We didn't agree with him on most things, said one after another,
but we admired his passion.
That word passion keeps cropping up in other places as well, in conversations among friends and colleagues who remember passion wistfully but who feel its absence in their lives. Passion may be eulogized upon the death of a Paul Wellstone, but it is not in fact much encouraged in our increasingly homogenized, human resources world.
Most days we war against passion. The cultural mandate, codified by corporate America and enforced by human resources departments, is to be dispassionately neutral. Non-judgmental. Non-disruptive. Notice how comfortably "non" fits where passion isn't.
We don't dare judge others out of some weird allegiance to the higher calling of relativity. We don't dare make an observation that would be obvious to any 9-year-old for fear of being labeled a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, an elitist, a whatever-ist.
So that when someone does speak from the heart with moral honesty, as Wellstone did, we are stunned.
The problem with passion -the reason for its eclipse -is that passion requires an honest look deep inside, a close inspection of who we really are and what we stand for.
Passion insists that we bear witness, that we speak up when everyone else is admiring invisible fictions and say: "But, wait, the emperor is naked!"
Passion is rare precisely because it requires courage. It takes courage to be the one to stand away from the crowd and speak up. Those who do quickly feel the sting of resentment. For their trouble, they are vilified. Not by everyone, but by enough that it's easier to become cynical. Easier to make fun. To grab a bistro table, sip iced lattes and sneer at the silly passion peddlers who just don't get it.
Taking clever potshots at George W. Bush's syntax, for example, is far easier -and more likely to get one applause and a dinner-party invitation -than it is to take an honest stand and refute a policy with facts and analysis.
Our war on passion reminds me of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." In the movie, aliens invade and occupy human bodies when people fall asleep. Survival depends upon not falling asleep. Those who haven't been "snatched" wander the streets, peering with a mixture of hope and terror into others' eyes looking for signs of human life.
Every now and then, one recognizes another sleep-deprived human and the two struggle to connect undetected. So it is with passion. You stumble along among the droids for whom "Passions" is the name of an NBC daytime soap, looking for others who haven't been absorbed by the human resources pods. Anybody in there? Or have you already drunk the Kool-Aid?
And so we eulogize Paul Wellstone. He had passion; he's gone; now there's less of it.
But there's more to this moment, another dimension to this loss beyond the sorrow of a friend's passing, another leader down. There's more at stake than the ennui that comes from corporative everything or the boredom of marching in lockstep. Without passion, we have allowed ourselves -our nation -to become vulnerable.
Oriana Fallaci, the celebrated Italian author-journalist, recently identified America's lack of passion as an obstacle to our survival in the current cultural war against radical Islam. Always passionate and never reticent, Fallaci says the deep-seated Islamist hatred of America is fueled by a passion that can only be confronted and defeated by equal passion.
What we can infer is that America lacks the conviction to win because we lack moral confidence in ourselves. We no longer trust our American instincts. We are in fact our own worst enemy.
In the preface to her 1977 book, "Interview With History," Fallaci wrote eloquently of her own passion in words that should resonate among those who think outside the pod:
"On every professional experience I leave shreds of my heart and soul; and I participate in what I see or hear as though the matter concerned me personally and were one on which I ought to take a stand (in fact I always take one, based on a specific moral choice)."
As did Wellstone and few others. Maybe that's why so many from all sides mourn his passing with so much passion. He had what we need most of all.
As the eulogies for Sen. Paul Wellstone stack up, a single word consistently emerges -passion.
From The Wall Street Journal editorial pages to the columns of conservative opinion writers, Wellstone is praised for his passion: his passionate defense of the poor; his passionate advocacy for the disenfranchised. His passion for teaching, democracy and truth.