About the Wellstone Memorial

I attended the Wellstone memorial/rally on Tuesday. It's since become controversial (though reading the Star Tribune message board is reminding me of that saying, "Arguing on the internet is like being in the Special Olymics. Even if you win, you're still a retard") , so I'd like to share my thoughts about it.

I left work early to attend the memorial. I first went to the book store to pick up some reading material so I wouldn't be bored waiting for the memorial to start. I got on the jam-packed bus to the University. After a few stops, no one else was let onboard. I was glad to have a book to read on the long, stuffy ride. But the delay of picking them out probably prevented me from getting a seat in Williams Arena. I was about 15 minutes too late for that. We were directed to overflow seating in a building next door where 4 large screens had been put up to show the memeorial. Fortunately I was able to get a seat there. Others weren't so lucky and hundreds watched from outside in the cold. Essentially, I watched it on TV -- with one minor difference: I was with about 8,000 other people.

The first thing people seem to jump on is the booing of Trent Lott. That's because it's the easiest to attack. This was clearly wrong and I did not participate (honestly, I didn't recognize Senator Lott). I was happy that Republican politicians came to honor a man whom they disagreed with, but respected. Wellstone counted many of them as friends and worked with them to secure legislation a number of times.

The second thing that I've heard a number of times is the idea that the audience was instructed to applaud; that the memorial was somehow scripted. This is completely untrue. The so-called "applause" message was actually the close-captioned text for those who are deaf. It actually said "[ LOUD CHEERS & APPLAUSE ]" or "[ APPLAUSE ]". In fact, it was clear that the memorial was not scripted by the number of atrocious spelling spelling mistakes that scrolled by on the screen (one of the most amusing turned "Jesse Helms" into "Jesse Helps"...not exactly what most people in attendence think about him).

Finally, people are attacking Rick Kahn for his speech (one Democrat on the Strib's message board called it "the Wrath of Kahn" -- heh). Kahn was over the top and many of us felt uncomfortable with where he was going. But we went along with him because we want Wellstone's replacement (since confirmed to be Mondale) to carry on his legacy. "Stand up and fight" was the theme of Wellstone's campaign and the memorial service. I laughed when Kahn started naming Republicans and asking them to support Wellstone's replacement: "Yeah, right." He was clearly emotional, his voice nearly cracking. The one positive thing about Kahn's speech is how Representive Jim Ramstad, who was specifically singled out by Kahn, has responded:

I think it's unfortunate that a memorial service has become a center of controversy. Last night was about paying our final respects to six wonderful people and beloved Minnesotans who perished in a terrible tragedy. That was where my focus was.
People get carried away sometimes with emotions. We all get carried away sometimes with emotions. Just let it be.

Is it any wonder people got "carried away"? People loved that man. I think this is what many Republicans are upset with. There were more than 20,000 people who ready to hear that Paul's legacy would not be forgotten. And they got what they came for. There was such incredible energy there. What did people expect to happen? Wellstone was a controversial, passionate, political man. So was his family, and so are his supporters. We aren't ashamed of Wellstone being a "true DFL liberal". Doug Grow has a column in the Star Tribune that sums up how I feel about this: "[F]or the most part, Wellstone followers acted as we'd expect Tuesday night. And Republicans have been acting as you'd expect them to act ever since....[W]henever the subject has been Wellstone, Minnesotans never have been indifferent."

Will the memorial-turned-rally hurt the Democrats in the election? We'll see. It may. A lot of people are very angry about it. But I think something Paul Wellstone taught us is not to worry too much about public opinion. Speak from the heart, never mind the consequences.