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by Brian S. Wise
30 October 2002
Is it appropriate for Walter Mondale to be jumping into the Minnesota Senate race to replace the late Senator Wellstone?
As it was with John Kennedy Jr. and Payne Stewart, Paul Wellstone’s death struck to the guts of just about everyone; inherently we all understand that flying is statistically safer than any other form of transportation, and yet we cannot help but be struck by the thought of what terror goes through someone’s mind in those last moments, when they realize their life is going to end and nothing in the world can save them. Whether or not one is comfortable with flying seems beside the point; everyone can relate to that fear, and that’s one reason why Wellstone’s death (not to forget the other seven, of course) resonated more than usual. That being said, there was at least one good thing to come in the aftermath of the accident: Jesse Ventura refused to appoint himself to Wellstone’s Senate seat, thus putting back on track the much too slow demise of that particular political disaster.
Enter Walter Mondale, who will on Wednesday be pegged by Minnesota Democrats to run for Wellstone’s seat, an interesting development. Half of the people I spoke to today didn’t know who Walter Mondale was; the other half only remembered that he ran for president in 1984, and was summarily stomped like a hippie at Altamont. Whatever vitriol and overacting can normally be attributed to a pivotal mid-term election can now be duplicated by a noticeable factor, as Republicans struggle valiantly against a politician who may as well be faceless in relation to modern politics.
When Republicans suggested on Monday the two candidates should engage in five debates in five days, as to give Minnesota’s voters exposure to their respective ideas, an outcry came from the Left: It is simply a crass lack of compassion that leads to such a suggestion before we even get to Senator Wellstone’s funeral, for goodness sakes! Politics will have to wait until Minnesota can properly grieve! Meanwhile, politics was taking place behind the scenes, as matters of seniority were being discussed with Tom Daschle, i.e. if Mondale wins, whether or not he is the senior Senator. It’s not politics that bothered Democrats, it was public politics with the opposition. And because Mondale won’t begin his campaign until Wednesday, it provides even less time for Minnesota Republicans to get hold of him. Even more interesting.
Add to this the Wellstone family’s snubbing of Vice President Cheney at today’s memorial service; the stated reason was security concerns, that such a strong Secret Service presence would overwhelm the mourners and not allow them their proper due as grievers. But Bill Clinton and Al Gore will be attending, each with their own security, and even though the sheer numbers would dwarf those arriving with Vice President Cheney, is it not the case that the numbers would be large enough, if the reasoning holds, to deprive mourners? Sure; but this snubbing had nothing to do with rightful mourning and everything to do with politics. Those associated with the Mondale campaign simply cannot afford to have their candidate, and members of the Wellstone family, fraternizing with such a notable enemy this close to election day. Now if you believe the remaining Wellstone’s aren’t politically savvy enough to make such judgments in times of tragedy, I direct you to transcripts of their memorial speeches given just this evening.
And though this I couldn’t help but wonder: Wasn’t it the Mondale campaign, along with the free press, that slyly suggested in 1984 that a 73-year-old man isn’t necessarily fit to serve a second four year term as president? Then what in the world is to be said of the 74-year-old man who hopes to serve out a six year term as Senator? President Reagan left office a 77-year-old, and couldn’t run again; Mondale will come to the end of his term at age 80, assuming he doesn’t run yet again, ala Strom Thurmond (That Old Confederate). Minnesota Democrats hope nothing is to be said of this, and they’re right. Republicans will say little on the matter, as That Old Confederate wraps up his 120 years in office.
Although some are tempted otherwise, Minnesota Republicans must take Mondale very seriously. He has been removed from public office for 22 years, a long time; long enough for Republicans to openly suggest this country and its politics have changed since 1980, and that Mondale simply can’t fit into this “modern political world,” having been absent so long. With their hands tied by tragedy, it seems there’s little Republicans can say other than this and, “Democratism is bad for Minnesota.” Well of course it is, but it’s wrong for all States, and as part of a two pronged argument cannot carry much weight with swing voters, some of whom actually expect something substantial to be said between now and next Tuesday.