America’s Midlife Midterm
Copyright © by Don Moss, 11/7/02
election Tuesday began early by calling the bluff of yet one more Wellstone/Mondale/DFL
campaigner. Our house, and every house on Planet Minnesota, had already been
door-knocked by, I forget how many, but several before and several since the
terrible plane crash. The earlier ones were diverse, with Gays for Wellstone,
Women for Wellstone, Welfare for Wellstone, but the crash caused something to
click, and the countenance of the already painfully earnest door-knockers took
on a frighteningly urgent and serious pitch, and their intensity seemed to
increase as election day neared.
Excuse me if I’m yet one more voter who doesn’t know the actual rule, but like many persons, I thought that campaigning was to cease on Election Day, a cessation I had looked forward to for weeks. I’m more certain that candidates are not to campaign at polling places, within 100 feet or something, and I had come to assume that no campaigning in any form was to be conducted anywhere on the big day.
That said, when I heard the early knock I knew it was some DFLer. Peeking over the closed lower window curtain, I could see a woman standing outside holding materials and wearing a large green Wellstone button. Mornings I’m usually calm, but mentally quicker and, somewhat less patient with views delivered as the word of God. When I opened the door, the woman said hello, good morning, and looked at me through her expensive wire-rimmed glasses, her short, neatly trimmed hair perfectly downplaying the few pounds she had gained by now in her, I’ll guess, 45th year. She was hugging her materials much as a Southern woman hugged her King James, leaving the church after a particularly challenging sermon.
The woman then opened with, “We’re telling people about how the voter districting has…” But I shut her off by saying, “I thought all campaigning was to stop today.” Her eyes blinked behind those perfected fitted glasses, but she tried to recover with, ‘We’re not campaigning…we’re telling people to get out and…” “Then why are you wearing that big green button?” I interrupted, adding, “It looks to me like campaigning.” Not wanting to face some charge of somehow violating her personal political being, I cocked my head in a quick but sharing way, as to say, ‘You’d better try someone else.’ Then I closed the door, behind which I could, without offending, sigh, “Yeah,” celebrating a good start to the day.
One sort of compliment I would give that woman is noting her passionate intensity and her certainty that her cause was the cause, the one and only. I had heard too many of these door-knockers, and had tried before to challenge them on some point in their script, but this was election day, and I had seen that the woman had only come to spread the wishes of the saint.
Sainthood is what the Democrats had bestowed on Wellstone at the Memorial that they turned into full-blown campaigning. Not only was his entire political life idealized, repeating how his endless energy, his selfless duty was always for others who had no voice, or turned to programs and causes that no one else had the nerve to propose, etc. Wellstone, they shouted and gushed, had given his life for others.
Even before the morning caller knocked, I had picked up the latest Democratic flyers from the front steps, three or four pieces, complete with candidate pictures, and list of names one should support. One two-sided page, though, stood out from the others and from the other six or eight sets of Democratic flyers that, over the prior several weeks had littered the front steps.
“Now, it’s more important than ever…” this one began, calling for the re-election of a black woman named Neva Walker, who is the current state rep in district 61B. In the middle of the page was a black and white, actually some sort of gray-scaled picture of Neva with Wellstone, or more correctly, Wellstone with Neva. Wellstone was center in the framing, and in a light colored pullover shirt, as opposed to Neva’s very dark outfit, and with Wellstone being much fairer skinned than Neva, Paul completely dominated the picture. The picture’s effect (and conscious choice of Neva’s publicist), then, was something like PAUL WELLSTONE here endorses this person (named Neva Walker). Thus, Paul Wellstone, though deceased, is bigger, clearer and more “present” than the actual living candidate.
This idea continued in the caption below the picture (italics and numerous capitals in original): In memory of those who have given their lives to fight for our right to vote, for our right to justice, and our right to access this democracy. We ask you to Vote your Heart, to Vote your Conscience. In memory of Senator Wellstone.
Rather than taking the space to unpack all of this, I’ll note that the caption implies that Wellstone gave his life for others, and, in this context, for black people. This is a good first step toward sainthood, but why is a freak accident the same as giving one's life? Wellstone was just going to a funeral and certainly had no intention of being wasted for that. If I die in a car wreck driving to see Star Wars, have I given myself to George Lucas? Doesn’t sainthood require an element of intentionality and a mission of some consequence?
Skipping to the caption’s second sentence, a reader is urged to Vote Your Heart, to Vote your Conscience. Compared to the issue of sainthood, which is an idea fun to play with and ridicule, this language actually scares me. One is instructed that the heart is a better guide than the head, so feel your way in choosing your representative—but don’t think. And, your conscience knows; it’s watchin’ you. This issue is not worth more argument, but if I were ever elected to any public office, I now swear I will work tirelessly to disenfranchise any and all whose first voting guide is their heart.
Election Day being a Tuesday, it was a working day, so I waited until the afternoon to walk over to my polling station. In route I passed many homemade, but correctly spelled yard signs saying things like, Vote for Children, Vote for Mondale, and, more confusingly, Mondale: Get it on. I thought, some other life, as I recalled that the only sign I have ever had in my yard read: Protected by Minnegasco Security.
Voting done (and don’t ask me whom), I walked down the street a few blocks. Within minutes I passed several other doorknockers that moved house to house, each clutching Democratic flyers. As I neared 46th St., I saw a guy frantically waving a huge Wellstone sign. Closer, I could see he was standing off the curb, a full step into the busy street. Now and then a car would honk and he would wave his sign all the more wildly, assuming that the driver was showing agreement. Soon another driver honked and he waved and I then saw that the driver was honking because he was worried for the guy’s safety. I thought, what if he was killed, would he have given his life for the cause? Would he also become a saint?
I don’t like overly violent films, so I kept walking, wishing both for the sign waving zealot’s safety, more precisely, that the startled drivers used their heads to slow up and drive around him. I suspect that Tuesday was like this all over Planet Minneapolis and St. Paul, the latter of which, oh, how could they know, has already taken Wellstone’s name.
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