Sunday, 30 August 2009

Next week, George Nash will bemoan the fact that we’ve never had a white President. I ignore those who insist that there’s something untoward about discussing the life’s work of a man at his own funeral—they can begin with his 1970 Health Security Act and work their way forward to the Kennedy-Dodd bill of 2009 on their own. I decline, that is, to say that had I insisted on codifying my ideological commitments in a Senate bill a month before my passing, I would have done so because those commitments were so important to me in life that I wanted them to define my death. Because, in the end, giving one’s natural death to a cherished cause differs from dying for it only by dint of circumstance and timing: to accomplish with one’s death what one fought for in life is the wish of the true believer, and there is nothing untoward in that. But, as I said, there will be none of that. Instead, I will marvel at the stentorian stupidity of George H. Nash, who received a degree in History from Harvard in 1973 then promptly forget everything he learned earning it. To Nash, the death of Edward Kennedy represents an opportunity to bemoan “a disconcerting historical trend: the royalization of American politics.” Strangely, he does not begin his investigations with the many powerful branches of the Adams or Walker family trees (despite the former being the most prominent and the latter being the most recent). Instead, he claims that from Theodore Roosevelt to Franklin Roosevelt to the Kennedys and Camelot, American liberalism has repeatedly succumbed to this phenomenon. It begins in a cult of personality, extends to the leader’s wife and children, and then to a “court” of retainers and apologists. The royalists, then, are not the ones descended from the state representative of Massachusetts’s 7th district—they are the descendants of the impoverished Irish immigrant that man represented from 1849 to 1851. That bears repeating: the son-in-law of William Walker, Julius Rockwell, represented Patrick Kennedy in the U.S. House of Representatives from the moment Kennedy disembarked in 1849 until Rockwell resigned 1851 and the only worrisome political royalty Nash can locate here are the Kennedys? Granted, the family to whom he extends this cultish devotion is direct, “the leader’s wife and children,” so emphasis on the children of the Joseph Kennedy, Sr. is warranted: Joseph Jr., John, Robert and Edward are all direct descendants of a single powerful personage, as are the relatives in his other example, the pair of fifth cousins connected by a great-great-great-great-grandfather, Nicholas Van Rosenvelt, upon whose death in 1742 the family splintered into the Republican Oyster Bay and the Democratic Hyde Park Roosevelts. Wait—now I’m confused. Not only are the Roosevelts distant cousins instead of sons or brothers, they also belong to opposing factions of a family that’s been at political odds since before the Revolutionary War. How exactly are Republicans who voted for Theodore and Democrats who voted Franklin Delano symptomatic of American liberalism? Moreover, since Nash wants to talk about cults of personality extending to...
The content of a eulogy is a function of the life being eulogized. After I linked to his post about Ted Kennedy’s funeral, Patrick asked what I’d think were the grandchild of a hypothetical conservative to say this at the funeral: Dear God, for what my grandpa called the causes of his life, the privatization of social security and the construction a robust missile defense shield, we pray to the Lord. My response, as indicated by the title, is that funerals are about the lives of the deceased, and if the deceased was a Senator who devoted his life to privatizing social security and constructing a robust missile defense shield, I’d have no problem with those issues being raised at his funeral. But it would sound tacky, not because I disagree with those policy initiatives, but because this hypothetical conservative dedicated his life to wonky policy initiatives. Were those initiatives less wonky, the prayer would sound less tacky. Consider: Dear God, for what my grandpa called the cause of his life, the eradication of hunger in Africa, we pray to the Lord. When prayed for, big and noble causes sound big and noble. So, too, do some specific issues concerning otherwise wonky initiatives. Consider: Dear God, for what my grandpa called the cause of his life, the preservation of the Santa Ana sucker fish habitat, we pray to the Lord. Praying for the preservation of a land and species to which the deceased felt great affinity sounds respectable, if a bit silly, because of our reverence for outdoorsmen like Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, who are themselves respectable, if a bit silly. The more wonkish the issue to which the deceased committed his life, the more likely it is that intercessionary prayers on his or her behalf will sound tacky. But as it was the deceased who chose to devote his or her life to an issue that will make for some tacky intercessionary prayers, the living can do precious little if they wish to remain respectable. If I spent my life rewriting the tax code, and if, on my deathbed, the rewriting of the tax code was imminent, I would hope that my relatives thought enough of me to say a prayer on my behalf that represented my fondest desire at my funeral. It would sound tacky, but so what? My funeral should be about me, my life, my accomplishments, and my dreams, and if I wore a grey flannel suit, amended the tax code around the edges, and dreamt of a complete overhaul, I would hope that my friends and family would mention it, what with it having been so important to me. Finally, to those who claim that no Republican would ever use someone’s funeral as a platform to forward their own agenda, I remind them of the law and order politicking of Nixon at J. Edgar Hoover’s funeral: The profound principles associated with his name will not fade away. Rather, I would predict that in the time ahead those principles of respect for law, order, and justice will...

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