The day was just like many others. I was in the lab, setting up for a difficult titration that would take me hours to perform carefully. The work was absorbing and isolating, and I was lost in it. Suddenly, gingerly, Valerie walked into the lab without slipping on her protective goggles. She spoke carefully and quietly in a voice that slipped into my subconscious before it was audible.
“Erik � I just heard on the radio � Senator Wellstone’s plane went down. I knew you were a fan of his.”
“What? His plane went down?” I pulled away from my work slowly.
“They aren’t saying anything, but it doesn’t look good.”
“Is he allright?”
“They aren’t saying, just that the plane went down.”
Something was floating above us that moment, a dark feeling I wanted to levitate up to peer into.
“Uh, thanks Val.”
“Sure. Let me know if you hear more.”
I was gone from the bench to a kind of security, the little cubicle by the lab where I also had a radio. Switching it on gave me one eternity to settle into the moment and let that cloud come down to me. Paul’s plane was down, it didn’t look good, they didn’t expect survivors. All I could think of was how Paul hated flying, how Sheila told him to slow down a bit and take better care of his back. He wouldn’t. The plane was down. That’s all we knew.
Then, the word came that there didn’t appear to be anyone alive at the crash scene. I bolted for the door and drove home. It was a difficult drive, but I stayed focused on the road in front of me. It wasn’t until I heard that Sheila was on the plane that I cried, tears forcing me to pull over until I could point the car back to safety.
I thought of this today when I saw the Obama rally after the primary in New Hampshire. I’ve met a few Obama people, and they remind me of the nights I put in phoning for Paul back in 1990. We believed then that we could change the world, and somehow we all did. It was hard work and harder passion, but it happened. We made it happen. We made our hope a beautiful reality.
The Obama crowd has forced Clinton to retool her message to stand for change as well, and so the Democrats all have to acknowledge that change is going to have to come. Paul’s message is alive. But why now? Why has it taken so long?
The reason is a simple one. Our leadership, in both parties, has been totally horseshit for the last eight years. You can blame George Bush all you want, but the truth of the matter is that when he used 9/11 to polarize the nation very few people stood up. Clinton voted in favor of the original Iraq War authorization. Somewhere through this whole process, no one in either party had the guts to stand up and be the conscience of the Congress, the party, and the people.
We missed Paul terribly after November 2002. Our leadership has failed us largely because there was no one like Paul there to tell us the truth. Could one man have made a difference? I think so. I’ve seen Paul in action, and if anyone could make a difference it was our own Senator Wellstone.
But there wasn’t anyone there to be the conscience we required. We were led down a path of brutality and mendacity that has nearly destroyed our nation. Our finances are a mess, our reputation is in shambles, and people are literally dying from a lack of health care. Without Paul, we lost any right to call ourselves a leader in this world.
Now, the call comes for change. Now, we see the people almost wistfully chanting, “Yes, we can!” Sure, we can. The man who first told us this left just a little bit too early, just long enough ago that we find ourselves nearly desperate for change. Paul’s message may save us, and Paul’s oratory and organization may make us whole. But we can’t ignore the fact that Paul’s absence has a lot to do with it getting this bad in the first place. Now, we have no choice but to fight.
Paul, we miss you more every day. That dark cloud that formed above me that day so long ago has only grown a bit bigger. I need to finally get up and over it. It’s hard, very hard.