Oct 312002
Authors: Becky Waddingham

Media saturation on a particular topic can grow really old really fast, I know. But I still have to join the crowd this week and talk about a great loss for Democrats, for the Senate, for Minnesotans, and for Americans.

I was lucky enough to work at the United States Capitol for the last two summers. I only met Paul Wellstone a couple of times. I would say “Hello, Senator” in the hallway as I waited for other, more media-hungry and more powerful types like John Kerry, Joe Biden or John McCain to emerge from the Senate floor. I would hang out by the elevators with the other reporters and nod at lawmakers like Wellstone as they walked by.

I often confused him with Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, for no real good reason. I would catch myself checking my CQ Congressional Directory for his face, but I’d be confused because I had an old one and he still had a goatee in my picture.

I knew Wellstone was one of the most liberal members of Congress, a veritable poster boy for the underdog, left-wing Americans out there. The bright green colors of his campaign posters stood out on a colleague’s desk alongside a green and white sticker that read “Don’t Mess With Vermont.”

It’s strange for me to come to grips with his death. I don’t know why; it’s not like I knew him personally. I can’t begin to imagine how his loved ones must feel.

But I figured out that he is only the fourth person I’ve ever met who has died. It’s an odd sensation, knowing that this person, who was alive and exuberant when you last saw him, albeit a while ago, is now no longer there at all.

I keep picturing Wellstone as I last saw him – nonchalantly standing in the hallway in front of a gaggle of reporters, his eyes widening at the sight of the muttering, fidgety crowd. It was during committee hearings on the corporate accountability bill so the hallway was extra crowded that day.

Wellstone considered us for a moment and pushed the elevator button, to head back downstairs to the Senate subway. The elevator came and away he went, off to a committee event or to meet his constituents.

“He had a heart as big as Minnesota,” mourned one Capitol police officer.

The Senate floor will be quieter without him.

It wasn’t quiet at the senator’s memorial Tuesday night, though – 20,000 packed the University of Minnesota basketball arena to remember the late senator, his family and his staff. Dignitaries ranging from Bill and Hill Clinton to Jesse Jackson to Tom Daschle made appearances.

Others, like Tom Harkin, made speeches. The Republicans were mad about that. Trent Lott stormed out. Jesse Ventura was so upset, he vowed to appoint an Independent instead of a Democrat to fulfill the remainder of Wellstone’s term. Dick Cheney wasn’t even invited.

Somebody call a WAAAAAAMBULANCE. Get over it, Republicans. Of course it was going to turn into an impromptu Democratic rally. Thousands of mourners and well-wishers were not about to ignore their beloved Golden Gopher, Fritz Mondale. They would never pretend to be bipartisan just for one night. Wellstone was divisive. He was a screaming liberal. Why should his followers pretend not to be, just to placate the likes of Trent Lott?

“After all, this is a man who has gassed his own people”

President Bush was referring to Saddam Hussein when he said that in Denver on Monday. But my friend turned to me and said, “Who, Putin?”

The Russian president has come under fire for allowing the use of an apparently deadly gas to extract hundreds of hostages from a theater held by Chechen rebels last week.

It was fentanyl, an opiate used medically as an anesthetic. Russian Health Minister Yuri Shevchenko said that fentanyl gas “cannot in itself be called lethal” and that the hostages who were killed by the gas were already weakened by hunger and dehydration, Slate magazine reported.

But the point is that Russia gassed its own people. Hundreds died. Hundreds more are still hospitalized.

Yet another blurring of the line between what our friends can do and what our enemies can’t.

 Posted by at 6:00 pm

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