10/25/2007 11:11 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Reminder: Paul Wellstone Was Not Santa Claus

Paul and his wife were truly great people, and it was an honor to get to know both of them. In an age of cynical politics, he was one of the few in Congress who wasn't a cynic.

Cornel West has explored how American political culture deliberately "santa claus-ifies" history's most famous and most effective leaders who challenge the economic status quo. The process happens through our education system, which downplays economic class, and in our pop culture. We are never supposed to think that the status quo is anything other than terrific, and we are never supposed to see the courageous heroes who challenged economic power as anything other than mere jolly cartoons.

I'm sure there will be some speeches in Washington today about Paul - and I hope the millionaires in the Senate club can refrain from trying to Santa Claus-ify Paul Wellstone by only recalling him as a nice, friendly, happy man. He was all of those things, of course, and that is typically how he is remembered in a media and political debate designed to paper over any discussion of real issues in favor of things like personality and style. But anyone who knew Paul knew his life's work was all about challenging power.

Paul Wellstone was not Santa Claus. He was a real leader who challenged power, shined a bright spotlight on the corruption of Washington and made economic class issues his cause. That is the true legacy of Paul Wellstone.

Cross-posted from Working Assets