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2012 Fall Issue 7 (November 2, 2012)

Commemorating Paul Wellstone’s Legacy

November 4, 2012
By Ben Strauss

“The way he practiced politics is an antidote to the [political] cynicism these days. When [Paul] Wellstone practiced politics, he proposed big ideas to solve America’s problems, spoke his beliefs with conviction and truly represented his constituents.”

So spoke Jeff Blodgett ’83, Wellstone’s former student at Carleton, and later his senior campaign advisor during his campaign for Senate. Blodgett’s speech commenced Thursday’s celebration of Wellstone’s political legacy, set on the 10th anniversary of his untimely death in a plane crash eleven days before the 2002 Senate election. At the time of his death, he was seeking his third term in Congress.

Unlike other politicians, Blodgett emphasized, Wellstone proposed sweeping reforms that he felt were needed, despite the political costs. For instance, he vocally supported single-payer healthcare even before healthcare reform became a major issue in America.

He also held his beliefs with conviction, staying true to his ideals throughout his two terms in Washington. Notably, Wellstone spoke against the Iraq War during an election year even though it would decrease his chance of reelection.

Wellstone was also, unusually, a populist. “He was a politician of people, not [of] special interests,” said Blodgett. He eplained that Wellstone wanted to represent his constituents above all else, as he thought that special interests had enough representation in Washington.

It was the combination of these political practices and qualities that enabled Wellstone to succeed.

Forrest McKnight ’13 commented afterwards how impressive it was that Wellstone “was able to accomplish all that he did by inspiring people to be as true to their ideals as he was to his.”

Amid cynicism in government, Wellstone exemplified how the government should operate. “Looking at Wellstone’s career, you can have some faith restored in our public representatives, because he was so selfless,” said Mollie Wetherall ’16.

Ultimately, through his journey from Carleton professor to Washington politician, Wellstone inspired further engagement in political activism.
“I’m amazed by how many people I’ve run into in Northfield and beyond who knew him personally, and are still fighting for good causes because of the impact he had on their lives,” said McKnight.

A former Carleton Professor of Political Science, Wellstone also had a great influence on Carleton. “Paul Wellstone’s lifetime of activism inspired many Carleton students to careers of public and issue involvement,” said Steven Schier, the Dorothy H. and Edward C. Congdon Professor of Political Science.

Even among those who did know Wellstone personally, he is still influential. “For those who didn’t know him, I think he gives us a lot to live up to,” said McKnight. “His lesson to us is that more is possible than we think, and that ideals can be turned into action and bring about real changes.”
Overall, the event served to educate Carleton students. “It was a sad day, but I feel like I learned a lot,” said Wetherall. “I hope that Carleton continues to have annual events honoring Paul.” 

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