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September 1, 2009

‘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 away.

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 unfair?

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.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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