Hijacking grief

By Barbara Simpson

We lost more than our virginity with the Clinton administration. Some say we lost all sense of decency and propriety – to say nothing of morality and scraped the bottom of the barrel.

Wrong. It’s worse than that.

This is about raw politics … and we know that has nothing to do with decency, propriety or morality. It does often, however, have to do with sex, but even that wasn’t part of this latest scandalous behavior.

If you saw or heard any of the so-called “memorial service” for Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, you know what I mean.

Let’s get this straight. A senator running for re-election, was killed in the crash of a small plane on a campaign flight. Everyone on board died – eight people. Wellstone, his wife, his daughter, three campaign aides and two pilots were killed in the crash, and fire that destroyed virtually the entire plane.

Under normal circumstances, this is a shock – to family, the state, the Congress. But these are not normal circumstances. This is just before an election in the midst of a campaign that wasn’t a Wellstone shoo-in. Because of that, the deaths were also a shock for Democrat politics and the Party.

Almost instantly, after first news reports, self-interest kicked in, and what resulted was the most disgraceful illustration of the hijacking of grief anyone has seen.

They called it a “memorial service.” What a misnomer. Any thought that the loss of Sen. Wellstone was the reason for the gathering at the University of Minnesota was quickly dispelled. The only thing that happened was the sacrifice of decency at the altar of pragmatism.

Several thousand people showed up, as did the stars of democratic politics – including names like Gore and Kennedy – who all received rousing ovations and cheers.

At a memorial service?

Sen. Hillary Clinton attended, as did her husband, the ubiquitous former president who was cheered wildly and clearly relished it. Throughout the event, the Clintons along with everyone else laughed, shouted, clapped and cheered. Not for the deceased, but for the party and the election.

At a memorial service?

Vice-President Dick Cheney was said to have been disinvited with the excuse that security would have to be too tight. Really?

Republican senators Trent Lott and Phil Gramm were there, thinking they were attending a service to honor the dead.

Wrong again. As they entered, they were roundly and loudly booed.
No doubt there about crowd partisanship.

At a memorial service?

There were no tears, no grim faces, no lamentations. I know it was mentioned that three members of the Wellstone family were killed, but I’m not sure there was any mention of the other five people also killed. So much for decency.

At a memorial service?

Television audiences were treated to a wild, loud and clearly orchestrated political rally with music that lasted four hours.

At a memorial service?

It was a rally for the party and the election, an opportunity to gin up voters to “win it for Paul.” Even before being officially named to fill Wellstone’s candidacy, Walter Mondale was “the one” and was part of the festivities. Some politicians never die, they just live to run again

Perhaps the most political speech that night was by Wellstone campaign treasurer Rick Kahn, though he wasn’t the only one. But saddest of all was the performance of Mark Wellstone, the youngest son. He started chanting “we will win” over and over, louder and louder, until the crowd picked it up and it ended in a cheering frenzy.

To be kind, you might say he was overcome with grief and was out of control. I wouldn’t believe it. He was aided, abetted and encouraged by people in the party older than he. They could have – and should have – known better. They clearly took advantage of him to benefit their own ends. It was the Party against decency, and the Party won. Again.

Were they ashamed? Hah! Democrat spokesmen were on television the next day defending the whole sorry display.

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, always his own man, was so disgusted that he walked out. He threatens to appoint an average Minnesotan to fill Wellstone’s seat ’til the session is over. Way to go, Jesse!

The lesson here is not that Democrats have no shame. We knew that. The lesson is that they will do anything to win – including dancing on the graves of their own. With an enemy like that, the GOP had better realize how tough the battle and how high the stakes. They should already know that.