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Helping the Little Guy

The Death of an Ethical Man.

by Barnabas
October 30, 2002

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Helping the Little Guy_Barnabas-The Death of an Ethical Man.
“He was dedicated to helping the little guy in a business dominated by the big guy,” said a distraught Jeff Blodgett, who began in Professor Wellstone’s classroom and graduated to running the senator’s campaigns.
--St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 26.

“In my job I don’t look for reasons why something that needs to be done can’t be done.
I figure out how it can be done.”

--Barnabas to a government employee, 1985.
Less than two weeks before the election, Senator Paul Wellstone’s plane went down in northern Minnesota, killing all aboard, ending his quest for a third term along with his life.

The tragedy evoked an enormous response in the Minnesota press. This backbench liberal, often patronized by the media, is now being praised by friends and foes alike for his willingness to speak up and fight, often alone, for causes with no political glamour. Insurance parity for the mentally ill is one example. To Wellstone, the cause mattered more than which party got the credit. He would join freely with anyone of any party or label who would align with him to meet real needs.

I do not for a moment doubt the sincerity of this praise, but it does raise the question of why Wellstone stood alone. Is it really so, as some are saying, that he was unique in his willingness to speak freely, without fear or favor, on issues according to their true merits as he saw them, even to his own hurt? But every member of both houses, liberal, conservative, or outright wacko, is supposed to be able to do exactly that. If they aren’t willing to do it, or don’t know how and simply do what they are told, they don’t belong in Congress. We expect more competent leadership than that on the local school board.

So apart from the personal tragedy, the worst news to come out of this episode is the implied admission that Wellstone’s way of doing his job was unusual. In fact, plain speaking and passionate advocacy for what one believes is right ought to be the norm for congressional behavior, not the exception.

It ‘s no great surprise that his colleagues aren’t saying much about why they didn’t join him more often in his crusades for the poor and helpless. If they didn’t like his solutions, the burden was on them to come up with better ones. They had no right to ignore the need. A hopeless cause is hopeless only because people of power and influence have chosen not to hope.

Wellstone appears to have been an ethical man, motivated by the needs of the neighbor. The only satisfactory conclusion to such a one is that the needs are met. Economics, sociology, and medicine are ways to understand and explain the needs. Liberalism, conservatism, and pragmatism are philosophies about how to meet the needs. Ethics insists that the ways adopted to meet needs will actually deal with them. In the end, ethics is about getting things done!

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