Paul Wellstone and the Ugly Political Classes

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After the funeral of Ron Brown, who died in a plane crash while serving as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce, television cameras caught Clinton acting in a way his critics would call par for the course. The president, after leaving the funeral services, was laughing and cutting up with his aides. However, when he realized the cameras were rolling, Clinton quickly pretended as though he were wiping tears from his eyes.

It was vintage Clintonism in a nutshell. The world’s most consummate politician was playacting his sorrow at the loss of one of the world’s most effective political operatives. Nothing was real and nothing was sincere; it was nothing but an act put on ultimately to glorify the Clinton Administration and try to convince everyone out there that the president and his minions were "feeling our pain."

While I did not watch any of the overvalued political rally that passed for a "memorial service" to honor the late Paul Wellstone, the Minnesota senator killed along with his wife, daughter, pilots, and campaign workers, in the last days of his re-election campaign, I cannot say that I was surprised at anything that happened. Although much of the negative press was aimed at the partisan nature of the service and the attendees’ booing of Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura and Republican Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, I think there is a much larger picture here that is easily missed: for all of the glorification of the life and beliefs of Wellstone, the service itself was a veritable expose of the shallowness and scheming of the political classes and just how much a menace they are to civilized society.

Before discussing the service and what I believe are its implications, I do think that Wellstone, although he was a socialist, at least was the most eloquent voice outside of Ron Paul in opposing a unilateral U.S. war against Iraq. During debate in the fall of 1990 on whether or not the USA should go to war in the Persian Gulf, Wellstone stood out as uncompromising and also prophetic, declaring that the long-term results of that war would be harmful to the USA. When the U.S. Armed Forces easily drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait, it seemed that Wellstone had been alarmist, but the subsequent years of terrorism, the September 11 attacks, and the various acts of terror and murder committed by Timothy McVeigh (a Gulf War veteran) and the recent murders committed by the alleged Beltway Sniper, also a veteran of that war, seem to make his words ring more true than ever. I believe Wellstone was correct then and is correct now, even in death.

Wellstone was a product of the Minnesota Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party, which most likely is the most left-wing of all of the state Democratic parties. Many members of that party are True Believers when it comes to Socialism, and Wellstone led the pack. It is true that Wellstone was passionate about his beliefs — perhaps something one might expect of a former college professor — but one should also remember that he was passionate about the following things: abolishing private property (except that held by the political classes), high tax rates, massive wealth confiscation from some people to transfer it to others, and making everyone heavily dependent upon the state literally from cradle to grave.

He correctly opposed the U.S. Armed Forces unilaterally making war on other nations, but he also supported with all of his being that same government making war upon the citizens directly supporting it. Wellstone’s ideal state was not a benign entity operating within a voluntary society; it was, instead, a highly-coercive entity run by the political classes that was constantly at war with those individuals in a society who were the most productive. All of this was in the name of the "little guy," of course, but make no mistake about the nature of Wellstone’s socialistic dreams. The state was the be all and end all and those who did not agree would be squashed.

Paul Krugman, the political operative columnist for the New York Times who masquerades as an economist at Princeton University, lauded Wellstone for being an "economic populist." Populism as it came out of the Progressive Movement of the late 1800s, was nothing more than a euphemism for mob rule. Thus, even in trying to honor Wellstone, Krugman unwittingly gives us the sordid basis for socialism.

Many speakers at the service exhorted those in the audience to "carry on" Wellstone’s "dream." That dream — of a peaceful socialist society that provides plenty for all — is just a dream; the reality of socialism, as demonstrated grotesquely by the hundreds of millions of bones that lie beneath the ground in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Asia, is war, starvation, and death. No more proof of statism’s evil is needed, but there are always socialists like Wellstone to tell us that he and others hold the "keys to the kingdom" that will make the system work and provide plenty for everyone, and there always are suckers out there who believe this nonsense.

While the "high-mindedness" of the memorial service supposedly was marred by the "partisan" tone of the speakers, if we look more closely at the entire affair, we find it an exercise in cynicism from the beginning. Almost immediately after Wellstone’s plane crashed, Democrats and Republicans were trying to determine the "optimum" response to the whole thing.

For the Democrats, the question was this: How do we use this episode to attack Republicans and accuse them of not properly honoring Wellstone’s death by continuing political campaigns and simultaneously continue campaigning ourselves? Republicans were asking themselves pretty much the same questions. In short, the first and most important thing was not mourning the passing of Wellstone and his wife but rather how can the political operative make hay out of these newest circumstances.

This is nothing more than deceit of the highest order. Contrary to what Democratic leaders might have said after being criticized for the tone of the Wellstone "memorial," they had planned all along to have a free "infomercial" to promote their candidates, courtesy of various Minnesota television stations, along with some national cable channels. While some officials might have issued "apologies," in truth no one was sorry for anything. The service had accomplished its mission of rallying the party faithful and appealing to a sympathy vote to Minnesotans who might not have made up their minds before the election.

Granted, the whole affair put Republicans in a hard place, and, as one might expect, they handled it badly. For once in their lives, they could have been high-minded and suspended all of their campaigns to let people know that there was something more important than "just win, baby." Furthermore, a sincere move in that direction might have shamed the scheming Democrats and made them look as bad as they really are.

In the end, however, the Wellstone affair simply magnifies the shenanigans of the political classes. For all the talk about his passion and concerns for the poor, along with his anti-war stands, I doubt that Wellstone would have wanted a dignified memorial service. My guess is that the political rally suited him just fine. He might have been against going to war against Iraq, but he did not mind the U.S. Government going to war against the rest of us. For that matter, I doubt he would have objected to the partisan tone of the service. After all, he was a member of the political classes, and when it comes to shameless behavior, the political classes never sleep, even in death.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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