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Monday, July 26, 2004
REMEMBERING PAUL WELLSTONE.
From the time he entered the Senate, Paul Wellstone was someone
about whom I was aware, if not particularly familiar. My first real
exposure to him came during the 2000 presidential campaign. Wellstone
was supporting Democratic candidate Bill Bradley, who struck me as a
priggish jerk. Bradley couldn't make it onto one of the talking-heads
shows, so Wellstone filled in. It was a revelation. He was smart,
funny, charming, self-deprecating, and every bit the progressive that
Bradley only pretended to be.
A little more than two years later,
Wellstone died in a plane crash while campaigning for re-election in
Minnesota. It was a tragedy that redounded doubly to the Republicans'
benefit when they and their conservative media allies (Rush Limbaugh,
Fox News) grotesquely exaggerated a few partisan moments that took
place at Wellstone's memorial service.
Late Sunday afternoon, I dropped by
the Old West Church, a few blocks from Government Center, to attend a
Wellstone remembrance to benefit the Union of Minority Neighborhoods
and Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. Several hundred people were
jammed inside as the likes of Al Franken, Arianna Huffington, Jim
Hightower, and Boston city councilor Chuck Turner paid tribute to the
most progressive member of the Senate. Neither Boston daily covered
the event. No, it wasn't newsworthy, but neither were the dozens of
parties that the Globe and the Herald reported on
today. For that matter, neither is the convention itself, unless you
think there is some chance that the delegates are going to choose a
ticket other than John Kerry and John Edwards.
The most noteworthy aspect of the
tribute was the way that what one observer called "the responsible
left and the looney left" invoked Wellstone's memory to advance their
particular agenda. Franken, Huffington, and Hightower - the
responsible left (and Franken isn't all that left) - insisted that
Wellstone would be working hard for Kerry.
Indeed, Huffington, who got a big
assist from Wellstone in organizing the lefty Shadow Conventions at
the Democratic and Republican conventions four years ago, went so far
as to say that Wellstone wouldn't have even wanted a Shadow
Convention at the DNC this year, so committed would he have been to
electing Kerry and defeating George W. Bush. "When your house is on
fire, it's not the time for remodeling," she said.
Franken followed a rousing call by
California congresswoman Barbara Lee to bring the troops home by
arguing that that's "easier said than done," noting that Secretary of
State Colin Powell had warned Bush that if he invaded Iraq, "You
break it, you own it." He also puckishly suggested that Kerry recycle
one of Bush's 2000 campaign slogans - "I'm a uniter, not a divider" -
with the difference being that Kerry could actually mean
Yet the uneasy alliance between the
Democratic Party and the far left was laid bare by Turner - and the
raucous applause he received for his extremist remarks. Turner - last
seen unveiling porno
shots at City Hall and
claiming they depicted American troops raping Iraqi women - compared
Wellstone to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., quoting King as
saying, "We have to get rid of militarism, materialism, and racism if
we are to be a whole and healthy country."
So far, so good. But then Turner
asserted that King "was killed by government forces.... I believe it.
Hopefully you believe it." Now it's true that conspiracy theories
abound about King's assassination, and that the King family itself
believes them. But all credible evidence points to the guilt of one
lone racist, James Earl Ray. Never mind. The crowd
Turner continued: "Brothers and
sisters, let's be real. The military-industrial complex has control
of both parties." More loud applause. Okay, I suppose you could make
the point with Halliburton. But both parties? The Democrats
are not pure, but come on.
Turner also accused Kerry, like
Bill Clinton, of being "controlled" by the Democratic Leadership
Council, a "New Democrat" group of moderate centrists. "Kerry isn't
prepared - mentally, emotionally, spiritually - to be the president
we need," said Turner, arguing that though he supports Kerry's
election, progressives will have to pressure him from the left if he
becomes president. Now, Kerry isn't Wellstone, but he's considerably
more liberal than Clinton.
"We can purge the cancer from the
soul of the body politic," Turner said. And, returning to the King
theme, he concluded, "If there's nothing worth living for, there's
nothing worth dying for." The applause was loud and intense,
punctuated by a few dozen people giving him a standing
Turner's remarks represented
exactly what Kerry doesn't need if he's going to defeat Bush: a
hard-left wing supporting him while simultaneously hectoring him,
overladen with anger and conspiracy theories. It's too bad Paul
Wellstone wasn't there to stand up to Turner's stridency.
MORE ALLEGED NEWS. Will the
dinosaurs of broadcast journalism please stop whining about the fact
that the networks are showing only three hours of the Democratic
convention this week? PBS's Jim Lehrer was aghast at Sunday's
Shorenstein Center get-together, as Mark Jurkowitz reports
in today's Boston Globe.
To which I say: the networks should
cover news, and there is no news to be made this week. Conventions
used to pick the candidates; now primary voters and caucus-goers do
that. Why there needs to be obligatory coverage of anything other
than the speeches of the presidential and vice-presidential speeches
is beyond me.
Lehrer called the DNC "four of the
eight most important days we can possibly have as a nation." Good
Lord! Not even close. The debates - which you'd think Lehrer might
have some recollection of, given that he's passively presided over a
few of them - are infinitely more important.
Today people have choices. An
enormous amount of convention coverage is being carried by CNN,
MSNBC, Fox News, C-SPAN, and, for those who don't get cable, Lehrer's
own PBS. Essentially Lehrer is arguing that viewers should be
forced to watch an infomercial. Gee, maybe the off switch
could be remotely disabled this week as well.
posted at 9:46 AM |
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MEDIA LOG ARCHIVES
Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.