Politics is not about money or power games, or winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives, lessening human suffering, advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and in the world.
On the morning of October 25, 2002, a small plane went down in the sleet and bitter cold of northern Minnesota, crashing into the swampy, densely forested earth only a few miles from the Eveleth Airport. There were no survivors. Among the dead were U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife Sheila.
I don’t represent the big oil companies, I don’t represent the big pharmaceutical companies, I don’t represent the Enrons of the world, but you know what, they already have great representation in Washington. It’s the rest of the people that need it. I represent the people of Minnesota.
I loved him. And four years later, I miss him more than ever. I miss his kindness, his compassion, his exuberance, his courage, his passion for the most vulnerable of our society, his idealism.
The year he died, Paul Wellstone introduced the Mental Health Equity Act, which would force insurance companies to give equal coverage for both physical AND mental health problems. My first day with the 2002 campaign, I told Paul my own story, about how my parents spent their entire retirement savings on my treatment for depression and post traumatic stress. He held my hand in his and listened, told me how sorry he was for what my parents and I had been through. I’ve had a lot of experience in politics, and I’ve told a lot of people my story, and I can vouch for the fact that Paul Wellstone genuinely cared. It wasn’t just for show, it wasn’t just an act he put on to win political support, his empathy for the suffering and the underdog was the driving force of his life.
There is a huge leadership void in the country…Self-interest is more than economic self-interest; it is also how you feel about yourself. Are you living a life consistent with the words you speak, are you helping others, are you helping your community or your country or your world? A winning politics is a politics of values that appeals to the best in people, that enables citizens to dream again to make a better America.
Shortly before he died, Paul Wellstone was one of only a few senators to vote against the Iraq war. Most of the pundits predicted his vote would cost him the election. But just a few days before the crash, Wellstone pulled ahead of challenger Norm Coleman in the polls for the first time that fall.
Paul Wellstone was the soul of the Senate. He was one of the most noble and courageous men I have ever known. He was a gallant and passionate fighter, especially for the less fortunate. I am grateful to have known Paul and Sheila as dear and close friends. Their deaths are a shattering loss to Minnesota, to the nation, and to all who knew and loved them.
–U.S. Senator Tom Daschle, October 25, 2002.
Running though my mind as I write this is a Jewish proverb: We pay best homage to our dead by living our lives fully even in the shadow of our loss. In my dresser drawer is a pin the campaign distributed after the crash which reads, simply: “Stand Up/Keep Fighting.”
The future will not belong to those who are cynical or those who stand on the sidelines. The future will belong to those who have passion and are willing to work hard to make our country better.
(Quotations from Twelve Years and Thirteen Days: Remembering Paul and Sheila Wellstone, by Terry Gydesen.)