More than a century ago, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Ryan asked, "Who shall fill public stations - educated and patriotic free men, or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?"
As long as Paul Wellstone sits in the U.S. Senate, there will be at least one educated and patriotic free man standing against the corporate tide. It is that awareness of Wellstone's critical role in the Senate that is drawing Wisconsinites - like progressives across the country - to become active supporters of the Minnesota Democrat's 2002 re-election campaign. (Wellstone will be the featured guest at a fund-raising event hosted by Ed and Betty Garvey at their home.)
Wellstone is facing a full-frontal assault from the Bush administration. President Bush, Vice President Cheney and White House politics czar Karl Rove - the man they call "Bush's brain" - did not just recruit Wellstone's challenger for next year's Minnesota U.S. Senate contest. They actively discouraged Republican primary challenges to their candidate, outgoing St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, set up a national fund-raising network for Coleman and began a coordinated campaign to dissect and discredit Wellstone.
Why so much attention to a former college professor from Minnesota?
Perhaps it is because, more than any other member of the Senate, Wellstone is willing to challenge the Bush administration on fundamental questions of social and economic justice. It is Wellstone who, as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training, forced Bush administration aides to appear before the panel and defend their assaults on worker safety just weeks after Democrats took charge of the Senate. And it is Wellstone who is leading the charge against the Republican "economic stimulus" plan - with its massive payouts to multinational corporations and minimal support for workers displaced by the current transportation and manufacturing slumps.
Unlike most senators, Wellstone takes his fights off the Senate floor, making the sort of inside-outside connections that force the hand not just of conservative Republicans but of wavering Democrats. This weekend, Wellstone will be the featured speaker in Chicago as U.S. Action, a coalition of labor, environmental and community groups, rallies in opposition to the corporate welfare components of the Republican stimulus plan. More than any Democrat in the Senate, Wellstone recognizes that making the linkages between grassroots activism and legislative issues is vital to advancing a progressive agenda.
It is that linkage that frightens the Bush camp. That's why the Bush White House has made defeating Wellstone its top political priority for 2002. And there are those who say their task will be made easy now that Bush's approval rating has sailed to 87 percent.
Wellstone's Republican challenger is currently trying to link Bush with no less a political player than God. "There are a lot of folks who really feel that God puts people in positions of leadership when the need is there. And for the times that we face right now, I think folks are saying George Bush is the kind of leader that we need," Coleman recently said. "We're all singing 'God Bless America,' which is a prayer for divine guidance, right? We all sing it, and I think we're getting it. I really do."
Taking on a president with an 87 percent approval rating and an opponent who claims the Almighty is making electoral picks will not be easy.
Wellstone's campaigns have never been easy. When you rock the boat - in Washington and at the grassroots - you are bound to get splashed. Wellstone will surely take his hits from the White House and its corporate allies in the year to come.
That's why his campaign for re-election will serve as the truest test, not just for Minnesota but for America, of whether public stations will be filled by feudal serfs of corporate capital or educated and patriotic free men and women.
Copyright 2001 The Capital Times