Remembering Wellstone six years later

Rarely do people like him make it to the Senate.

By Thomas Schaller
Published October 25, 2008 3:25PM (EDT)

Six years ago today Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a tragic plane crash. What a loss. People like him just do not get elected to the Senate every cycle. You could just tell he did not give a damn about any of the trappings of office -- fancy suits and meals, fawning sycophants, television face-time.

He cared about the public and doing what is right. He kept politics real.

Though I never met him in person, I had seen him speak at a few events and felt a weird connection to him. The pugnacious college wrestler attended University of North Carolina, got a Ph.D. there, and became a political scientist. (Bill Keech, a giant in our field who taught at UNC for three decades, served on both of our dissertation committees and remembers Wellstone fondly.) A fellow grad student from my UNC days, who took classes from Wellstone as an undergrad at Carleton College, said Wellstone was an inspiring teacher. Another friend and his wife named their daughter Paulina in tribute to Wellstone.

Below is video from Wellstone's speech on the Senate floor opposing the Iraq war. It took guts to vote note and oppose the war ... and he was vindicated. I also like how he thanked his staff for not trying to persuade him to vote otherwise -- a nod to the powerful undercurrent of fear, pervasive on the Hill at the time, that opposing President Bush might be electoral risky. 

Wellstone was not just a great and courageous senator, but a great American. (Ezra Klein has a nice tribute here, based on an earlier profile of Wellstone he wrote.) The people of Minnesota ought to take special pride in showing the wisdom to elect him. If Al Franken holds on to beat Norm Coleman to retake the seat Wellstone once held, Franken has some rather big shoes to fill.

Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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