Sunday, October 27, 2002

Why Paul Wellstone's Death Made us Cry

Mind Floss has argued that anti-American Americans only like the stuff of America: the raw material that is us. They don't like the form of our country and want to remold us according to their own inclinations, envies, and hatreds. I think most leftists fit this description. Their arguments are so lacking in substance and their animosity so high that clearly it is the animosity and not the arguments that motivate them. Mind Floss's description is perspicuous. Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, etc., all tried to mold their societies into the radically new forms of their narcissistic choosing.

This weekend Paul Wellstone has been eulogized as "principled." But Stalin was "principled" in some sense. So, let us try to be less ambiguous in this connection.

Paul Wellstone was a moral exemplar and a leftist. He was tenaciously devoted to the form of America: its values. He examined the evidence about what these values implied and carefully followed it to what he honestly took to be its sound conclusions. He drew conclusions to the left of where many of us do. He thought that American values dictated that the working man should have more political power than he does at present. He thought that we, too, believed this deep down but were somehow making a mistake, some inconsistency, in recognizing our values and their implications. He was trying to call us back to what he took to be our own form, and his way of doing this was through aiming at the truth, scrupulously democratic devotion to public debate, and the good, old fashioned, legal power politics that our system rightly allows for. He had no interest in molding us according to his personal inclinations.

Paul Wellstone fulfilled the duty of every American: to examine political matters carefully and with devotion to defend the conclusions on the evidence in the forum of reasoned debate. His loss made us cry because he was better at fulfilling that duty than the overwhelming majority of us, even than the majority of our leaders. He carefully put together the puzzle of our values in a plausible manner, such that we became better acquainted with their contours thanks to him and, if we were on our toes, came to understand them better by seeing where he erred. Somewhere in the midst of his reasonings there was an error, such that his conclusions were false. But the error was purely intellectual and blamelessly so, and vastly outweighed by the value of his leadership. This is why we needed him in the Senate. Talk about loyal opposition. His death is like the loss of your left arm. Trauma, shock, grief.

Philosoblog will discuss Senator Wellstone's error in "The Political Philosophy of Paul Wellstone" in the next few weeks. I'm sure he'd take the criticism in the spirit of a tribute in which it is intended. As I say, he was devoted to the truth.