From: Paul Wellstone
Date: Oct 30, 2002
My friends, I miss you and send you love.
That memorial rally was . . . something. I watched it from where I am, in the place beyond. It’s wonderful here. You’ll be amazed at what I think is one of the best parts. Two words: No politics. I love it. Who knew?
But we have to talk. I know what you were trying to do the other night, or what you sort of meant to do. But it was bad.
I know why you did it, or what was immediately behind it. Politics is a hard business. The U.S. Senate is up for grabs in a time of war. You wanted to get out the vote, rev up the troops. And of course you want to keep the Senate, of course you want to hold on to my seat, of course you want to win. I loved winning.
But I have to tell you, I know things now that I didn’t fully know before. You learn things here quickly. And you’ll all learn them sooner or later and that’s how it supposed to be. But up here your vantage point is altered. Your level of observation is changed. You can literally see the big picture. You can see people’s souls.
And I want to talk to you about that, and what you did the other night.
* * *
You hurt a lot of people. You didn’t mean to, you meant to be Happy Warriors. But you offended and hurt and antagonized more than half the country. And you have to think about why.
Here, I think, is the reason: a dulling of the senses, a kind of despair that has led you to let politics completely take over your lives. That’s the reason you treated a reflective and loving occasion as . . . well, as a big vulgar whomp-’em-stomp-’em rally with jeers and cheers and my casket as the stump from which you lambasted the foe.
This is what I feel you have to think about. You can make your life sick and small, you can fill it with poison, when you turn everything into politics. And what makes me sad is not that you used my death to get out the vote. It’s not that you were cold. It’s that the only way you could show any warmth was through politics.
That memorial was the triumph of politics at the expense of the personal. At the expense of what makes you human.
Look at it this way with me for a minute. Indulge me.
Imagine Trent Lott died in a plane crash last week. Please—stop cheering. That’s the problem. Knock it off.
Imagine Trent Lott dies, and there’s a big memorial back home in Mississippi in some big auditorium. Half the Senate shows up to show respect: Trent was a nice guy. But they show up for another reason too: to show solidarity with democracy. To show we’re all Americans together, and we respect the ballot together, and we are big enough to feel regard and respect across party lines. You know, where I am, party lines are nothing—they’re a mirage, an old joke you half remember.
But Lott’s dead and the Democrats who worked with him in the Senate show up. I walk in—Paul Wellstone walks in, out of respect—and the 30,000 people in the auditorium jeer me. Ted Kennedy’s behind me—he gets hoots and boos. Paul Sarbanes, same thing.
The crowd doesn’t honor our presence; the crowd lets us know we’re the enemy.
And then some Republicans get up and speak, and they jeer the Democratic party and say Democrats are the enemy. They use Trent Lott’s corpse to make partisan gains, to get the turnout up next Tuesday. They turn mourning into mischief.
What would you think if you saw that? Would you say, “What a great moment in the history of our democracy”? I don’t think so.
Let me tell you, when I watched the memorial and how you acted, I wasn’t alone. Jack Kennedy was here, and you’re not going to like this, but he said what he said the day Nixon had his meltdown in ‘62. He looked at you and said, “No class.”
John Adams is here too. He turned away from you in disgust. “Faction!” is what he said. It was no compliment.
* * *
I’m telling you this because I care about you.
You know what I know now in a deeper way than ever, in a new way? You can only push it forward with love and respect. No, I haven’t turned into a wuss. You got to have hunger for better things, for more justice and a heightened life for everyone, but you can’t get it through hate. It doesn’t work! Or if it works it doesn’t last.
I want you to sit down for a minute and look at yourself. If you operate each day in politics with anger and resentment and finger pointing—“We’re compassionate, the other guy’s a bum”—it doesn’t just reflect on your politics, it reveals your politics. It shows that what you say is a desire for justice is really a desire to push people around—“I hate those comfortable people, let’s hurt ‘em.”
That’s just envy and revenge and resentment. That’s just small-time, small-bore nothing.
When you say you believe in good things but you give yourself license to be vicious in the pursuit of the good—well, you corrupt more than yourself.
It’s no good.
When the rally was over, I grieved. And I have to tell you—this is very personal to say, but where I am it’s the soul that counts and I’m talking soul:
A lot of you—you need to stop, sit down, think, question yourself, look at your actions and ponder what you’ve become. And how somehow love for your side in the fight became hatred for the other.
Let me be very candidly specific. Some of you need to get a good psychologist and a good holy man or woman, a priest or rabbi or minister—or how about all three—and figure out why you’re turning everything in your life into politics. Because I have to tell you what I know: Politics is the biggest, easiest way in all of America to avoid looking at yourself, and who you are, and what fence needs fixing on your own homestead.
A lot of you are in politics not beacuse you want to lead, but because you want to run. From yourselves.
When you’re in politics not to live life but avoid it, you become especially susceptible to a kind of polar thinking. You become convinced you’re with the good team and the good people over here. You become convinced anyone who doesn’t want the same policies you want must be bad. After all, you’re good, so if they disagree they must be bad. When you’re polar like that you dehumanize the people on the other side. And when you dehumanize them—well, then you wind up booing them at a funeral. And worse.
I don’t mean you can’t be tough and honest in your judgments. There are some bad folks on the other side, it’s fair to say it. But most of them? All of them? They’re all the enemy? How could that be?
There are people with the same sickness on the other side too. But I’m telling you, this polar thinking thing has gotten worse on our side the past few years. It’s becoming the Democratic disease. This embittered sense of constant war with a wicked foe, and anything you can do to defeat the wicked is justified, and a corpse will do as a podium. And we have to stop it, both because we’re better than that and because it isn’t good for democracy. And democracy is still what Churchill said: the worst form of government except for all the others.
So please ponder what I say. And if it applies to you, or you think it might, stop, sit down and figure out a plan to do something about it.
That’s what I have to say. Hope I didn’t anger you; I just meant to warn you. And let me tell you: I miss you. They say up here the missing leaves, but it hasn’t so far with me. Maybe it will with time. But I hope it doesn’t embarrass you if I speak here as I would at a memorial for you. You meant the world to me. Every one of you changed my life. And I love you. Whether you win or lose.