Wellstone memorial turns in to political rally

One Associated Press headline for the Oct. 29 memorial service of late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) said, “”Wellstone colleagues join thousands for Minnesota memorial.”” That same article was justly renamed “”Wellstone farewell becomes political”” by a Minnesota TV station. Even before their colleague had been buried, Democrats were playing politics in the name of a dead man, chanting “”Win for Paul!”” Morbid? I’m afraid so.

In what has now become a classic example of partisan politics, leaders of the Democratic Party from all over the country flocked to Minnesota on Oct. 29 to pay tribute to Wellstone, who had tragically died in a plane crash only days before. However, it looked more like a full-fledged political rally than the somber memorial service one would expect, complete with TV monitors, blaring rock music and 20,000 democratic supporters.

“”I covered the Democratic National Convention two years ago in Los Angeles. I know conventions, and I’ve been to a lot of memorial services, unfortunately, and … this was a convention,”” said syndicated radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt regarding the memorial service.

Kicking off the partisanship, Wellstone’s sons notified Vice President Dick Cheney that he would not be allowed to attend Oct. 29’s proceedings, saying Cheney might contribute to a “”circus atmosphere.”” But it was none other than Wellstone’s son who had chanted “”We will win!”” at the same service. I thought this was supposed to be a memorial service for the late Paul Wellstone, not an exclusionary political rally. Nonetheless, the political rivalry did not stop there.

Many Republicans were jeered at during the event. This reached a climax when Sen. Trent Lott was booed when his face was shown on the large TV monitors. Contrasted with the wild cheering accompanying former President Bill Clinton, Walter Mondale (Wellstone’s senate replacement) and other prominent Democrats, the picture is indeed an ugly one: You’re only allowed to mourn Wellstone if you’re a Democrat.

Even the politically independent Gov. Jesse Ventura (Minn.) was booed. After the rally, Ventura said, “”I feel used. I feel violated and duped over the fact that [the memorial service] turned into nothing more than a political rally.””

Ventura also took notice of the booing of Republican Sen. Lott.

“”In the case of Sen. Lott flying all the way up here and being booed … I think the Democrats should hang their heads in shame,”” Ventura said.

It’s no wonder that while Ventura said that he had planned on appointing a Democrat to Wellstone’s seat for the remainder of the term, he changed his mind after attending the service, instead naming State Planning Commissioner Dean Barkley, a Reform Party member, on Nov. 4.

The breaking point that caused Lott and Ventura to leave the rally occurred during a speech by Wellstone’s campaign manager, Rick Kahn. His supposed eulogy included the surprising lines, “”We are going to win this election,”” and “”We are begging you to help us win this senate election.””

Calling on Republican senators by name, Kahn said, “”Can you not hear your friend calling you one last time to step forward on his behalf to keep his legacy alive and help us win this election for Paul Wellstone?””

Kahn seems to forget that Republicans showed up to the “”memorial service”” to pay respects to Wellstone as a friend and colleague, not as political supporters; they are, after all, on opposite ends of the political spectrum. The argument is fatally flawed: Unless you agree with someone, you may not pay your respects. And to travel to the memorial service only to be assaulted by Kahn and 20,000 rabid Wellstone supporters is something with which Republican senators should not have had to put up.

Putting aside partisan politics immediately upon hearing of Wellstone’s death, his opponent, Norm Coleman, suspended his campaign until after the memorial service. I wish I could say the same about the Democrats.

The memorial service-turned-political-rally of the late Sen. Wellstone was a sad one indeed. Sad enough because of his death, but even more so because Democrats used it as a ploy to hold a political rally that rivaled a Democratic National Convention. The respect paid to the late Wellstone was between zero and none.

Wellstone was much more than just a political figure. He was a father, a husband and a loving, caring individual (sometimes too caring with taxpayers’ money, if you know what I mean). But to bid farewell to him as no more than a pawn of the Democratic National Party is indeed very, very sad.

Wellstone gave his life to politics in a way that very few can, hardly compromising on the issues he stood for. Wellstone was a man of political integrity. But those of less political integrity hijacked his memorial service, reducing him to that which could benefit the party in this election season.

Political gain from death — it doesn’t matter to Democrats as long as there’s some benefit.