Liberals are licking their chops at the prospect of using the death of Ted Kennedy to unite the party and get a health care reform bill passed.
Is exploiting the death of Kennedy a rotten, shameless, despicable thing to do? In politics, nothing is rotten or shameless - unless you’re on the other side taking advantage of an obvious political gambit. The only consideration is if something works or not. And baby, the Dems are going to milk the death of Kennedy until they wring every last ounce of political capital they can manage from his rotund carcass.
They are going to bend every effort to tie the emotional attachment with the late senator sincerely felt by the vast majority of Democrats directly to the health care bill with the hope that it will give some of the Blue Dogs, and liberals the cover they need to come to an agreement. In short, using the memory of Kennedy and good feelings elicited when appealing to his ghost, the Democratic leadership hopes it makes party members more willing to compromise to achieve the goal of creating KennedyKare.
I would fully expect the Republicans to do the exact same thing in similar circumstances. Of course, that would be an impossibility at the moment since no Republican living, dead, or in between has that kind of pull with the party, nor is there an issue that Republicans could rally around even if such a mythical beast existed. The appeals to Reagan’s memory may engender fond feelings of nostalgia, but the wellspring of actual political power that the Ghost of the Gipper can wield is just about dry.
So the question isn’t should the Democrats exploit Kennedy’s death, but rather what is the best way to go about doing it to achieve success?
Renaming the bill in honor of Kennedy won’t do much. Nice symbolism but hardly enough to break, what most media reports have said, is a titanic log jam of proposals on reform where several committees and individuals are working at cross purposes. Getting a bill out of this mish mash is going to take a lot more than simply calling the monstrosity something else.
In order to rally the Congress, more substantive and public demonstrations of both real and manufactured emotionalism will have to be employed for the gambit to work. Kennedy is going to have to first be beautified, and then named as a civic saint - a party icon that can be invoked with such reverence that “What would Teddy want?” becomes a rallying cry for reform leaders.
It starts today with a “carefully orchestrated” procession from the Kennedy’s beloved Hyannis Port, through the streets of Boston where the political and emotional symbolism will fairly drip from old imitation gas streetlights in the city’s historic North End:
A procession will leave Hyannis Port at 1 p.m. today, accompanying Kennedy’s body to Boston for a final journey through a city indelibly marked by his family.
At about 2:15, the procession is expected to wind its way through downtown, first passing through the North End, where his mother was born, then crossing the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway on its way to the State House, and ultimately passing the Bowdoin Street residence of President Kennedy when he first ran for Congress and the federal building that bears his name.
Crowds are encouraged to gather on Hanover Street along the Greenway, on City Hall Plaza, and on the Boston Common in front of the State House.
The procession will end at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, where Kennedy will lie in repose and visitors will be invited to pay their respects today and tomorrow.
There will be a massive outpouring of people who will want to view the remains, reminding members of Kennedy’s enormous popularity not only in the party, but with the average working American as well. TV images of the procession passing these Democratic touchstones will also serve to connect Ted to his martyred brothers thus making a direct appeal to generations of Democrats.
This is powerful stuff, and the news nets will milk coverage was well, seeing that events such as these will bring millions of eyeballs to their broadcasts who might not normally be watching.
Same thing happened when Reagan died, and for the same reasons. National tragedy is the honey that attracts millions of extra viewers and there’s no reason to complain about it.
There will apparently be no less than 3 memorial services; an invitation only event tomorrow night at the library (no word on whether it will be televised, although I can’t imagine it not). Then, the actual funeral mass at a Basilica on Mission Hill. Here, there will be “limited press access” which is probably short hand for pool reporting.
From there, more symbolism will be used as another procession will form, taking the casket to Logan Airport for the trip to Washington and a late afternoon burial at Arlington Cemetery.
President Obama is scheduled to give the eulogy on Saturday and will no doubt give it his usual best effort. How hard will he hit the meme of passing health care reform in Kennedy’s name? Hopefully, the guy isn’t completely tone deaf and will refrain from hammering the world wide audience over the head with references to it. However, it would be perfectly legitimate for Obama to specifically tout reform since Kennedy himself is quoted as saying the issue was central to his public life. Republicans will complain no matter what but the president must still strike a solemn balance between honoring Kennedy and taking care of politics.
A couple of interesting side notes. First, why no lying in state in the rotunda of the Capitol? It could be because they would then have to move the funeral mass to Washington, D.C. as protocol would dictate that any lying in state be conducted before the funeral rites. Plus, the funeral would have to be moved to a Sunday which, while permissible, is atypical in the Catholic church.
Secondly, there has been no announced Wellstone-style Congressional memorial service. It may not have been planned yet. Or, Democrats might be a little hesitant considering the grief they got following the tribute to Wellstone after his death from a plane crash in 2002.
Surely Al Franken is being disingenuous at best when he writes in HuffPo about that Wellstone tribute:
A pained Limbaugh asked his audience the day after the memorial: “Where was the grief? Where were the tears? Where was the memorial service? There wasn’t any of this!”
This was a lie. I was there. Along with everyone else, I cried, I laughed, I cheered. It was, to my mind, a beautiful four-hour memorial.
I didn’t boo. Neither did 22,800 of the some 23,000 people there. This has been a much discussed, much lied about aspect of the memorial. A number of Republicans, like Peggy Noonan and Weekly Standard writer Chris Caldwell claimed that 20,000 people had booed Trent Lott. (Caldwell claimed that 20,000 people booed a whole litany of people who weren’t booed at all.) We’ll never get an actual count - but I’d say about two hundred people booed Trent Lott when his face came on the Jumbotron. This was about a minute after 23,000 people cheered for Bill Clinton when his face appeared on the Jumbotron.
How does that square with an account from someone a little less partisan, William Saletan of Slate?
But the solemnity of death and the grace of Midwestern humor are overshadowed tonight by the angry piety of populism. Most of the event feels like a rally. The touching recollections are followed by sharply political speeches urging Wellstone’s supporters to channel their grief into electoral victory. The crowd repeatedly stands, stomps, and whoops. The roars escalate each time Walter Mondale, the former vice president who will replace Wellstone on the ballot, appears on the giant screens suspended above the stage. “Fritz! Fritz!” the assembly chants.
“Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning,” Wellstone declares in a videotaped speech shown on the overhead screens. “Politics is about improving people’s lives.” But as the evening’s speakers proceed, it becomes clear that to them, honoring Wellstone’s legacy is all about winning the election. Repeating the words of Wellstone’s son, the assembly shouts, “We will win! We will win!” Rick Kahn, a friend of Wellstone’s, urges everyone to “set aside the partisan bickering,” but in the next breath he challenges several Republican senators in attendance to “honor your friend” by helping to “win this election for Paul Wellstone.” What can he be thinking?
Franken is right. I watched the entire memorial service (I admired and liked Paul Wellstone even though I vehemently disagreed with him on almost everything he stood for.) It is true that 20,000 people did not boo Trent Lott. But unless those 200 phantom booers mentioned by Franken were right next to a microphone and had their numbers seem inflated, my guess would be more like 5,000 booed Lott, with even louder boos for Jesse Ventura, then governor. I seem to recall Denny Hastert also receiving a healthy round of boos but am not sure he was even there.
At any rate, Saletan’s description of the “Memorial Service” is spot on. Numerous speakers trashed Republicans - not just the two he mentioned. It could very well be that Franken - as rabid a partisan who has ever served in the senate - has an entirely different idea what partisan speechmaking is all about than normal people like you and me.
Whether it was planned to be a pep rally is not the point. That’s what it became and Democrats would do well to recall the reaction to press reports - including those bastions of right wing lying, the New York Times, and Time Magazine that led to at least a mini-backlash that could have cost Mondale the election.
But such an event might be a topper to what Democrats obviously hope will be an emotional outpouring in memory of Senator Kennedy which might translate into the political muscle necessary to ram through KennedyKare. In fact, one might expect the Democrats to try and stampede the issue into passing once Congress is back from their recess after Labor Day.
Would it work? The stampede, probably not. But I don’t see how the death of Ted Kennedy and the Democrat’s exploiting the emotional context of remembrance and history that will be on display, can do anything except help President Obama and the Congressional leadership realize some kind of health care bill before Thanksgiving.