Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Reagan's flying kung fu kick displaces Wellstone's sonic sumo slap

This was all originally posted here.

How goes? Well, I hope. Anyway, since you mentioned me in your blog post but you don't have comments on yer own blog, I guess we might as well resume our discussion here.

Hey Darcy, good to hear from you. Is NY being good to you?

Sorry about my blog not having a comments section – as soon as I figure out how to add one, or if Blogspot even supports them, I'll add it. In the meantime, either on Lindsay's site or my LJ is cool with me.

First, I think by focussing only on the content of Dick Cheney's speech, you are missing the larger picture. It it seriously your contention that the death of Ronald Reagan hasn't been politicized by the right? If you click on the this article? Indeed, are there any pundits on the right who have not been peddling the "Bush is the heir to Reagan's legacy, so help W. win one for the gipper" line this week? Cheney doesn't have to make that that point explicitly during the memorial service because his surrogates have been making it for him all week. Why do you think we even have this drawn-out, week-long Reagapalooza in the first place? (For comparison purposes, I note that JFK was in the ground within three days.)

There are several different issues you raise here, and I was only discussing one of them. What interested me the issue of the Wellstone/Reagan memorials is the nature of taste, and what can be defended as non-subjectively tasteful within the context of given ceremonies. Similar questions, I'm sure, could be posed about weddings, e.g. are shows like “Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire?” tasteful within the confines of what is appropriate for a wedding. My contention was that if the event is a memorial service, then Reagan's was handled tastefully and appropriately, while Wellstone's was handled inappropriately.

The issue of how “the right” or the media have reacted to the Reagan death is a separate political question, and there I'm a little more conflicted. Perhaps too much time was spent between Reagan's death and his actual burial, but I could see a good case made that, given how many people wanted to pay tribute and how many were turned away, that there was justifiable cause for the time that passed.

(I don't know that Kennedy's funeral had a component where the public were allowed to walk up to and pass the flag-draped coffin. Had his funeral featured something like that, say, a day or two in DC and another day or two in Boston, it probably would have taken the same five days Reagan's burial took.)

The issue of how the punditocracy handled the Reagan death is a compelling one, but it seems to me that there's more latitude there. As I wrote in my original posting, no one would've cared if Mondale led a rally as a separate event in which people chanted, “We will win” or “Win it for Paul!” If that follows, I don't think it would necessarily be improper for Republicans to do the same with Reagan, though I could see how even then, you can overdo it. It goes back to the purpose of events in the first place. The purpose of a rally is to energize the attendees and get them excited about their cause. The purpose of the memorial is to pay tribute to the memory of a person's life and character.

Parenthetically, I don't know that it would help the GOP that much to evoke Reagan, because Bush 43 doesn't look too well in contrast. (They still might, but it might backfire). See this 1975 interview with Reagan from Reason magazine – Reagan knows his libertarian economists and philosophers. I doubt Bush 43 even knows who those people are. Still, I guess on balance Reagan's memory is better for Bush than for Kerry ideologically, but even that's debatable. Speaking as someone who admires (with some reservations) Reagan's presidency, I tend to think he makes both Bush and Kerry look bad in comparison.

Inside Ronald Reagan: A Reason Interview
Reason Magazine, July 1975

I also think you have an incredibly distorted view of what actually went on at the Wellstone memorial. If I recall correctly, you said at the time that you did not actually watch the memorial on television, only a few isolated clips. (You can watch the whole thing here though the link isn't Mac-friendly.) I know the conventional wisdom is that it was more pep rally than memorial, but frankly the conventional wisdom is bullshit. There were eight eulogies, all given by close friends and family, all tributes to Wellstone the man.

You're right, I hadn't watched the memorial in its entirety (it's over 2 hours – my time's not really worth it). But I don't think I need to in order to establish my point.

Consider this example. Suppose you attend a funeral that lasts all day. The ceremony lasts forever, but every step is done right – with a solemn air of respect, not a single misstep. But in the remaining ten minutes, the priest interrupts the service and takes out a portable TV and turns out a Red Sox game, eager to catch up on the scores. Now, would it be necessary to watch the entire service to determine whether this was an inappropriate action? I'd say no, you wouldn't. Had you attended and seen the entire service, the thing that would stick out most in your mind would be the priest taking out the TV for the game. And you'd be able to judge it as inappropriate, regardless of how much of the rest of the service you saw, because you have an idea of what is acceptable within the context of a funeral service.

Now, for the record, I did know that a goodly chunk of the service was non-partisan. When I found the link I provided to audio of all the speeches, and I noticed that all the people who died in the crash had separate eulogies, and I remembered that it was only Rick Kahn, Wellstone's son and Sen. Harkin who were quoted. Still, as with the analogy above, I don't think that changes anything. If I do something inappropriate during a ceremony, the appropriateness of the rest of the ceremony doesn't make it any less inappropriate. And it wasn't just what Kahn, Wellstone and Harkin said – it was the booing at people who attended, it was having the camera pan to Mondale whenever they talked about carrying on Wellstone's fight, the chants of “Fritz! Fritz! Fritz!,” etc.

It's true that Rick Kahn -- Wellstone's best friend in life -- did close his eulogy with a political call to arms. But that was maybe three minutes out of a three-hour ceremony.

I believe the quotation was: “We can redeem the sacrifice of his life if you help us win this election for Paul Wellstone.” Absolutely inappropriate, even as a throw-away line. I can't even begin to imagine the outcry if Cheney said, just as an aside, “We can redeem the sacrifice of his life if you help us win this election for Ronald Reagan.”

It's also true that at one point, Paul's son Mark led the crowd in a chant of "We will win!" But to me, it seemed like he was referring not to the upcoming Senate race, but to the greater victory of Wellstone's liberal ideals -- principles that were more important to him than anything else, principles he fought for all his life.

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. But even so, whoever heard of chanting a rallying cry, even if was about these ideals, at a memorial? Rallying cries belong at rallies.

(You're not going to tell me that no one has used the death of Reagan to call for an expansion of Reagan's political legacy, are you? Paging Grover Norquist...)

I am, actually. As I mentioned above, I distinguish between what one does at a memorial, and what one does at a rally. I even said that no one would have cared if Mondale himself invoked the memory of Wellstone to win votes. Which he did, by the way – see the dutifully archived Mondale for Senate webpages:

Mondale for Senate - Nov. 1st, 2002
Mondale for Senate - Nov. 3rd, 2002
Mondale for Senate - Nov. 17th, 2002 (unchanged since Election Day).

Also note that on the post-death Wellstone.org, there is a link provided for the Minnesota DFL Party, and the suggestion about how to carry on Wellstone's work. This is relatively trivial – the blurb isn't even the major focus of the site. (Still, I wonder how people might've reacted if the Reagan Library's site had a blurb about carrying on Reagan's work and linked to the GOP's webpage).

Wellstone.org circa November 6, 2002

My other point at the time was that even if you found some of Mark Wellstone's remarks inappropriate, that it took some serious fucking chutzpah for Paul Wellstone's political opponents to go around reaming out his son, who had just days before lost his father, mother and sister in a plane crash, about precisely how he chose to eulogize his father. If you're seriously concerned about matters of taste, don't you agree it's in rather bad taste for people like Rush Limbaugh and Peggy Noonan to rake Mark Wellstone over the coals so soon after half his immediate family was suddenly wiped out?

Had I been a pundit at the time (ha, me, being taken seriously by either the right or left-wing media...), I certainly would've given Mark Wellstone much more benefit of the doubt, given what had just happened to his family. There's a difference between observing that a certain action is wrong or distasteful, and giving the person who committed some slack because you know the context of that person's act. That certainly wouldn't let Kahn or Harkin off the hook, though, or the idiots who booed Lott when he arrived. They knew what they were doing. But this is just a question of proper emphasis, not of kind.

And I don't think one's status as a family member gives one a moral carte blanche to do whatever one wants at a memorial service, particularly when the service is for a public figure and is highly televised. Going back to the Red Sox example, or the Gameboy example, or any other example you can think of, being a family member doesn't make the action any more acceptable. I'd have to re-read the Noonan piece (I just recall the gimmick, of it being a letter from Heaven, being kind of stupid, obscuring whatever good points she might have had).

Finally, while I obviously dispute your claim that Reagan's memorial proceedings have been a model of decorum, restraint, and bipartisan goodwill, and that the Wellstone's memorial was nothing but a crass anti-Republican hate-fest, even if both those claims

What's wrong with anything that was done at the Reagan memorial itself? Were any Democrats booed when they walked in? Was Kerry asked to drop the partisanship and work to get Bush reelected? Besides, I didn't say "nothing but" a hatefest - I never used those words - but the Memorial is known for the startling partisanship.

were true, I don't really see what's wrong with the "politicization" of the the death of political figures. Paul Wellstone and Ronald Reagan both spent the better part of their lives fighting for their respective political ideals, so I guess I don't really understand why you think it's somehow inappropriate to mention those ideals when they pass on. I mean, I don't have a transcript of the eulogies given at MLK's memorial in front of me, but I think it's a pretty safe bet that at some point, someone might have mentioned Dr. King's work in the civil rights movement, and suggested that fighting for the continuation of his political legacy would be a suitable way to memorialize the man.

I never said that one couldn't mention it, or that one had to pretend that it was unimportant. But there are tasteful, and distasteful ways to do it. I could point to the Reagan memorial as a way to tastefully recall their political ideals, and the Wellstone memorial as how not to do it. They remembered Reagan as one of the prime movers hastened the fall of Communism, who did good things for the economy, etc. For example, Bush 43 noted in his talk:

“And then he spoke of communist rulers as slavemasters, of a government in Washington that had far overstepped its proper limits, of a time for choosing that was drawing near. In the space of a few years, he took ideas and principles that were mainly found in journals and books, and turned them into a broad, hopeful movement ready to govern.”

Not very kind to Communists, I guess, but nothing in the talk that directly disparaged Democrats or said, “Reelect me!” I didn't care for the God talk, but then, given that all the parties involved are religious, and upwards of 80-85% of US citizens are, that's probably unavoidable. Wellstone's likewise could have been done in way that left little doubt about his work as a politician, or his progressive ideals, without being obnoxious, less than somber, or rude to colleagues and friends from the other side of the aisle.


Blogger Moon God said...


Saturday, June 19, 2004 1:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice new setup! Very slick.


Saturday, June 19, 2004 3:56:00 PM  

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