Saturday, June 03, 2006

Wellstone's Ghost:The real reason Mark Dayton chose not to run again

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:06 AM |  

Senator Mark Dayton took his parsimonious dinner in his usual smoke-free restaurant; being too depressed to read all the newspapers, but having recycled his disposition by reading Al Gore’s “Earth in the Balance,” Dayton decided to return to his office, intent on writing some clean water legislation or perhaps squeezing out some more funding for alternative fuels, code for Minnesota corn-based ethanol. After all, 2006 would be the year he stood for reelection.

His office – it was his office, but to his Democratic mind, the office of senior senator from the State of Minnesota would always belong to the late, great, Paul Wellstone. Indeed, decorating his space, even down to the detail of the knick-knacks on his desk and shelves, Dayton had asked, “What would Wellstone do? The answer accounted for the wrestling trophy on his cadenza, which he had ordered as a sample from an online trophy company, having never been a wrestler himself. But Wellstone was.

The trophy was quite ordinary as trophies go. It was about 18 inches tall, very thinly gold-plated, sitting on a darkly stained piece of oak, bearing an engraved plaque proudly declaring “Lightweight -- Second Place.” It was situated such that it was the first thing Dayton saw on entering the office and the last thing at night as he turned at the doorway to switch off the lights. That ritual was as unchanging as the trophy itself – except on this night, for as Senator Dayton entered his office and was about to turn on the lights, he noticed the trophy aglow in its own illumination. As he puzzled this phenomenon, without undergoing any intermediate process of change, the trophy morphed into the very image of Paul Wellstone!

Wellstone’s image. Not a fancied facsimile of Wellstone, as the trophy was of Wellstone’s accomplishments, but the great man himself, exactly 18 inches tall and thinly gold-plated. Although motionless, the miniature Wellstone, looked agitated, seemed to move, but did not. Dayton stood transfixed by the source of the Damascusian glow, which as quickly as it had transformed from inanimate trophy to inanimate Wellstone, reverted to its original form.

To say that he was not astounded and mystified by his vision, infected by an expression of uncertainty that his ideological certainty never permitted him, would be untrue. But quickly asking himself “What would Wellstone do?” and deciding the great man would be bold, he flipped on the office lights and in their harsh glare, seeing the trophy sitting as stately as Poe’s raven on the cadenza behind his desk, he stepped into the office, closed and locked the door, vowing to dismiss what he had seen with his own eyes (another aspect of his politics) and think of it nevermore.

But definitive decision-making was not a part of his nature. As he slouched into the tall leather chair behind a massive desk, Dayton took quick peeks about the office to see if all were in order, perhaps with not quite the thoroughness with which he’d swept the office in the wake of the vague terrorist threats that ultimately made him the only senator to close his office during the last recess, but with equal trepidation. Nothing seemed out of place, which did not much to relive him.

He flipped the switch on his computer, waiting for the dark screen to resolve itself into the pristine view of Split Rock lighthouse that was his wallpaper, but what should appear, but the image of Wellstone! Well, not exactly. But just for an instant it appeared as if the venerable lighthouse were a man. It could have been Wellstone. But one out-of-the-ordinary event per day was about all that Senator Dayton could handle. He attributed this second brief encounter with the visage of his departed mentor as a mere aftershock of his previous vision. Only that. Nothing more.

He moved his cursor and clicked on his “My Documents” folder. The computer, as it always did, informed him that the mouse had, indeed, been clicked, with a loud audible beep. Immediately, in an uncustomary manner, his cell phone emitted a single beep. The desk phone rang once. The television in the corner flickered on, then off, as did a radio. A bird clock, a gift from a rather large contributor as a joke that Dayton did not get, hooted and chirped. And then it was quiet.

Quiet like the stillness of prey when a predator is about. Quiet like the eye of a storm. Quiet so still one hears the air swirling around inside one’s ear. Quiet that portends.

Indeed, what the sudden stillness portended was not long in anticipating itself. Clanking. Dayton heard the distinct clanking of chains dragging across the floor in the hallway outside his office. It had not dawned on him before, but aside from the security guard at the front desk several floors below where he now sat, Dayton had not seen a soul when he had returned to his office. Albeit it was late, but that no one else was about the government’s business was as unusual as the clanking, which while Dayton was pondering his isolation, had grown louder with proximity.

It was then the lights went out, but Dayton was not in total darkness. The wrestling trophy on the cadenza, while retaining its material form, again glowed, casting the office in a surreal light. The clanking of chains grew louder – and closer. And then, plain as if illuminated in the bright daylight of the sun, framed by the no- open door, in a spotlight cast by the glowing trophy, HE stood as if waiting to be announced -- “This shadow needs no introduction; let’s give it up for Wellstone’s Ghost!”

For indeed, it was the very same. Paul Wellstone in blue jeans and a green T-shirt, hair askew as if standing against a prevailing wind. He dragged a chain wrapped several times around his waist and across his heart and draped over his shoulders, hanging down his back like a hippie’s ponytail and dragging behind him like the tail of a monkey riding his back. Each link was a piece of iron currency – dollar bills, tens, twenties, fifties, and thousands of thousand dollar bills. His body was transparent; one could see right through him, the chain of bills seeming to trail behind him infinitely.

Critics had often accused Senator Wellstone of being of little substance. Dayton was unnerved more that such a thought had just crossed his mind than by the specter before him, but the ability to distinguish between matters of degree had never been his strong suit. Nonetheless, it being extremely difficult to ignore a translucent image of one’s long-dead mentor standing in the doorway of one’s office, Dayton’s mind resumed processing that upon which his eyes remained transfixed, refusing to believe what they saw. It was most involuntary that he blurted out –

“What do you want with me?”

“A lot!” – it was clearly Wellstone’s voice.

“Who are you?”

“Ask me who I was.”

“Who were you then?” said Dayton, hoping to hear what he already dreaded.

“In life, I was your mentor, Paul Wellstone.”

“Can you – can you sit down?” asked Dayton, struggling awkwardly to introduce some normalcy to the situation.

“I can.”

“Well please take a seat,” said the Senator, suddenly realizing the he was sitting in the great man’s rightful chair. He quickly stood, intending to give up the chair to his translucent guest, but the specter had already settled itself in a chair before the desk and was motioning, as best it could with the heavy chain draped over its arms, for Dayton to be seated.

“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost as Dayton sat down.

“I don’t.” said Dayton. “I mean I believe in Paul Wellstone. I try to do what Wellstone, would do, but I don’t believe in you.”

“What evidence would it take beyond seeing me with your own two eyes to convince you of my reality?”

“I don’t know,” said Dayton with his customary conviction.

“Why do you doubt what you see?”

“Because,” said Dayton, “I cannot trust what I see. The world is full of evil people that would go to any length to take advantage of me. You might be a highly technical trick of mechanical gimmickry, or some Halliburton-induced hallucinogenic vision hatched by a carefully constructed thought-control program I have unwittingly been victimized by. There’s more of spectacle than specter about you, whatever you are!”

Dayton was not in the habit of making jokes, nor did he feel in his heart by any means particularly witty just then. The truth is, that he tried to be eloquent, for if there was even the remotest of possibilities that this was indeed the ghost of his beloved mentor, he must not disappoint him. Although an unworthy successor, he must at least put on the appearance of effort. The vague talk of evil working against him was setting the stage for explanation should his inadequacy be exposed.

Meanwhile, the specter appeared to be in a world of its own. It sat motionless, eyes fixed upon Dayton, making him most uncomfortable. It was judging him, he thought. And having already passed judgment on himself, that was a terrifying thought to him – which appeared confirmed when the ghost suddenly emitted a penetrating wail of lamentation. Its transparent form shook as if in agony, rattling the chain binding it, creating a cacophonous clatter.

Dayton dropped his head to the desk and clasped his hands atop his head.

“Mercy!” he cried. “Is it not enough that I bear the burden of your legacy? Why do you come in this transparent form to torture me?”

“Poor soul,” replied Wellstone’s Ghost, “ do you now believe in me?”

“I do,” sighed Dayton, lifting his head. “I must. You are all I have. But why do you walk the earth, and why do you come to me?”

“It is required of every man,” said Wellstone’s Ghost, “that the spirit within him should do good for the benefit of his fellow man; and if it does not do so in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world and – oh, woe is me! – witness to the crimes against humanity that it perpetuated while in its mortal coil.”

Again, Wellstone’s Ghost cried out in anguish, and shook its currency chain and wrung its transparent hands.

“You are fettered,” said Dayton, trembling. “Tell me shy?”

"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?"

Dayton shook, jabbed with a sense of guilt he could not explain.

"Or would you know," pursued the Ghost, "the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? You have labored on it, since you left the family business to pursue your political dreams. It is a ponderous chain!"

Dayton glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.

"Paul," he said, imploringly. "Great and compassionate Paul Wellstone, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Paul!"

"I have none to give," the Ghost replied. "It comes from other regions, Mark Dayton, and is conveyed by other philosophers, to other kinds of men. Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more, is all permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never looked beyond ends to means -- mark me! -- in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our own common vision; and weary journeys lie before me!"

It was a habit with Dayton, whenever he became thoughtful, to hold his hands against his cheeks. Pondering on what the Ghost had said, he did so now.

"You have been dragging those chains since that day, that day . . . " stammered Dayton. "And traveling all the time!"

"The whole time," said Wellstone’s Ghost. "No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse."

"You travel fast?" asked Dayton.

"On the wings of the wind," replied the Ghost.

"You might have got over a great quantity of ground in five years," said Dayton.

The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the empty Senate office building that Dayton fear it would draw the attention of the security guard below.

"Oh! Captive, bound, and double-ironed," cried the phantom, "not to know, that ages of incessant labor, by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is capable is all developed. Not to know that any human spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!"

"But you were always a good man of politics, Paul," faltered Dayton, who feverishly exercised his sedentary mind against the confusing statements of his ghostly mentor.

"Politics!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my mission. So taken was I with the power I had in my hands to do good for all mankind, that I was drawn more to love the power than mankind. More to love mankind than the man. Making mankind better was my charge, which I confused with making mankind better off. Where I should have spawned thrift, I bred larceny; where charity, conscription; where virtue, entitlement; where excellence, equality; where good, evil; where freedom, bondage.”

Wellstone’s Ghost held up its chain at arm's length, the iron currency clanking loundly. “And this is what I forged. I took from man to give back to mankind.” It dropped its arms in resignation to its fate.

"At it is at election time," the specter said, "I suffer most. “Why did I hear in the cheers of gathering throngs begging for my largess instead of the protests of those resisting my corruption of their souls? Was the din of praise so great I heard not the moans of the anguished?” My own light was so bright I could not see the darkness beyond my vision.”

Dayton had never heard the flesh and blood Wellstone speak so desperately, so pathetic . . . . or so viscerally eloquent. He shook violently.

"Hear me!" said Wellstone’s Ghost. "My time is nearly gone."

"I will," said Dayton. "But don't be hard upon me! Cut to the chase, Paul! Pray!"

"How it is that I appear before you in a shape that you can see, I may not tell. I have sat invisible beside you many and many a day."

That was not an agreeable thought, for it meant that Wellstone knew how Dayton had failed him. He shivered, and wiped perspiration from his brow.

"That is no light part of my penance," pursued the Ghost. "I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Mark."

"You were always a good friend to me, Paul" said Dayton.

"You will be haunted," resumed the Ghost, "by Three Spirits."

Dayton covered his eyes with his hands.

"Is that chance and hope, Paul?" he asked, in a faltering voice. He had enough personal demons. Three additional haunting spirits was about the last thing Dayton desired.

"It is."

"I -- I think I'd rather not," said Dayton, looking through his guest at the trailing chain.

"Without their visits," said the Ghost, "you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls one."

"Couldn't I take `em all at once, and have it over, Paul?" hinted Dayton.

"Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!"

When it had said these words, Wellstone’s Ghost rose from the chair. It stared sternly at Dayton, but not with out a tinge of sadness and remorse. It lifted a length of its chain and draped it over its shoulder.

The apparition walked backward from him; and at every step it took, the office window raised itself a little, so that when the specter reached it, it was wide open. It beckoned Dayton to approach, which he did. When they were within two paces of each other, Wellstone’s Ghost held up its hand, warning him to come no nearer. Dayton stopped. Not so much in obedience, as in surprise and fear: for on the raising of the hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. The specter, after listening for a moment, joined in the mournful dirge; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night.

Dayton followed to the window, desperate in his curiosity. He looked out.

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Wellstone’s Ghost; some few were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Dayton in their lives, political allies of one form or another. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, a friend from his Minnesota days that had worked in department of education,. He floated through the air with a monstrous file cabinet attached to its ankle, crying piteously at being unable to find the file of a youth stalking an ill-advised tourist couple come to see the Capitol Building by night. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power forever.

Whether these creatures faded into mist, or mist enshrouded them, he could not tell. But they and their spirit voices faded together; and the night became as it had been when he walked home.

Dayton closed the window, and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered. It was closed, as he had closed it with his own hands. For an instant he tried to deny what he had seen, but this time the tactic did not work. Being, from the emotion he had undergone, or the fatigues of the day, or his glimpse of the Invisible World, or the startling conversation of the Ghost, or the lateness of the hour, much in need of repose; he lay down upon the office couch, without undressing, and fell asleep upon the instant. The wrestling trophy continued to glow, like a nightlight, until dawn.


Well, it came to pass that Senator Mark Dayton was indeed visited by three sprits – the Spirit of Elections Past, the Spirit of Elections Present, and the Spirit of Elections Future.

The first – the Spirit of Elections Past whisked him to the era when big government began and showed him how in the name of “the good” it started the erosion of man’s ability to and desire to make his own way in the world. The spirit visited men that fought that trend, including Dayton’s own father and uncles, who created a vibrant enterprise providing jobs and self-respect to hundreds, eventually thousands, of people and, by the way, making a fortune. Dayton felt the chill of shame at rejecting his heritage, of feeling guilty about his wealth and thus dedicating his life to the penance of furthering the domestication of mankind rather than, as his entrepreneurial forebears had done, liberating it.

The Spirit of Elections Present took him unseen into the homes of the wretched poor that lacked any motivation to strive, simply waiting for their government dole. It took him inside the boardrooms of large corporations where executives laughed at the latest set of government regulations and plotted how to twist them to their advantages and stifle smaller competitors. It showed him struggling parents trying to scrape together funds for private education so their children could escape failing schools. It walked him down a hallway of never-ending government expansion, until exhausted, Dayton begged for the comfort and security of his own bed.

The Spirit of Elections Future took Dayton forward in time and showed him the Utopia that he was helping to create. It was a gray and ashen world – there was no black and white, no absolute good and evil, no right and wrong, no beauty, no excellence, just a great, gray, neutral equality – except of course for one shining city, rather a group of buildings than a city, the Paul Wellstone Government Center.

Within the walls of the large compound stood tall steel and glass structures rising into the sky. The Spirit took Dayton inside the tallest of these buildings, into an atrium that extended the full height of the building. And in the very center of the atrium, rising to the ceiling was the statue of a man, arms upraised, appearing to support the entire structure of the building.

The Spirit motioned to the plaque at the foot of the statute. Dayton leaned over and read –

“United States Senator Mark Dayton, who more than any other man supported the legacy of Paul Wellstone and is, more than any person except the great Paul himself, responsible for the this world, freed at last from the confusing contradictions of liberty.”

“Take me home now,” cried Dayton as he finished reading. “Now. Please.”

When he awoke the following morning, Senator Mark Dayton penned a press release saying that he would seek reelection to the Senate, never, never more.

God bless Us, Every One!