Sixteen years ago today, Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash. It wasn’t until after that happened that I knew who he was. I came to learn more about his life, his extraordinary body of public service, the compassion he felt for everyone, and the conviction with which he held his beliefs, and I have since considered him my number one political hero.
One of the great things about Paul was that he was as far left/liberal/progressive as it got in U.S. politics, but he was never mean or nasty or anything but friendly and congenial toward his conservative colleagues. He showed that it was very much possible to hold his own principles and beliefs while still being respectful towards those who disagreed with, rather than vilifying them. Being a strong liberal didn’t require being mean to conservatives. Nor was being mean to conservatives an automatic qualifier for being a strong liberal. Paul showed us that.
I bring this up now because lately there’s been a rash of incidents where individuals on the left (in a general sense) have been confronting and harassing conservative politicians and Trump administration officials in public spaces not normally reserved for political business, such as restaurants. They have been loudly yelling at these politicians, and in one recent case, a politician’s property was stolen. On social media, these incidents have, from those ostensibly on the left, generally received praise and have been justified based on all the bad governance these politicians have been responsible for. Furthermore, those who speak out against this kind of behavior (namely, me) have been labeled as being “moderate”.
I heartily condemn this kind of behavior, including any verbal or physical harassment of any politician or government official, just as I would if it were directed toward those on my side politically. It’s wrong no matter who it’s directed towards. Knowing what I know about Paul Wellstone, I think he would have been very unhappy about this sort of thing happening as well. And the idea that this would make me or Paul Wellstone “moderate” is laughably ridiculous. I hardly agree with conservatives on anything, and neither did Paul. But like him, I find a way to focus on the ideas and policies that need to be championed or criticized, rather than the individuals. That’s something a lot of my fellow leftists really need to learn to do.
Let’s look to Paul Wellstone for guidance on how to be principled about ideas while still retaining our humanity and our compassion for all individuals, even our political opponents.