McCain resurrects the Wellstone memorial disaster

Leave it to the Democrats, and anti-Trump Republicans, two groups that can certainly be lumped together, to use two separate memorials to hold a political rally, to criticize the sitting president of the United States.

Two well known and important people passed away this past week: singer Aretha Franklin and senator John McCain.  Both had memorial services attended by the political high and mighty, and both services received extensive coverage on cable news.  Both, rather than serving as a last chance to honor and bury the dead, instead served as a political forum to focus on President Trump.  It's what one would expect at a campaign rally, not at a memorial service.

Let's start with Aretha Franklin.

Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson, rather than honoring the Queen of Soul, took the occasion to demean the president, saying, "You lugubrious leech, you dopey doppelgänger of deceit and deviance, you lethal liar, you dimwitted dictator, you foolish fascist, she ain't work for you."  So classy.

Al Sharpton, onetime presidential candidate and now MSNBC cable news host, took his dig, too: "You know, the other Sunday on my show, I misspelled 'Respect,' and a lot of y'all corrected me.  Now, I want y'all to help me correct President Trump to teach him what it means."

Jesse Jackson, a two-time presidential candidate, made a pitch for voter registration.  "We have long lines to celebrate death, and short lines for voting.  Something is missing.  If you leave here today and don't register to vote, you're dishonoring Aretha."

Compare this to President Trump's message after Aretha's passing: "The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, is dead," Trump wrote.  "She was a great woman, with a wonderful gift from God, her voice.  She will be missed!"

Short, classy, and sincere.  Not the least bit political – even though there is little doubt whom Aretha voted for in 2016.

Next was Senator McCain's memorial.  His daughter and cohost of The View took the opportunity to slam Trump.  "We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness," she said.  "The real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege."

Forgetting she was at her father's memorial and not on The View, she channeled her inner Joy Behar and added this: "The America of John McCain does not need to be made great again, because America was always great."

Former president George W. Bush was a bit more subtle in his anti-Trump rhetoric, saying, "John's voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder – we are better than this, America is better than this."  Yes, this is the same George W. Bush who had not a single word of criticism to say during President Obama's eight years of fundamentally transforming America.  Since Trump was elected, Bush's voice magically returned.

Speaking of Obama, he too took a swipe at Trump: "So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, tracking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage."

That's rich coming from Obama.  I wonder if he has forgotten the "phony controversy" he created with his administration accusing Trump of colluding with the Russians, trying to derail Trump's election, transition, and presidency.  Or the "manufactured outrage" he pushed on the country with the bogus "hands up, don't shoot" lie.

The president, on McCain's passing, tweeted out a short, classy, and appropriate message: "My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain.  Our hearts and prayers are with you!"  No politics.  No swipes.

Where was President Trump during all of this?  Leave it to Newsweek to tweet about Trump playing golf during McCain's funeral service, as if he deliberately chose to snub Senator McCain and his family.  It seems Newsweek forgot this part of the story: "McCain doesn't want Trump at funeral, friends tell White House."  Would the liberals at Newsweek have preferred that Trump crash the service, against the wishes of McCain?

President Trump was not the only one surprisingly left off the memorial invite list.  McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, was also disinvited.  Palin, who was plucked out of obscurity to be McCain's V.P., was hung out to dry by McCain's campaign chiefs, and yet she never criticized McCain in the years after their election loss.  Some gratitude.

The McCain family did invite Jared and Ivanka Kushner to the memorial service.  Imagine how unpleasant it was for them, listening to a disgraceful pile-on against their father during what should have been a serious occasion.

Do the Trump-haters really believe they are winning converts to their cause?  Or are they driving voters away from the Democrats and deranged NeverTrumps onto the Trump train?

Democrats have a short memory and don't learn from their mistakes.  In 2002, Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone died in an airplane crash, 11 days before the senator was to stand for re-election.  A memorial service was held, and it didn't go quite as planned.  Rather than honoring the deceased, it was turned into a political rally.

As Time remembers the service:

A backlash against the politically charged service almost certainly helped Norm Coleman beat Walter Mondale for Wellstone's Minnesota Senate seat.  And a private poll by Bill Clinton's former pollster, Mark Penn, suggests the service backfired on Democrats nationally as well.

Those who don't remember the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.  The McCain memorial will be this generation's Wellstone memorial.  Senator McCain is already a controversial figure, disliked by many conservatives and liked by Democrats only because he was a thorn in Trump's side.  The memorial service antics won't win him any additional supporters.

Turning his memorial, as well as Aretha Franklin's, into a political rally could likely have the same effect on the midterms as the Wellstone memorial did two decades ago.  How generous of the Democrats to unintentionally provide two "yuge" campaign rallies for Republicans.

Brian C Joondeph, M.D., MPS is a Denver-based physician and writer.  Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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