Commentators looking at the various angles of political funerals have understandably latched onto one of the most notorious, but don’t recall exactly why it became so. Politico reports that the apparent politicization of Ted Kennedy’s death has led conservatives to warn about (and perhaps to hope for) the “Wellstone effect,” which would drive voters to Republicans. However, that ignores the elements that made the Wellstone memorial so outrageous, as well as the timing that made it so relevant:
While most prominent Republicans stuck Wednesday and Thursday to sober condolences — and several Republican operatives said it was too early to accuse Democrats of politicizing a sad moment — the conservative media, as well as some operatives, has seized on the whiff of politicization of his passing, recalling the bitter charges and countercharges that followed Sen. Paul Wellstone’s (D-Minn.) memorial service in 2002.
That service, a sometimes boisterous rally that included calls to carry on Wellstone’s political legacy and some catcalls for Republican speakers, turned the memorial into a central campaign issue, and many observers think the still-disputed event helped elect a Republican to fill his seat. …
Another leading conservative media figure, Sean Hannity, recalled the Wellstone memorial.
“Remember Paul Wellstone’s death? You know, ‘Let’s do everything for Paul.’ And we’re now being implored to get behind Obamacare because it’s what Ted Kennedy would have wanted,” he said, according to the liberal media monitor Media Matters, which is in turn suggesting that conservatives have crossed the line with allegations of politicization.
The H.S.A. Coalition, a lobbying group devoted to tax-free health savings accounts — championed by conservatives as a health care solution — warned supporters to “watch for the Wellstone effect.”
“The Democrats should remember their experience with the Sen. Wellstone funeral,” wrote the group’s president, Dan Perrin. “While I disagreed with almost everything Sen. Kennedy stood for, the MSM [mainstream media] subjecting the country to a Sen. Wellstone-type funeral experience, would be using him like a cheap suit.”
There is always a danger in waving the bloody shirt, of course. Concocting a “do it for Teddy” campaign assumes that most people admired him, which may be an arguable proposition even now. Hitching a bill to the memory of a politician for anything other than naming a building or an airport has a very limited appeal, especially on a bill as hotly contested already as ObamaCare.
But that wasn’t what made the Wellstone memorial so outrageous to Minnesotans. Many people across the political spectrum felt saddened by his death, because Wellstone was seen as honest and open about his convictions, even if his politics were about as loopy as it got in the Senate. During the memorial service, broadcast live to all Minnesotans just days before the mid-term elections, his allies in the DFL (the Minnesota version of the Democratic Party) went way beyond using it as a platform for Wellstone’s political point of view, which most if not all of us expected. One of its chief organizers and speakers, Rick Kahn, demanded that Republicans drop out of the Senate race and concede it to Walter Mondale, who replaced Wellstone after his death. He and other speakers berated Republicans who appeared at the memorial to pay their respects. It was a complete disaster and offended many Minnesotans, and not just Republicans, for its mean-spiritedness and utter lack of graciousness. Coming so soon before the election, it had an impact nationwide against Democrats, according to Mark Penn.
At least thus far, nothing proposed by the Kennedy family or by Democrats comes close to matching the crass spectacle of the Wellstone memorial. The “do it for Teddy” meme is practically expected by voters, which is why it won’t have much effect; it’s too obvious a manipulation to work on anyone but the true believers, where it won’t count anyway. The next election is not a few days away but fourteen months. Even if speakers get out of hand at the service, which Democrats will probably work hard to prevent, the impact will have dissipated in a fortnight.
A “Wellstone effect” is probably nothing more than wishful thinking, but it’s equaled by the hope of a “Kennedy effect” on ObamaCare. Unless Democrats get very, very stupid about it, the memorial will have little impact on anyone except the mourners — which is exactly how it should be.