‘The conscience of the Senate’?

By Joseph Farah

Now that the election is over, now that Sen. Paul Wellstone’s family and party have had their poignant memorial service for him, and now that a decent interval of time has elapsed since his tragic death in a plane crash, I want to have my say.

Over and over, through the final days of the election campaign following his death, we heard from members of both major political parties and representatives of the press that Paul Wellstone was “the conscience of the Senate.”

If ever there was a body that needed a “conscience,” it is the United States Congress – both houses. But was Wellstone really it?

What made him “the conscience of the Senate”?

To hear some tell it, he was “the conscience of the Senate” because he would not compromise on his principles and core issues – matters like universal health care paid for by government and opposition to war even in the face of attacks on America and threats that could prove devastating to the future of the country.

In other words, some believe he was “the conscience of the Senate” because he really believed in something – even if that something was wrong.

To refer to Wellstone as “the conscience of the Senate” because he consistently pushed for the forcible confiscation of wealth from some people and the redistribution of that wealth to other people is ridiculous. Josef Stalin believed in the same thing. Was he a man of “conscience”?

To refer to Wellstone as “the conscience of the Senate” because he wanted to appease enemies rather than defeat them is ridiculous. Neville Chamberlain tried that, and today, 60 years later, his name is still used as an epithet. Was he a man of “conscience”?

To refer to Wellstone as “the conscience of the Senate” because he truly believed in something – even when that something was wrong – is ridiculous. Osama bin Laden truly believes in something and is uncompromising in his pursuit of his goals. Is he a man of “conscience”?

You may think I’m overstating the case. You may think this column is mean-spirited. You may think I am unfairly comparing Wellstone with Stalin, Chamberlain and bin Laden. I am not. I am merely trying to elevate the debate from personalities to principles. I am trying to clarify what “conscience” really is.

“Conscience” to me is the ability to hear that still small voice within us – the voice of God whispering to us and reminding us of the difference between right and wrong. That’s what “conscience” is – the ability to discern right from wrong. It has nothing to do with arrogant determination, sticking to one’s principles no matter what and forcibly violating the “consciences” of others.

At the risk of offending the dearly departed, the latter is what Paul Wellstone and most of his friends and admirers did.

The language we use is important, and that’s precisely why the Wellstone lionizers have chosen the word “conscience” to remember him. None of those same people in government and media used the word “conscience,” for instance, to describe another senator with strong convictions, principles and determination – Jesse Helms.

I can’t recall anyone referring to him as “the conscience of the Senate,” though I think it would be a much more accurate phrase as applied to Helms than Wellstone. Why don’t they use such words to describe Helms? Because they don’t really like Helms. They don’t agree with him. He always opposed taking wealth from one individual and giving it to another at the point of a gun. He always believed in deterring aggression against the United States by remaining strong, resolute and by being willing to use force when necessary. He always believed that America had the greatest health-care system in the world because the government didn’t run it.

Do you see my point?

Wellstone wasn’t “the conscience of the Senate.” He was “the conscience of the Senate socialists” – if that is not an oxymoron.

May he rest in peace – along with his inaccurate moniker.