The funeral for Sen. Paul Wellstone took place, privately, on 28 October. The public memorial service or political rally–how you characterize it depends on your point of view–took place on 29 October. Today, there’s a new controversy surrounding this campaign. Republicans charge that this “service” turned into a political rally, and so they are asking the television stations in Minnesota to give them equal time.
I did not see the 3.5-hour service-rally. I cannot speak to the complaints the Republicans make. If these events transpired as characterized by the numerous press reports, then I think it is safe to say that there was some tacky behavior. Sight unseen, I’m even comfortable accepting that the service turned into a political rally. The reason: TV cameras. This was a public event set up for television during an important election. What did you expect was going to happen? Pointing a TV camera at events and people tends to change them in certain ways.
“Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning,” Wellstone declares in a videotaped speech shown on the overhead screens. “Politics is about improving people’s lives.” But as the evening’s speakers proceed, it becomes clear that to them, honoring Wellstone’s legacy is all about winning the election. Repeating the words of Wellstone’s son, the assembly shouts, “We will win! We will win!” Rick Kahn, a friend of Wellstone’s, urges everyone to “set aside the partisan bickering,” but in the next breath he challenges several Republican senators in attendance to “honor your friend” by helping to “win this election for Paul Wellstone.” What can he be thinking?
Taken simply at face value, Wellstone is mistaken about the practical importance of winning (morally he’s right on). Politics is about winning first, because you can’t improve people’s lives if you don’t win. And that truth, along with Wellstone’s character, was surely driving the emotion and rhetoric during the memorial-rally. Saletan may wonder what Kahn was thinking. I can tell him. He was thinking about victory. Whether or not this service -rally will help or hurt that effort remains to be seen.