political team's determination to make Iraq an election issue for members who oppose the administration – was described by several members as a factor in the timing of the vote and the willingness of House leaders to concede so much of their authority to the president. Rangel went so far as to describe the whole debate as "a diversion that we have been forced to place on the front burner."

Intriguingly, for all the fears of some Democrats that a "no" vote might be politically risky, at least two of the Republicans who voted with the majority of Democrats in opposition to the resolution face difficult reelection fights this fall. Iowa's Leach and Maryland's Morella are among the most endangered Republican incumbents in the country – the former from a midwestern district with vast stretches of farmland, the latter from a Washington suburb. Yet, both broke with the administration to oppose what Leach described as a "resolution (that) misfits the times and the circumstances."

"As powerful a case for concern as the preparatory clauses of this resolution outline," explained Leach, "they do not justify authorization for war, particularly absent further Security Council and multinational support."

In the Senate, one Republican -- Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee -- voted against the resolution. He joined 21 Democrats and Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords in voting "no." The Senate foes were led by West Virginia's Robert Byrd and Massachusetts' Edward Kennedy, the chamber's senior Democratic members. They were joined by Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin, D-Michigan; Intelligence Committee chair Bob Graham, D-Florida; and Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

Among those voting for the resolution were prospective 2004 Democratic presidential candidates Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut; John Edwards, D-North Carolina; and John Kerry, D-Massachusetts.

Among senators seeking reelection this year, the only vulnerable incumbent to oppose the resolution was Minnesota's Paul Wellstone.

"A pre-emptive go-it-alone strategy towards Iraq is wrong. I oppose it," said Wellstone. "We should act forcefully, resolutely, sensibly with our allies, and not alone, to disarm Saddam. Authorizing the pre-emptive, go-it-alone use of force now, right in the midst of continuing efforts to enlist the world community to back a tough new disarmament resolution on Iraq, could be a costly mistake for our country."

Byrd Chastises White House, Democrats

Even though he is unlikely to succeed in preventing a Congressional grant of blank-check warmaking powers to the Bush administration, Senator Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, has done America the service of clarifying the issue at hand. Thanks to Byrd's fierce denunciations of an unnecessary resolution to promote an unnecessary war, members of Congress who side with the administration will not be able to plead ignorance to the charge that they abandoned their Constitutionally-mandated responsibilities in order to position themselves for the fall election.

Rarely in the history of the Senate has a member so bluntly identified the hypocrisy of the White House on a question of warmaking. But there was no partisan malice in Byrd's remarks. In a remarkable speech delivered as the Senate opened its debate on Bush's request for broad authority to use military force against Iraq, Byrd chastised his fellow Democrats for engaging in equally contemptible acts.

"The newly bellicose mood that permeates this White House is unfortunate, all the moreso because it is clearly motivated by campaign politics. Republicans are already running attack ads against Democrats on Iraq. Democrats favor fast approval of a resolution so they can change the subject to domestic economic problems," declared the senior Democratic senator. "Before risking the lives of American troops, all members of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- must overcome the siren song of political polls and focus strictly on the merits, not the politics, of this most serious issue."

With fury entirely appropriate to the moment, Byrd roared: "We are rushing into war without fully discussing why, without thoroughly considering the consequences, or without making any attempt to explore what steps we might take to avert conflict. The resolution before us today is not only a product of haste; it is also a product of presidential hubris. This resolution is breathtaking in its scope. It redefines the nature of defense, and reinterprets the Constitution to suit the will of the Executive Branch. It would give the President blanket authority to launch a unilateral preemptive attack on a sovereign nation that is perceived to be a threat to the United States. This is an unprecedented and unfounded interpretation of the President's authority under the Constitution, not to mention the fact that it stands the charter of the United Nations on its head."

Typically, Byrd was strongest when he asked today's politicians to square their actions against the historical imperatives and insights that he, above all other members of Congress, recognizes and understands. In a speech that began with reference to the Roman historian Titus Livius and closed with a detailed recreation of the Senate debate that preceded the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Byrd summoned the words of an Illinois congressman who in the 1840s chastised a proponent of expanded presidential warmaking powers:

"Representative Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to William H. Herndon, stated: ‘Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose - - and you allow him to make war at pleasure... The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.'"

The West Virginian asked the Senate: "If he could speak to us today, what would Lincoln say of the Bush doctrine concerning preemptive strikes?" No doubt, Lincoln would join millions of Americans in telling senators to listen to the wisdom of Robert Byrd.

Syndicate content