It was the cruelest moment of deja vu, and if the nausea hadn’t been so acute, I might have had time to contemplate the irony of it all. I hadn’t been to the Senate’s Hart building in over a year, but last Friday I went there to visit a friend on Capitol Hill. As I entered the building, I was struck by the number of reporters gathering on the first floor; after all, Congress wasn’t even in session. As I walked through the lobby, the number of cameras swelled, and then the whispers, too: Paul Wellstone, Minnesota’s senior senator, had died in a plane crash.

The pained, sick feeling in my stomach was all too familiar. Two years ago, I got the news that Gov. Mel Carnahan (D-Mo), a man for whose campaign I worked on for months, had died in a plane crash just weeks before the election. It was an unthinkable tragedy, one of those flukes of life that can never really be explained. And it had happened again.

Several years ago, as a 17-year-old page in Congress, I learned many things. Unfortunately, three of the most memorable are these: any members of Congress are abnormally tall, abnormally pompous and abnormally insensitive to the plight of those without power.

Paul Wellstone was none of these things. He was a small man, often smiling – and not with the plastic smile that too many politicians perfect with the assistance of PR consultants. Paul Wellstone cared about people, not just about their votes.

The last time I spoke with Paul Wellstone, it was not as a bright-eyed intern on the Hill, but in a security checkpoint line at National Airport. The senator joked and chatted with me as we waited for the line to move. I’ve been around many senators before, and there wasn’t another one as friendly as Paul Wellstone. He wasn’t just one of 100; he was one of a kind.

Many things pain me about Wellstone’s death, but none so much as the loss of his voice in Congress. Paul Wellstone was truly unique: an unabashed liberal, a man who didn’t feel the need to apologize for his support of the less fortunate, a man for whom supporting populist causes was not simply a way to hold down his Democratic base. Today’s politics is a murky dash for a nebulous “center,” but Paul Wellstone was never ashamed to represent what he called the “democratic” wing of the Democratic Party. He wasn’t afraid to vote his conscience, even in an election year.

It has become popular for most Democrats to run for the center as if their lives depended upon it, even while the Republican Party sprints full speed to the far right. For every Paul Wellstone, there are a dozen Tom DeLays (R-Tx). With Wellstone’s death, I fear that such a misbalance will grow even greater, and America’s politics will become even more divisive and dangerous.

There’s a banal campus joke that every SFSer wants to be president. Based on many people I’ve met in class here, I sincerely hope that’s not the case. For those Georgetown students who do want to go into politics, however, I hope there is a lesson from the life of Paul Wellstone: Politics should not be self-serving – it should be about serving others. One of Paul Wellstone’s most memorable acts was retracing the journey of another liberal who died too soon – Robert Kennedy. A few years ago, Wellstone recreated Kennedy’s 1967-68 voyages to America’s poorest areas. Today, these are places where compassionate conservatism has not put food on the table, where a tax-cut which favors the wealthy is only a cruel reminder of inequality and where many children are, indeed, left behind. Like Robert Kennedy, Paul Wellstone never forgot these people. Surely no one in impoverished Appalachia was going to vote in a Senate race in Minnesota, but that made little difference to him.

Our generation, while hard to generalize, thus far seems very practical and very greedy; how many of your friends have wanted to be an “I-Banker” since age 10? Times like these, I fear, do not produce men or women like Paul Wellstone; they do not produce politicians concerned with the poor, with the marginalized, with the downtrodden, with the oppressed.

Paul Wellstone gave a voice to the voiceless, and now, his voice has been silenced. Those of us whose consciences demand that we do care about the vulnerable now have an even greater obligation to speak up for them, and to speak up for a small, smiling man from innesota, silenced too soon.

Adam Harris is a junior in the School of Foreign Service and can be reached at Nothing But the Truth usually appears every other Friday.

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