I join those who have condemned the Democrats' conversion of the Wellstone memorial service into a crass partisan extravaganza, but there was something even worse about the event. It was a shocking exhibition of liberal hubris and idolatry.
The ceremony was more about idolizing liberal politics and politicians than honoring the life of Senator Paul Wellstone. If the tone and substance of the various speakers there are any indication, the national Democratic Party has become even more afflicted with the sin of pride. It's almost scary how seriously they take themselves.
Did you hear Senator Harkin intoning like an 18th century pastor? Except he was paying homage to secular gods: the welfare state and its liberal Democrat benefactors. The memory of Paul Wellstone was simply a prop -- a metaphor for salvific liberalism.
Harkin implored the congregation, "For Paul, will you stand up and keep fighting for better wages, for those who mop our floors and clean our bathrooms, for those who take care of our elderly, take care of our sick, teach our kids and help our homeless? Say yes!"
But the clincher was from Wellstone campaign Treasurer Rick Kahn, who cried, "We can redeem the sacrifice of his life if you help us win this election for Paul Wellstone." What? I don't doubt that Paul Wellstone was, by all accounts, a well-meaning public servant -- though I radically disagree with his politics. But "sacrifice" and "redemption"? Isn't that carrying things a bit far?
For all the spiritual imagery about Wellstone, ultimately, this was not about him but about advancing the interests of the party, a fact best illustrated by one speaker's crowd-stupefying chant of "We will win! We will win! We will win!"
Though party leaders have denied this unseemly display was a premeditated ruse to energize Democratic voters with four free hours of national televised dependency-pandering propaganda, there can be little doubt that's what it was. If you dispute this, how do you explain the other "coincidental" invocations of Wellstone's name by Democrats throughout the nation on behalf of their candidates (first reported by Fox News' Brit Hume).
Al Gore, stumping in Maine on Monday, said, "If Paul Wellstone were here, he'd say, 'Vote Democratic, and stand up for the little guy.'"
Senator Tom Daschle, campaigning in Iowa for Tom Harkin, talked of "a new chemistry among Democrats," and added, "I think people lament Paul Wellstone's passing and want to do this in part for him."
And Senator Hillary Clinton, speaking for New York gubernatorial hopeful Carl McCall, said, "I see a direct connection between our loss on Friday of someone who really was a unique force in American politics and the campaign that Carl McCall is waging."
Apart from the perfunctory apology from Minnesota Democratic officials once they realized their gambit (of exploiting the memorial for partisan purposes) had backfired, Democratic spokesmen were indignant that Republicans would criticize the service.
Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway told Sean Hannity that Republicans were complaining about the event because "they just want to muzzle people they disagree with." We can see that Clintonesque punditry is still alive and well, and its talking points are as bogus and bizarre as ever.
But the most insidious rationalization for their indefensible behavior is that the service was conducted with the blessing of Senator Wellstone's sons, so no one has a right to question it. Don't fall for that.
Though Wellstone's children deserve enormous sympathy, we don't have to relinquish our standards in deference to their compromised judgment at this most stressful of times. This is analogous to Clinton defenders saying the public had no right to judge Clinton for adultery since Hillary, as the aggrieved spouse, had forgiven it. We should not base our standards of decorum on the unilateral wishes and behavior of victims or the aggrieved. Let's separate our sympathy from our ethical judgments.
The Wellstone children, especially in their grieving process, are vulnerable to being used by those who stand to benefit from their father's death. Meaning no offense, I think this is precisely what happened when party hotshots pressured Mrs. Carnahan to become the de facto substitute for her late husband on the Missouri senatorial ballot following his death in a plane crash? In neither case does the family's sanctioning of the party's manipulation excuse it.
Indeed, there is no excuse for the party's descent to new depths of coarseness with the Wellstone political memorial. But this party and its honchos are so intoxicated with their own sense of indispensability that it probably never occurs to them how appalling their behavior is. It's truly a shame.