The GOP Wants to Define Ted Kennedy's Funeral

There is nothing improper about speaking of the need for universal health care coverage at Ted Kennedy's funeral.

And yet the Republican Party will insist that there is.

It's a shame that our political exchange has come to this, but the GOP is preparing to pigeonhole any reference to health care at the Senator's upcoming funeral as playing politics.... That's right: they're going to play politics with a funeral by accusing others of playing politics with a funeral.

It's similar to the McCain campaign accusing Obama of playing the race card over an innocent comment about not looking like other presidents. Rick Davis' surprise tirade against "[playing] the race card" tried to heighten the issue of race in the 2008 campaign -- also known as 'playing the race card.'

The Republicans' exploitation of Kennedy's funeral is already underway.

Let's give Orrin Hatch and John McCain the benefit of the doubt and assume that their comments from this past weekend -- suggesting that Kennedy would disapprove of the way Senate Democrats are handling health care reform negotiations -- was a partisan attempt at flattering their beloved colleague. (Very much to the contrary of what Hatch and McCain said, Chris Dodd had been keeping Kennedy up to date on the markup.)

Nevertheless, early Wednesday morning, conservatives were already crying 'Wellstone!' You'll remember that Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash just as his 2002 reelection campaign was winding down. Conservatives insisted that a memorial service for him was in bad taste -- that it was more of a campaign rally for his replacement, Walter Mondale.

"A Wellstone Memorial on steroids?" Glenn Reynolds sleazily suggested of Democrats mourning Kennedy, adding, "And how did that work out?" As Ben Smith noted, the Wellstone meme is picking up steam in the conservative blogosphere. In no time at all, cable news and mainline political pundits will be tut-tutting the supporters of universal health care for exploiting Ted Kennedy.

This is a stick-up, plain and simple. It's mugging the cause of health care reform of its greatest champion. We've seen it before -- in the same family, no less. How many times have you heard a Republican assailing "big government" trot out the old talking point that JFK was actually a supply-sider?

In the last few weeks, Republican activists have shown that by bullying, by shouting and ranting and carrying on, they can change the subject. Don't let them do it. Not this time.

If someone says that it is inappropriate to speak of Ted Kennedy when advocating for real health care reform, that person ought to be told, 'You must not know much about Ted Kennedy, because affordable universal health care was the cause of his life.'

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