- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2002

Last dance
Inside the Beltway will never be the same without Sen. Paul Wellstone.
"Who is this [expletive]?" President Bush inquired during a 1991 reception-turned-grilling with newly elected members of Congress the first day Mr. Wellstone, the outspoken Minnesota Democrat who tragically died Friday in a plane crash, captured our attention, too.
In fact, apart from his good friend Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the energetic Mr. Wellstone was probably the most oft-quoted liberal in this space, mainly because he was always so eager and willing to talk. Plus, he was a sincere guy to boot.
Take the time he showed up to bid farewell to Sen. Howell Heflin, the plain-spoken Alabama Democrat and former judge who retired from Capitol Hill in 1996.
"He is somebody I look up to, not just because I am 5-foot-5," an emotional Mr. Wellstone began, suddenly for once at a loss for words. "Judge, I am going to really miss you; I might cry, so I am leaving."
And he left.
We had to laugh last year when the senator spoke out against nonprofit corporations created solely to promote political candidates, which he said often operated outside the law with impunity.
"Take, for example, the organization Republicans for Clean Air," Mr. Wellstone said. "Despite its innocuous name, this was an organization created for the sole purpose of promoting the candidacy of George W. Bush during the last primary election."
Before long, Mr. Wellstone pointed out, "you are going to have a proliferation of these organizations: Republicans For Clean Air, Democrats For Clean Air, People Who Do Not Like Any Party For Clean Air, Liberals For Clean Air, Conservatives For Clean Air, Citizens For Dirty Air."
And the Democrat made no secret of his lack of support for Al Gore during the 2000 presidential election. In fact, he was one of only two senators to throw his full support behind former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley's candidacy for president. Mr. Wellstone had formed the Wellstone Presidential Exploratory Committee, which told him that Mr. Bradley stood a better chance of defeating Mr. Gore in the Democratic primary.
"American politics has wandered far off course," Mr. Wellstone said of his desire to challenge Mr. Gore two years ago. "Bold new national leadership is urgently needed, and it's nowhere in sight."
In another interview with this column, the Minnesota senator dismissed this country's infatuation with punditry and political polling, stressing that a candidate's personal "chemistry" with his constituency as he himself was reminded in recent days during the final leg of his uphill re-election campaign often outweighs a pollster's prediction.
"Thank God, there's still some mystery to politics," he told us, "beyond all this 'scientific' stuff with polls."
Then there was the time Mr. Wellstone was embroiled in debate over the Congressional Gift Reform Act, discussing all the "freebies" lobbyists like to lay on members of Congress, especially tickets to Washington Redskins football games.
Except that the senator, who grew up across the Potomac River in Arlington, couldn't bring himself to say "Redskins," in deference to those who consider the name racist.
Rather, he referred to the "Washington team game."
Just last year, we reviewed Mr. Wellstone's new book, "The Conscience of a Liberal" (he borrowed the book title and for good reason, we read from the late Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, who wrote "The Conscience of a Conservative").
"The people I admire most are those who have the courage of their convictions," Mr. Wellstone explained. "When I attended Barry Goldwater's funeral service, I think many Republicans were surprised. Only a few Democrats went. They enjoyed giving me a rough time.
"They even gave me Goldwater's 'The Conscience of a Conservative' to read on the plane. 'Paul,' they said, 'read this. We read this book at young ages, and it set us on the right path. We still have some hope for you.'
"I explained that I had read the book at a young age," he said. "That's why I'm a liberal."
This week, an impressive number of liberals and conservatives alike will mourn the legacy and convictions of Mr. Wellstone as well as his wife, daughter and five others who died in the plane crash Friday. No doubt, the senator's absence is already being felt on Capitol Hill.
Yet, as Mr. Wellstone liked to remind us, "There is an old Yiddish proverb that says you cannot dance at two weddings at the same time."

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