Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Using the Dead

One side benefit of the StarTribune's recent redesign is that I save fulmination time several days a week by missing Katherine Kersten's column. Kersten, for you readers who live outside the Minnesota orbit and don't subscribe to the online edition, is a resolutely right-wing rosary mom who enrolled at Carleton College at the time I was there, took one horrified look, and quickly fled to the sacred confines of Notre Dame.

After a stint with the conservative Center of the American Experiment — from which she periodically lobbed wretchedly cobbled together opinion pieces — Kersten was signed by the Strib as a "local" columnist, which means her political pieces based on Republican talking points don't appear on the editorial page. But they reliably generate more reader reaction than public financing of new stadiums, indictments of Republican officials and the woes of Vikings put together. Local bloggers are so virulent about her that I can't even link to their comments and maintain the shaky dignity of ATGD.

Her next-to-latest column begins with a Kersten favorite technique, using the arch "quote" as a cudgel:

Paul Wellstone's death was a tragedy that united all Minnesotans in grief. But as we remember the sorrow, it's also important to remember the "memorial service" — three years ago Saturday — that went notoriously awry.

Kersten goes on to "explain" why Minnesota voters passed over the impeccable statesman Walter Mondale for the opportunistic narcissist Norm Coleman, carefully expressing his grief in the staged media event below...

It was resentment that some Wellstone supporters were cynically willing to exploit what is best in human nature — the unifying empathy for personal tragedy — and subvert it to partisan political ends. Their action was consistent with the '60s battle cry: "The personal is political." That world view holds that nothing human is higher than politics, or too private or sacred to be turned to political purposes.

The Wellstone rally was a huge miscalculation. Yet today, the left continues to use grief to achieve political goals.

Norm Coleman, joined by his wife, Laurie, talked about his memories of Paul Wellstone in front of their St. Paul home. "I had the greatest respect for his passion. He was a fighter." —Photo, Duane Braley, AP

Had Kersten "truly" been united in grief with the mourners, she would have seen the three-plus hours for what they were — an extraordinary outpouring of tribute and love interrupted by 20 minutes of pain expressed by a profoundly anguished man who was trying to emulate the oratorical style of his hero and friend.

Her take is so egregiously wrong that the only possible explanation is Kersten is projecting her own warped views onto the mourners — as well as Cindy Sheehan — for seeking "political mileage from a personal tragedy." For the political mileage clearly came from the spin applied by the Republicans, who could have empathized with Rick Kahn's pain, but chose to pounce on his faux pas and falsely characterize the entire proceedings as a "rally."

What else would a loving memorial to Paul Wellstone resemble? What kind of people would you expect to speak?

I can imagine golfer John Daly's friends slugging impossibly long drives over the water, cigarettes dangling from their mouths. Don't you suppose Jimmy Swaggert's service will resemble a revival meeting? Will Jay Leno go down to nothing but the strains of the Miserere? I think Bruce Cockburn means it when he sings:

Tie me at the crossroads when I die
Hang me in the wind 'til I get good and dry
And the kids that pass can scratch their heads
And say "who was that guy?"
Tie me at the crossroads when I die

I still burn remembering the dessicated priest who discouraged testimonials at my father's funeral — because people might go on too long or bring up inappropriate memories — and then delivered a generic eulogy, as if my father had given little to the church, done nothing for the community and raised a cookie cutter family. Had the priest been in charge of the Wellstone service, Norm Coleman would be shilling for the Center of the American Experiment instead of tormenting Kofi Annan.

Since Cut-and-Paste Katherine needs to read it somewhere before an idea can show up in her writing, let's break it down.

Of course the living use the dead, because death confers temporal power. Why should we let the memories of those we knew and loved trickle away if we can wrench more meaning from their lives?

Cindy Sheehan is using her son's death to try to save more young people from dying.
Mothers Against Drug Driving are using their childrens' deaths to try to save more young people from dying.
Every day there are people using the deaths of loved ones to try to combat AIDS, breast cancer, suicide and gang violence.
I use the death of my mother to express empathy for those who have lost their mothers.
Black Americans use the death of Rosa Parks to advance the ideal of racial equality.
Christians use the death of Jesus to represent love, forgiveness and salvation.

Is this cynical exploitation of death? Or is it honoring life? Oh, wait, this is how we honor life:

George Bush using the death of some po' boys he never met to justify deaths of still others he will never know.
Congressmen posturing over Terri Schiavo.
Abortion clinic protestors harrassing strangers with photos of anonymous fetuses.

Who do you suppose is more cynical? Rick Kahn or Bill Frist?


Blogger Lars Ostrom said...

I had no idea this wingnut existed. Turns out there is an upside to not reading the local (offline) paper every day.

You forgot to mention the latest use of the dead for questionable political purposes: the photo op for Judge Alito (author of several dissents characterized by an indifference to racial discrimination) viewing Rosa Parks.

Once the initial flash of anger subsides, I do feel sorry for these folks. They are pining for a nationwide return to a non-existent romanticized version of 1955, and this will never, ever come to pass. Kersten in particular seems destined to live the rest of her life in a continuously escalating state of humorless panic and anxiety.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone ticked off at the Reps dissing Paul Wellstone and Rosa Parks funerals should write a check to Wellstone Action


8:41 PM  

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