Finally, we cannot have a fair prosperity in isolation from a fair society. So I will continue to stand for a national health insurance. We must -- We must not surrender -- We must not surrender to the relentless medical inflation that can bankrupt almost anyone and that may soon break the budgets of government at every level. Let us insist on real controls over what doctors and hospitals can charge, and let us resolve that the state of a family's health shall never depend on the size of a family's wealth.
The President, the Vice President, the members of Congress have a medical plan that meets their needs in full, and whenever senators and representatives catch a little cold, the Capitol physician will see them immediately, treat them promptly, fill a prescription on the spot. We do not get a bill even if we ask for it, and when do you think was the last time a member of Congress asked for a bill from the Federal Government? And I say again, as I have before, if health insurance is good enough for the President, the Vice President, the Congress of the United States, then it's good enough for you and every family in America.
--Sen. Edward Kennedy, speech to the 1980 Democratic convention
As I wrote yesterday, the death of Ted Kennedy can't help but affect the current debate on healthcare reform. A leader on many points, Kennedy made healthcare one of his signature issues. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that there are calls to name the final healthcare bill in his honor and, also in his honor, to make certain that final bill is worth the paper it's written on. It was practically inevitable.
Also inevitable was the Republican response to these calls. Never ones to resist their baser political instincts, the right has gone on a preemptive strike against Kennedy's memory. His death must not be politicized, they argue, because this would be... I don't know, it's not the best argument. The man dedicated his entire adult life to public service through politics, so how could his death be seen through any other lens?
Still, the preemptive counter attack has been mounted. The argument that Kennedy's death must not be politicized is, in itself, a political statement. In what other profession would anyone argue that the job must not be discussed at the funeral? If Kennedy had followed his football career and joined the Green Bay Packers, as he had the opportunity to do after leaving college, would anyone argue that it would just be wrong to remember him as a professional football player or to talk about the game after he was gone? Would that be considered unseemly or wrong?
I doubt anyone would make that argument. Yet the right is already working to plant that seed in people's minds. Ted Kennedy's death must not be political, because that would just be the worst thing ever. Don't ask why it'd be the worst thing, it just would. Now shut up and eat your status quo.
Key conservative voices have begun to charge in the day after Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death that Democrats are inappropriately politicizing the senator’s death, his memorial and his legacy.
Kennedy was that ultimate political creature, a “lion of the Senate,” and the last son of the archetypal American political family -- his passing is inevitably political. In his final days, he focused on a narrow political goal, pleading with state leaders to change state law to posthumously fill his Senate seat with an interim appointee who would be a vote in favor of the health care legislation he championed.
So his allies on the left have made no secret of their hopes that his legacy will serve to bolster the uncertain health reform plan, with Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) even suggesting the bill be named for Kennedy.
And that has some influential conservative voices sounding the alarm and calling foul.
"Placing [Kennedy’s] name on a health-care bill, in memoriam, or using his name as a sympathy ploy to advance a health care bill that would deny Americans the choices Sen. Kennedy had is an insult and is supreme hypocrisy," said Rush Limbaugh. "The senator's passing is going to give them the opportunity to use the sympathy play to get as much done in his name as possible... No government was a partner with God in Ted Kennedy's death. To put his name on this current health-care bill would be to insult what he stood for."
As if Rush Freakin' Limbaugh had any idea what Ted Kennedy stood for. Maybe we should ask the wolf how to honor the shepherd. It's Limbaugh who's politicizing the death here, not Kennedy's supporters. Rush Limbaugh, drug-addled talk radio blowhard, is trying to set the parameters for acceptable speech remembering the Lion of the Senate. I can't imagine anyone we should discount so much as Limbaugh on this point -- and I gave it a good try.
And conservatives are turning to another death they'd previously politicized this way -- that of Sen. Paul Wellstone in 2002. In his book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Al Franken describes what happened with that memorial:
Paul died on October 25, 2002, when his plane went down in Northern Minnesota. Sheila; their daughter, Marcia; his driver, Will McLaughlin; two other close aides, Tom Lapic and Mary McEvoy; and two pilots died with him. Four days later, C-SPAN, along with almost every Minnesota TV and radio station, carried a hastily-put-together memorial service for Paul, Sheila, Marcia, Will, Tom, and Mary. I was there. It was a beautiful memorial, sometimes incredibly sad, sometimes funny, sometimes rowdy, and sometimes political. Some people watching on television were offended. Some people were moved. But the right saw an opening. They took moments out of context, lied about the rest, and used it as a political club to attack the Democrats. It won them the Senate election in Minnesota and probably in Missouri, which means it gave Republicans control of the Senate.
This chapter is a case study of how the right lies and viciously distorts. It is the story of how the right-wing media repeats its fabrications until they echo into the mainstream press. It is a story of pure cynicism in pursuit of power. It is the story of how the lying liars took the death of my friends and invented a myth that changed the 2002 elections.
It should be pointed out that Wellstone died during a re-election campaign. And Wellstone, like Kennedy, had made it his life's work to be a crusader. But when mourners mentioned that crusade or talked about the campaign they were all engaged in just days before, they found that speech was verboten. People who'd never met him and many who literally hated him jumped in and declared the memorial beneath the dignity of this fine public servant. How dare these people who actually knew him use his death to talk about him and his work?
"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," warns Sean Hannity -- a man who didn't know Kennedy, hates his causes, and probably did a little dance when he heard the news of his death. All of a sudden, Sean Hannity is concerned about Kennedy's memory. I guess because he had so much respect for him.
Don't believe it for a second.
Unlike Wellstone's funeral, Kennedy's will be private. If mourners want to make it all about politics, why should Limbaugh or Hannity care? What right do these people think they have to crash a funeral and start declaring this or that the wrong sort of memorial? What right do they have to decide how those who knew him and actually loved him remember him?
I can answer that; it's a right they give themselves. For them, nothing is off limits. Want to attack someone's family? Hey, knock yourself out. Want to attack someone for their infirmities? Do a little chair dance. Hell, politicizing someone after their death is the Republican way. During the 2008 Republican primary, they all came within inches of climbing into the coffin with Ronald Reagan and putting on his shoes. People thought that was a little ridiculous, but I don't remember anyone declaring it an insult to the Gipper's memory.
It's Republicans who are politicizing Kennedy's memory here, by preemptively declare certain memorials off-limits. "It was the Republicans that tried to cheapen Paul Wellstone's life by dishonoring his death," wrote Franken. "It was the right-wing media, not the friends and family who spoke at the memorial or the people who came to it, that seized an opportunity to use a tragedy for political gain."
And they'll do it again. Because they're shameless. Ignore the wagging fingers, they never liked Ted Kennedy anyway. His political enemies have no business directing his funeral for those who loved him.
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