Magazine article Tikkun

An Interview with Senator Paul Wellstone

Magazine article Tikkun

An Interview with Senator Paul Wellstone

Article excerpt

AN INTERVIEW WITH Senator Paul Wellstone

Paul Wellstone is U.S. Senator from Minnesota. This interview was conducted with Rabbi Michael Lerner.

TIKKUN: What was it like to be at the inauguration of George W. Bush?

WELLSTONE: I have the utmost respect for people's spirituality and the diversity of religious views represented in our country, and so I was a little taken aback at the outset at the number of times I heard the invocation of "Jesus Christ." I can't remember being at a public governmental gathering like this where the invocation of a specific religious tradition happened so often. Normally there is more of an ecumenical sensibility demonstrated in these invocations. I suspect some of TIKKUN's readers were also struck by that.

TIKKUN: What did you think of Bush's speech?

WELLSTONE: While I appreciated his eloquent words on the problems of persistent poverty, especially among children, there is a strong disconnect between his rhetoric and his proposed policies. He says that he doesn't want to leave any child behind, but then look at the agenda of this administration, which is already clear: one and a half trillion dollars in tax cuts benefitting primarily the wealthiest Americans. It will erode the revenue base for any social programs (the strategy of David Stockman in the early years of the Reagan presidency), and guarantee you won't have enough money for early childhood development or education or expanded health care benefits. So what exactly would we be doing to "not leave any child behind"? Bush's approach goes in exactly the opposite direction! Or if you are serious about not having elderly people forced into nursing homes, or serious about them having home-based health care, how are you going to pay for that if you don't have adequate funding?

I just hope the Democrats are up to a strong and principled opposition to this kind of Bush agenda. We face tax cuts for the wealthy without investment in needed social programs, a direct assault on environmental protections and workplace health and safety, the privatization of Social Security, hundreds of billions of dollars potentially spent on an unworkable missile defense or "star wars" system which is going to put the whole array of arms control agreements in jeopardy, and direct and indirect assaults on Roe v. Wade. Coming on the heels of Florida, I think all this is going to generate lots of organizing around the country.

The media says that Americans are hoping for bipartisanship, and there is much talk of an emerging "politics of the center." What I've heard from people in Minnesota is not that they don't want there to be debate and a vigorous championing of the values we stand for, but rather that they want it to be done with civility. And with that I agree.

And the second thing is that the American people do want us to govern from the center. But it is not the center that the pundits and politicians in Washington talk about. Citizens want us to deal with issues that are important to the center of their lives. They yearn for a politics that speaks to and includes them--affordable child care, a good education for their children, health security, good jobs that will support their families, respect for the environment and human rights, clean elections and clean campaigns. People are interested in how to make a decent living to support their families, how to get a good education and health security for themselves and their family, how to ensure the protection of the environment, and how to reform the political system to get big money out of politics. So if George W. Bush wants to focus on issues from the center of people's lives, I'll cooperate. But if this is going to be an effort to undo decades worth of victories of previous people's struggles and replace that with some very harsh policies, I'm going to be in strong opposition.

TIKKUN: His actual speech was very different from this. He spoke in hopeful and morally sensitive terms. …

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