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"Well, maybe it's like Casey says: A fella ain't got a soul
of his own, just a piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to
everybody. And then it don't matter, I'll be around. In the dark. I'll be
everywhere. Wherever you can look. Whenever there's a fight so hungry people can
eat, I'll be there. Whenever there's a cop beaten' up on a guy, I'll be there.
I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad, and I'll be in the way kids laugh
when they're hungry and they know suppers ready. And when people are eaten'
stuff they raise, and livin' in the houses they build, I'll be there,
--- Tom Joad in the movie "The Grapes of Wrath"
The Washington Post
THE REAL DEAL
Paul Wellstone was 5 feet 5 inches tall, but he had the capacity to make his Senate colleagues look small.
It was known in the chamber that Wellstone had no consultant except his conscience and that he cast career-threatening votes.
He was the lionhearted leader of the losers and the left out. He smiled if you called him a liberal.
His death in a plane crash that also killed his wife, Sheila, his daughter, Marcia, three campaign aides and two pilots has occasioned a flood of real tears and authentic, choked expressions from people who usually issue press releases about fallen colleagues. Sen. Tom Harkin broke down when he tried to broadcast his love, and Phil Gramm, of all people, issued the perfect epitaph: "He was a sweet man."
The lamentation was general and unanimous, going far beyond the heartbroken
Minnesotans who gathered at campaign headquarters to weep and pray and leave
flowers, and far beyond anxious Democrats who hoped the diminutive scrapper would help preserve their paper-thin majority in the Senate. His death was treated as a national calamity --- honest men are in short supply. The coverage was so comprehensive it suggested that the whole country bought ex-senator Pat Moynihan's long-ago description of Wellstone as "a gift to the nation."
His departure leaves a gaping hole in the Senate. He was irreplaceable. How many senators are praised for their humility and sweet nature? They have no other blithe spirit like the ex-professor who was proud of his recognition by the National Wresting Hall of Fame. He was difficult to demonize. He had guileless blue eyes, dimples and an air of eager kindness. He wasn't a stuffed shirt, which it is so easy to become as a member of the "world's greatest deliberative body." He wasn't a hair shirt, as principled loners often are. There was no breast-beating, and no browbeating of the timid either.
Wellstone's first famous kamikaze vote occurred in 1996, when Democrats thought they absolutely had to vote for Bill Clinton's welfare reform bill. The Republican chorus against welfare queens, welfare cheats and vodka drinkers had reached a climax, and incumbents were warned of the consequences of voting no on Clinton's pledge to "end welfare as we know it."
Wellstone found it too harsh and bravely voted no.
As he was hurrying back to Minnesota to campaign that year, I ran into him on the Capitol steps. He knew his colleagues counted him a dead man walking, but he was of good cheer. "I have wonderful people working for me in every county. They know what they are doing."
They did. He won.
This month Wellstone faced another perilous vote, and he was in an even tighter race for reelection. Party leaders said that it would be madness to vote against George Bush's war in Iraq. He was one of 23 Democrats to say no to a new Gulf of Tonkin resolution. He went home to Minnesota to face the music -- and went up ten points in the polls. People who hated his vote loved his grit.
Wellstone, the indefatigable champion of the unfortunate, practiced what he preached in his private life. I found out during a conversation I had with him and Sheila during a quiet moment at a party. I was just back from a vacation and asked the Wellstones about theirs.
"We haven't had a vacation in eight years," he said. "Sheila and I each have our parents living with us. They're old and sick and we hate to leave them." It was said without self-pity. As Susan Brophy, Bill Clinton's congressional liaison says, "Wellstone is the real deal."
On the Hill, he was a hero to staff people. Some senators have a fit if a staff member's name appears in the paper. Wellstone had lunch every day with his staff, and several years ago, when his late chief of staff, Mike Epstein, was diagnosed with cancer, Wellstone made an emotional speech about him at the senators' caucus lunch. Later he went to the floor and spoke again of the great debt he owed Epstein. A mourning Senate aide told me, "Some of these guys don't even know our names."
Wellstone was unique in death as well. His memorial service, which commemorated all the victims of the crash, was like no other. Twenty thousand grievers crowded into the University of Minnesota --- and had a wonderful time. There was rock music, there were emotional, dry-eyed tributes from his two lovely sons, one of whom looks just like him. Both inherited his eloquence. Tom Harkin delivered what could only be called a fighting eulogy, almost every line of which was cheered to the rafters. It ended with a call to arms for the mourners to fight for the causes Wellstone had bequeathed to them --- along with his high heart for life and politics.
Funeral service as rally is a new concept, but as the master of ceremonies,
George Latimer, said, "He would not have wanted it any other way."
"NO ONE EVER WORE THE TITLE
OF SENATOR BETTER OR USED IT LESS"
ROBERT E. PIERRE, WASHINGTON POST: They came straight from work with kids in tow. They came early, waiting patiently in lines wrapped around the Williams Center, packing the 20,000-seat venue to the rafters. Some sat on the floor and those who couldn't get in stood outside listening to stories about the late Sen. Paul D. Wellstone, chiming in with their own about how the scrappy senator with a short frame and big heart had personally touched their lives.
As they filed into the arena, some touched and toured the green bus that had become synonymous in Minnesota with Wellstone's tireless campaign habits. There was some gawking, to be sure, at the dignitaries who attended the event, including former president Bill Clinton, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (Dem.-New York), former vice president Al Gore and Jesse L. Jackson.
But mainly the people came to celebrate the lives of Wellstone, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia Wellstone Markuson and three other campaign staffers who died in a plane crash Friday.
There was so much applause --- and so many senators and representatives --- that it might well have been a presidential State of the Union address, and so much foot-stomping at other times that the event could have been mistaken for a lively political convention. But mostly there were people with heavy hearts who felt compelled to come and commiserate with others who believed the Wellstone philosophy that politics is, and should always be, about improving people's lives.
"He was good for Minnesota and integral to what I consider the identity of Minnesota," said Dawn Messerly, 33, who grew up in St. Paul and first voted for Wellstone in 1990 while she was a student at Carleton College. "People voted for Paul Wellstone because he was Paul Wellstone. It will be hard to replace him."
The same was said about the others who died along with the Wellstones: campaign aides Will McLaughlin, 23, Tom Lapic, 59, and Mary McEvoy, 49.
Pilots Richard Conry, 55, and Michael Guess, 30, also perished in the crash near Eveleth. There were personal anecdotes about how McLaughlin, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, got under Wellstone's skin and vice versa. In one familiar story, the senator would tell McLaughlin to pull up to cars with a Wellstone sticker; Wellstone would wave vigorously and appear dejected when people wouldn't wave back.
McLaughlin let this go on for several days before finally telling Wellstone that the windows were tinted and they couldn't see him waving.
Folk and gospel singers closed the service with "Stand Up, Keep Fighting," written a few months ago for the campaign. In words and song, they embraced a man who unabashedly embraced the word "liberal," who worked for the homeless, small farmers and wives abused by husbands.
"No one ever wore the title of senator better or used it less," said a close friend, Sen. Tom Harkin (Dem-Iowa). "Paul Wellstone didn't just imagine a better America. He helped build it."
Although organizers said they did not want to turn the service into a political rally, there was certainly plenty of politics from a decidedly partisan crowd. There were scattered boos around the auditorium for Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (Rep.-Mississsippi) and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (Independent).
And there were loud cheers when the Clintons, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy
(Dem.-Massachusetts.) and other Democratic stalwarts were shown on the big
screen above the crowd. But the loudest yells were reserved for former vice
president Walter F.
Mondale, who is expected to accept the Democratic-Farmer-Labor nomination to replace Wellstone on the ballot against Norm Coleman, the former St. Paul mayor who is the Republican nominee for the seat.
"They will know we were here," Wellstone's friend Rick Kahn implored the
crowd. "They will know we made a difference. They will know we left the place a
much better place than we found it. A week from today, there will be a choice to
continue his legacy in the U.S. Senate or bring it forever to an end. Tonight we
are filled to overflowing with overwhelming grief and sorrow. We are begging
you. We are begging you to help us win this Senate election for Paul Wellstone.
We can make his dreams come true if you help us
win this election for Paul Wellstone."
DFL Chairman Mike Erlandson said the tone of the election following Wellstone's death was likely to change.
"I think there will be some desire to contrast, but more folks will be
talking a lot more about themselves as opposed to why not to vote for the other
person," he said.
A POWERFUL AND COMPASSIONATE VOICE
WAS SILENCED WAY TOO SOON
On behalf of the Board, Staff and Members of the Rural Coalition/Coalicion Rural, we express our profound sadness at the loss Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife Sheila; his daughter, his staff members and pilots.
Our Coalition consists of farmworkers, people of color and other small and organic farmers, environmentalists, sharecroppers, indigenous communities and campesinas in Mexico --- people with little voice in this society. On behalf of all of them, we share our deepest sympathy with the Wellstone family, his Senate and campaign staff, his longtime cadre of supporters, and the people of Minnesota.
"Paul Wellstone was passionate about all of the causes we in the Rural Coalition advocated. He was the Senator to all of us," said Rural Coalition emeritus Board member Patricia Bellanger, Ojibway of Minnesota.
"The saddest part of this loss for us," noted RC Chairperson John Zippert "is that he was one of the few Senators who had an understanding of community organizing and community based development. His powerful and compassionate voice was silenced way too soon. I do not know if that perspective will still exist in the Senate. He will be sorely missed by poor rural communities and people."
"In 1972, when the U.S. government set up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
(ANWR), they destroyed the tribal council and by fiat deemed them all Native
Alaskans. No one listened to us or cared. When we did the walk in
1991 to call upon the nation to protect ANWR, Paul Wellstone was the only
Senator who came out to greet us," said Bellanger. "He stood with us and fought
so we could keep that land for every American, a wildlife place for the entire
United States. He cared deeply for us and stood with us for all these
"Our members will never forget that before he was even in the Senate, he stood with the Hormel workers. He never forgot the struggles of any workers, especially in the food and agricultural conglomerates. Wherever our people were, he was always there. He spoke at the African American Farmer1s Caravan to Washington in 1992 from the steps of the US Capitol," recalled Zippert.
"He led the Rally for Rural America. He came to be with us no matter what our level of campaign contributions. And until the very end of his life, without regard for polls or popularity, he remained the most fervent and dependable voice in the US Senate on behalf of all rural people who work for peace.
"His passing is a tragic loss for all of us, not just the Minnesotans who ushered him to the Senate. Wellstone stood with us to fight for fairness and justice in every sector, for fair trade and farm policy and for peace. He and those who died with him will be sorely missed and forever appreciated by rural people everywhere."
"Paul Wellstone and his family members and friends will be mourned and their lives celebrated from the Arctic Circle to El Paso, Texas and on into Mexico and beyond," said Bellanger. "Paul, we will never forget your courage, tenacity and simple human kindness. All of us know the best way to remember you is to carry on your work by voting, marching for peace and justice, and making your voices heard. Do it for Paul."
The Rural Coalition/Coalicion Rural is an alliance of over 80 culturally and regionally diverse rural community based organization. We represent American-Indian, African-American, Asian-American, Euro-American and Latino farmers, farmworkers and rural communities in the US, Mexico and beyond.
Members of the Rural Coalition/Coalicion Rural include:
AFGE Local 3354, St. Louis, MO
AFSCME Local 3870, Rosslyn, VA
Alborada de San Luis Potosi, San Luis Potosi, MX
American Indian Movement, Minneapolis, MN
Amo Organics, Chualar, CA
Asian Pacific American Network in Agriculture, Washington, DC
Appalachian Community Fund, Knoxville, TN
Association for Community Based Education, Washington, DC
Bert & Mary Meyer Foundation, Orlando, FL
Boggs Rural Life Center Inc., Keysville, GA
Center for Community Change, Washington, DC
Centro de Desarrollo de la Medicina Maya
Christian Children1s Fund, Inc., Richmond, VA
Comit* de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas (CATA), Glassboro, NJ
Comunidades Campesinas en Camino, S.S.S., Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, MX
Concerned Citizens of Tillery, Tillery, NC
Comision de Solidaridad y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos , Chihuahua, MX
Empire State Farm Alliance, Johnstown, NY
Episcopal Migrant Ministry Committee, Midland Park, NJ
Equal Exchange, Canton, MA
Fall River Wild Rice, Fall River Mills, CA
Family Farm Defenders, Hillsboro, WI
Farmworkers Association of Florida, Apopka, FL
Federation of Southern Coops./LAF, Epes, AL
Foundation for Creative Living, Pollocksville, NC
Frente Democratico Campesino, Chihuahua, MX
Georgia Rural Urban Summit, Athens, GA
Global Telematics, Seattle, WA
Grassroots Economic Organizing Newsletter, New Haven, CT
Grupo Organizado de Productos del Ejido Benito Juarez, Chihuahua, MX
Hill Connections, Chaseburg, WI
Hispanic Organizations Leadership Alliance (HOLA), Takoma Park, MD
Hmong American Community, Inc., Fresno, CA
HMONG National Development, Inc., Washington, DC
H.O.M.E. Inc., Orland, ME
Housing Assistance Council, Washington, DC
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minniapolis, MN
Institute for Southern Studies, Durham, NC
Intertribal Agriculture Council, Billings, MT
Intervale Foundation, Burlington, VT
Jesus People Against Pollution, Columbia, MS
Just Food, New York, NY
Kansas Black Farmers Assoc., Nicodemus, KS
Kentucky Appalachian Ministry, Richmond, KY
The Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Inc, Poteau, OK
Kiee Lu1u (Flor Viva), Oaxaca, MX
La Casa del Llano - Communities Approaching Sustainable Agriculture,
Land Loss Prevention Project, Durham, NC
Land Stewardship Project, Lewiston, MN
Lideres Compensinas, Pomona CA
Markham Center, Montpelier, VT
Mi Luw Nangaj Ndec, Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, MX
The Minnesota Project, St. Paul, MN
Mississippi River Basin Alliance, St. Paul, MN
Mississippi Assoc. of Cooperatives, Jackson, MS
MO Action Research Connection, Columbia, MO
MO Rural Crisis Center, Columbia, MO
Nat1l Network of Forest Practitioners, Boston, MA
Nat1l Organization of Professional Hispanic NRCS Employees, Phoenix, AZ
New England Small Farm Inst., Belchertown, MA
North American Farm Alliance, Windsor, OH
Northeast Ohio Family Farms, Hiram, OH
Oklahoma Landowners & Tenants Association, Inc., Bristow, OK
Operation Spring Plant, Inc., Oxford, NC
Organizacion de Grupos Unidos en el Trabajo, Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, MX
Organizacion Regional Nahuatl Independiente, Papatlazolco, Puebla, MX
Politics of Food Program, Inc., Rochester, NY
Pike Place Market, Seattle, WA
Presbyterian Church (USA), Louisville,KY
PROSA, Oaxaca, Oax, MX
Red de Artesanos, Creel, Chih., MX
Rural Advancement Fund, Orangeburg, SC
Rural Community Development Resources, Yakima, WA
Rural Development Leadership Network, New York, NY
Rural Opportunities, Inc., Rochester, NY
Rural Vermont, Montpelier, VT
Rural Virginia, Inc., Richmond, VA
Sin Fronteras Organizing Project, El Paso, TX
Social Concerns/Rural Life Office Diocese of Jefferson City, MO
Solidarity Committee of the Capitol District, Albany, NY
Southern Rural Development Initiative, Raleigh, NC
Stepping Stone Association, Savannah, TN
Steuben Churchpeople Against Poverty, Inc., Bath, NY
T.C.O. de Santo Domingo Petapa, Lagunas, Oaxaca, MX
T.C.O. de Tehuantepec, Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, MX
Trueque, Oaxaca, Oax. MX
United Methodist Church-General Board of Church & Society, Washington, DC
UCIRI, Ixtepec,Oaxaca, MX
Federation of Southern Co-ops
Land Alliance Fund
MOURNS LOSS OF SENATOR PAUL WELLSTONE
"A VOICE IN SUPPORT OF ALL FAMILY FARMERS"
It is with profound regret that the membership, board and staff of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (Federation/LAF) expresses their dismay and sadness at the loss of Minnesota's Senator Paul Wellstone.
"Though we are in the Southern part of the United States, he was our Senator
as well," said Ralph Paige, Executive Director of the Federation/LAF.
"Throughout his entire career in the U.S. Senate, Wellstone was there in support
of Black farmers and the rural poor. Never did he shrink from speaking out for
the disadvantaged and in acting in
the Senate on their behalf. The loss of his courageous activism is breathtaking."
Both prior to and during his tenure in the Senate, Wellstone has been an advocate for the needs of all family farmers regardless of where they lived in the United States. In 1992 Senator Wellstone participated in the Federation/LAF's Caravan to Washington DC to demand support from the U.S. Congress for Black farmers and financial appropriations for the USDA's "Outreach and Technical Assistance Program" for minority farmers --- a program that has yet to be adequately funded.
Nevertheless, he stood with Black farmers and advocates on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1992 to demand that Congress support minority farmers in their effort to hold on to their land and receive equity in services from the USDA. In the lobbying efforts for the Farm Bills in 1996 and 2001, Wellstone was also an active supporter of the demands and needs expressed by Black farmers in their call for more just policies at USDA.
"Wellstone was unique in that he had a remarkable understanding and respect for grassroot community organizing," said John Zippert, the Federation/LAF's Director of Programs. "He listened to the voices of grassroot folks, became a part of our groups and advocated on our behalf."
"We send our condolences to the family and friends of Senator Wellstone," said Paige, "and we understand that the best legacy of his life will be our diligence in working for and demanding justice in rural communities everywhere."
The Federation/LAF, now in its 35th year, assists Black family farmers
across the South with farm management, debt restructuring, alternative crop
suggestions, marketing expertise and a whole range of services to ensure family
Land Stewardship Project
PAUL WELLSTONE: LOSING A CHAMPION
OF ECONOMIC JUSTICE IN RURAL AMERICA
Family farmers in Minnesota and throughout the nation lost a champion of economic justice in rural America when Senator Paul Wellstone was killed in a tragic airplane crash on October 25th.
Paul Wellstone gladly waded into the fight for justice because he knew it was right. Paul found the issues he championed the old-fashioned way --- democratically. He listened to the people. He acted with courage. Along with all who care about justice, democracy, and compassion, family farmers mourn his loss deeply.
Paul's leadership was of both the heart and the mind, and no voice was more effective, more genuine, and more enduring. He stood with us on courthouse steps and Capitol steps in the 1980's, fighting against the foreclosures of family farms by the Farm Credit System, major insurance companies, and the banks --- and fighting for fair prices and fair treatment for family farms. He met with us, listened, and responded through the years, before he became Senator Wellstone, and after.
He stood with us in the past year, introducing the ban on corporate meatpacker ownership of livestock in the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, and fighting hard and winning its passage on the Senate floor over the intense lobbying of corporate agribusiness and proponents of factory farms. He stood firm for the environment as well, becoming a champion of the Conservation Security Program in the 2002 Farm Bill and working to stop huge subisidies for factory farms.
Paul Wellstone was never afraid to speak truth to power. Most importantly, he was never afraid to help ordinary people build real political and economic power against the entrenched monied power of corporate America. Wellstone also shared another thing with family farmers and working people --- he did his work despite constant physical pain and long, long hours.
Paul Wellstone is gone, tragically and too soon. What remains is our commitment to justice and democracy, and to finish the chores he started. For Paul Wellstone and family farmers, the passage of the packer ban in both houses of Congress --- to really limit the excessive power of multinational corporations over our food and our land --- is the most important thing to do to stand up for family farms. This would be a lasting tribute to Paul's memory. Whoever his successor is must carry on that work.
We will continue the good work in the spirit of Paul Wellstone. From the bottom of our hearts we thank him and thank Sheila Wellstone for their years of leadership and service. We will work with people from all walks of life to carry it forward.
The red bandanna was a symbol of the farm movement of the 1980's, which Paul
wore many times in farm actions and rallies. Farmers and farm organizers are
wearing the red bandanna today in honor of a leader of principle and action,
American Corn Growers Association
'FOUNDING FATHERS WOULD HAVE BEEN PROUD
TO KNOW A MAN EXISTED TODAY
TO PROTECT THE DEMOCRACY THEY FORMED"
Keith Dittrich, president of the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) paused this week to reflect on the life of the late senator Paul Wellstone. On behalf of the board and staff of the organization, he expressed sorrow over the loss of the Senator, and his wife, daughter and five staff members, and offered sympathy to their families and the people of Minnesota.
"Paul Wellstone was a statesman in the truest sense," said Dittrich. "Our
founding fathers would have been proud to know that such a man existed today to
protect the democracy they formed. Family farmers, rural Americans, working
people and the nation as a whole, will miss him dearly. We can remember
him best by looking forward, doing the right thing regardless of the personal
consequences and speaking out for the people in this world who are
disenfranchised and powerless. We honor his legacy by seeking solutions
that benefit both family farmers and consumers and by striving to bring people
instead of driving them apart with a wedge of financial power."
David Senter, a long time friend of the Senator and ACGA Director of
Legislative Affairs added, "Senator Paul Wellstone, the person stood taller than
most. He never backed away from a fight for what he believed in and he
brought out the best in those around him. He gave me courage to continue
the struggle for justice and the memories of my friend Paul Wellstone will cross
my mind often and will never fade."
Organization for Competitive Marketing
PAUL WELLSTONE STROVE FOR SYSTEMATIC CHANGE
RATHER THAN PURSUE INCREMENTALISM OR COMPROMISE
Paul Wellstone has been eloquently eulogized since his death last Friday. We at OCM can say little that has not been said better. But we must say what we feel.
Our country has too few leaders of principle. Now we have one less. Paul Wellstone followed his beliefs in striving for systematic change rather than pursuing incrementalism or compromise.
Paul Wellstone was from Minnesota, but he represented independent producers everywhere. He introduced and fought for the agribusiness merger moratorium several years ago. Thereafter, he introduced and/or supported every pro-competition bill introduced in the Senate including the packer ownership ban.
All of us who have met Senator Wellstone were struck by his warmth, humility and generosity. It is difficult to overstate these qualities because they were penetrating.
The question now becomes: What will be his legacy? Will we continue
violating his principle that Rural America is served best by a family-based,
diverse farm and ranch sector? Will our leadership continue to say that
the "political realities" foreclose positive change? Or will Senator
Wellstone's life encourage us to fight for and achieve his vision of a better
world with reduced power of economic dictatorship? This is a legacy with
which he would be pleased.
New York Times Op-Ed
FOR THE PEOPLE
Ghoulish but true: as Minnesota mourns the death of Senator Paul Wellstone, many of the state's residents have been receiving fliers bearing a picture of a tombstone. The fliers, sent out by a conservative business group, denounce the late senator's support for maintaining the estate tax. Under the tombstone, the text reads in part: "Paul Wellstone not only wants to tax you and your business to death . . . he wants to tax you in the hereafter."
To be fair, the people who mailed out those fliers --- which are carefully worded so that the cost of the mailing doesn't officially count as a campaign contribution --- didn't know how tasteless they would now appear. Yet in a sense the mass mailing is a fitting epitaph; it reminds us what Paul Wellstone stood for, and how brave he was to take that stand.
Sometimes it seems as if Americans have forgotten what courage means. Here's a hint: talking tough doesn't make you a hero; you have to take personal risks. And I'm not just talking about physical risks --- though it's striking how few of our biggest flag wavers have ever put themselves in harm's way. What we should demand of our representatives in Washington is the willingness to take political risks --- to make a stand on principle, even if it means taking on powerful interest groups.
Paul Wellstone took risks. He was, everyone acknowledges, a politician who truly voted his convictions, who supported what he thought was right, not what he thought would help him get re-elected. He took risky stands on many issues: agree or disagree, you have to admit that his vote against authorization for an Iraq war was a singularly brave act. Yet the most consistent theme in his record was economic --- his courageous support for the interests of ordinary Americans against the growing power of our emerging plutocracy.
In our money-dominated politics, that's a dangerous position to take. When Mr. Wellstone first ran for the Senate, his opponent outspent him seven to one. According to one of his advisers, the success of that ramshackle campaign, run from a rickety green school bus, "made politics safe for populists again."
If only. Almost every politician in modern America pretends to be a populist; indeed, it's a general rule that the more slavishly a politician supports the interests of wealthy individuals and big corporations, the folksier his manner. But being a genuine populist, someone who really tries to stand up against what Mr. Wellstone called "Robin Hood in reverse" policies, isn't easy: you must face the power not just of money, but of sustained and shameless hypocrisy.
And that's why those fliers are a perfect illustration of what Paul Wellstone was fighting.
On one side, the inclusion of estate tax repeal in last year's federal tax cut is the most striking example to date of how our political system serves the interests of the wealthy. After all, the estate tax affects only a small minority of families; the bulk of the tax is paid by a tiny elite. In fact, estate tax repeal favors the wealthy to such an extent that defenders of last year's tax cut --- like Senator Charles Grassley, who published a misleading letter in last Friday's Times --- always carefully omit it from calculations of who benefits. (The letter talked only about the income tax; had he included the effects of estate tax repeal, he would have been forced to admit that more than 40% of the benefits of that tax cut go to the wealthiest one percent of the population.) To eliminate the estate tax in the face of budget deficits means making the rich richer even as we slash essential services for the middle class and the poor.
On the other side, the estate tax debate illustrates the pervasive hypocrisy of our politics. For repeal of the "death tax" has been cast, incredibly, as a populist issue. Thanks to sustained, lavishly financed propaganda --- of which that anti-Wellstone flier was a classic example --- millions of Americans imagine, wrongly, that the estate tax mainly affects small businesses and farms, and that its repeal will help ordinary people. And who pays for the propaganda? Guess. It's amazing what money can buy.
In an age of fake populists, Paul Wellstone was the real thing. Now he's gone. Will others have the courage to carry on?