I had a job in politics when I was a young man. I was hired by the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party to raise funds and help get out the vote. My territory included all of Northern Minnesota. I planned all year for a two-week run of county DFL conventions and fund-raising events in the 7th and 8th congressional districts.
But just before my planned departure from Minneapolis, I was bitten by a young German Shepherd pup. The owner gathered up the dog and ran away. Doctors in the local Lutheran hospital said Id have to have rabies shots.
I cant stay home, I cried, I have a two-week swing through Northern Minnesota planned. Its what Ive been working for all year. Its my job.
Okay, the doctors said. Well give you rabies vaccine packed in dry ice. Whenever you come to a new town, go straight to the local emergency room. Tell them you need to be injected. Well give you enough rabies vaccine for fourteen days.
So I did that. It was always fun to gauge the startled reactions on peoples faces in the Emergency Rooms as I came in and announced I needed someone to give me my rabies injection. I can truly say that I was once a rabid Democrat.
Voting is very serious business in Minnesota. Theyre famous for being Minnesota Nice, but youd better not suggest to Sven and Ole that they go ice fishing on Election Day. Every county convention I spoke to that yearafter Id gotten my required rabies shotsI pounded home the theme: Its almost a sin not to vote.
In many of those county DFL conventions, ex-Gov. Karl Rolvaag would be introduced. Hed always get an appreciative cheer. Rolvaag was a legend in Minnesota politics. Its not that he accomplished a great deal in his term as governor of the North Star State, it was the circumstances of his election that always inspired awe. The paper ballots that would tip the election had been brought down from Lake of the Woods County by canoe.
Every American school child knows where Lake of the Woods County is. Just run your finger along the map along the 49th parallel,, the border between the U.S. and Canada. When you come to that little notch that sticks up, thats Lake of the Woods County.
When that county cast its paper ballots for Karl Rolvaag in 1962, everyone in the North Star state knew voting mattered. Minnesotans have something to teach all Americans. The right to vote is precious
On my swing through Northern Minnesota, young Jim Oberstar was campaigning for his first term in Congress. Oberstar was something of a rock star to 8th district DFLers. He would speak first to county delegates. I was only paid staff and so I would always speak last. I always heard Oberstars speech. I doubt he ever heard mine.
Still, I admired Oberstar for his staunch opposition to abortion. It was in Minnesota that I first learned it was even possible for Americans to oppose the cruel and unjust Roe v. Wade ruling.
The salt-of-the-earth folks in the 8th district were pretty left-wingon everything except the right to life. In county convention after county convention, I would be buttonholed. Cant you go back to Minneapolis and tell the DFL Central Committee (yes, it was actually called that) that we love everything about the partyexcept abortion.
I did. And it wasnt pretty. The DFL partys co-chair thought the anti-abortion people were idiots. She said she wanted to wear a button with a picture of a fetus, with an eye that winked goodbye as it was aborted. With leadership like that, my job with the party wasnt likely to be long-standing or happy. It wasnt.
Still, Jim Oberstar got elected up on the Iron Range. And he got re-elected every two years. His voting record has always been about two degrees to the left of the Supreme Soviet, but to his great credit, he was always pro-life.
Until this year. Tragically, Rep. Jim Oberstar was one of those Democratic faux lifers who back in March made it possible for President Obama to ram through his health care takeover without the pro-life Stupak Amendment. Before Bart Stupak caved in, Jim Oberstar helped to pry other formerly pro-life Democrats away. He not only betrayed his record, he put many of his colleagues in serious political jeopardy. During the past campaign, we saw Congressman Oberstar attacking his critics at public meetings. He sneered at them, and called them flat earthers.
I take it personally. For more 36 years, I have been pointing to Jim Oberstar as my example of a man of principle, even a man of the left, who recognized the great transcendent truth: That innocent human life must be protected.
Mr. Oberstar was defeated on Tuesday. I recommend a long rest for him. Maybe he should rent the Academy Award-winning movie, A Man for All Seasons.
In that film, Sir Thomas More is betrayed by a young teacher who covets political office. More turns to Richard Rich and asks what badge of office he is wearing. In return for perjuring himself, Sir Richard Rich was made Attorney General for Wales.
Richard, I am sorrier for you than for my own peril, says Thomas More, knowing he will be beheaded because of Richs false testimony. Dont you know it profits a man nothing if he gain the whole world and lose his soul? But for Wales?
Yes, Congressman Oberstar. You had thirty-six years of voting pro-life before you abandoned this noble cause. But for Duluth?