Paul Wellstone, as expected, has

Paul Wellstone, as expected, has come out against the Senate resolution authorizing the President to act against Saddam Hussein. The interesting question is why. Wellstone’s principal argument is that we should take action as part of a coalition, not alone; he appears to be the last person to notice that we already have a coalition, and it is sure to grow (although, as Gene Allen points out, this is a mixed blessing). Given his arguments–which ritually acknowledge the desirability of getting rid of Saddam and are not explicitly pacifist–Wellstone could easily have signed on to the resolution with a furrowed brow and grave muttering about “concerns,” as Tom Daschle will do when the time comes. Why did he oppose it? Two possibilities: maybe he is so reflexively opposed to the United States that he just can’t help himself, logic be damned; or else he did it out of political calculation. This last possibility is intriguing. Wellstone has always been more popular in Minnesota for his personality than for his left-wing views. Many people who disagree with him on various issues have been tolerant, and willing to vote for him, because he has been perceived as honest, principled, a fighter for the underdog, determined to do the right thing regardless of political consequences, etc. Whether this image was ever accurate is debatable, but more to the point, the image has lately lost much of its luster. In this election cycle, Wellstone has appeared old and tired, with nothing new to add to the public debate. Worse, his violation of his two-term pledge has taken away the aura of the disinterested outsider that was the key to his early popularity. Right now, he looks like just another tired pol fighting to stay in office. As a result, he is trailing Norm Coleman–a younger, fresher and more vigorous face–in the polls. Wellstone’s speech announcing his opposition to the Senate resolution was poorly written; in fact, scarcely coherent. And as he delivered the speech in a surprisingly flat monotone, he sounded tired. I couldn’t help thinking that this speech represented a last effort to revive his image as a maverick and a crusader, and fire up his troops for one more election.


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