‘Exploiting’ Kennedy By
Doing What He Wanted? Come Again?
Ever since the death last week of Sen. Edward Kennedy, the number one
GOP talking point – at least, the one that didn't involve the word
"Chappaquiddick" – has been that the Democrats would "exploit" Kennedy's
death in their zeal to pass health care reform.
A Pajamas Media blogger, on the day after Kennedy's death, predicted
that the Democrats would turn the event into a "Wellstone memorial on
steroids," a reference to some members of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone's
entourage turning his memorial service into a political rally for the
Democrats in 2002. The Wellstone case, the thinking goes, backfired
spectacularly, with the Dems losing in both Minnesota and nationally
that year, so the Democrats should be wary of making the same mistake
again seven years later.
This argument, I believe, is nonsense.
First of all, referring to the 2002 events as "Wellstoning" is
problematic for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that Paul
Wellstone himself had died already and had nothing to do with the
reaction. Wellstone's aides, especially his protégé Rick Kahn, were
reacting to the sudden death days earlier, in a plane crash, of their
mentor, and reacted emotionally in a way for which they later expressed
regret. Kennedy's death, by contrast, had been expected for months.
Indeed, Kennedy's funeral has already been held, and did not, in fact,
manifest itself as a wild political rally, perhaps because it was held
in a cathedral, while Wellstone's took place at a University of
Minnesota sports arena.
But more importantly, what's so terrible about Democrats taking
inspiration from a fallen senator, in pushing for action on an issue
with which Kennedy has been associated for decades? And besides, they're
merely continuing a fight in which Kennedy himself had been a leader as
recently as this year, and would still be leading had he not passed
If the Democrats were using his name to sell legislation that Kennedy
opposed, or had nothing to do with, that would be one thing. But that's
clearly not the case here. And are Republicans "expected to support" a
health care bill if it has Kennedy's name attached to it? Not really. I
imagine few of them actually will.
If, say, a football team's coach died in the middle of the season,
wouldn't you expect them to dedicate the rest of the season to their
fallen leader? Would opposing teams then complain about this, calling it
I think the idea of attaching Kennedy's name to the health care effort
is not so much tasteless as it is natural. The idea is so obvious that
when Rush Limbaugh predicted earlier this year that Kennedy would die
and the Democrats would then try to pass the "Ted Kennedy Health Care
Bill," I didn't exactly take offense, probably because like most people,
that occurred to me within days of the announcement of Kennedy's cancer.
Perhaps media coverage of Kennedy's death will put unabashed liberalism,
temporarily, in a more positive light, just as Ronald Reagan's death in
the summer of 2004 gave conservatism a similar moment in the sun. But
there's nothing unfair and unseemly about that.
Interpreting the legacy of the deceased can be a dicey proposition.
During my four years at Brandeis University, virtually every argument
associated with campus politics included someone exclaiming, "This isn't
what Louis Brandeis would've wanted!"
But in Kennedy's case, there's little ambiguity what his wishes were.