Politicize a Funeral? Last Time, It Didn’t Turn Out Well

As Paul noted last night, Democrats (and some Republicans) turned John McCain’s funeral into an orgy of Trump-bashing. Evidently they thought it made political sense. It reminds me of another politicized funeral, 16 years ago.

In the fall of 2002, Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone was running for re-election against Norm Coleman. Tim Pawlenty was running his first race for Governor. And, of course, it was the first midterm election of George W. Bush’s presidency. In the last days of the campaign, Wellstone’s campaign airplane crashed in northern Minnesota, killing Wellstone and a number of others. Former Vice-President Walter Mondale was hurriedly recruited to replace Wellstone on the ticket.

And leading Democrats from around the country assembled in the Twin Cities for Wellstone’s funeral. The funeral was broadcast live to the nation. To the shock of most who watched, the Democrats turned Wellstone’s funeral into a partisan hate-fest. Reaction was overwhelmingly negative.

Coleman went on to defeat Mondale handily. Pawlenty won his first term. And nationally, Republicans gained seats in both the House and the Senate. Revulsion against the Democrats’ politicized funeral was widely credited as a factor in Republicans’ success.

Scott and I started Power Line at the end of May of that year, and Paul joined us later in the Summer. It was Minnesota’s central role in the 2002 elections that gave this site its initial influx of readers from around the country.

Will the politicizing of McCain’s funeral by anti-Trumpers have a similar boomerang effect? Probably not to the same degree; standards have declined considerably since 2002. But it won’t help the anti-Trumpers’ cause, just as similar anti-Trump speeches at Aretha Franklin’s funeral won’t be helpful.

What can we conclude if there is a funeral for Person A, and the “eulogies” are mostly about Person B? For one thing, Person B is obviously a heck of a lot more important than Person A. John McCain was heroic in some ways, notoriously small-minded in others. It is perhaps a fitting coda to his career that his funeral was mostly about someone else.

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