Conservatives' Selective Outrage Over Death and Politics
Conservatives are exhibiting "selective outrage" over the appropriateness of mixing death and politics. In 2004, the year that Ronald Reagan died from Alzheimer's disease, former First Lady Nancy Reagan, other members of the Reagan family, and many members of Congress -- including conservatives -- used his illness and subsequent death to encourage President Bush to adopt more liberal policies related to the use of stem cells. Some researchers believe that stem cell research could be useful in the search for a cure for Alzheimer's disease.
Former President Reagan died on June 5, 2004. During the month prior to her husband's death, Nancy Reagan sensed that the end was near. So, she made a public plea for President Bush to loosen restrictions on the use of stem cells. The former First Lady said that:
Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him. . . .Because of this, I'm determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain. I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this.Orrin Hatch
After Reagan died, 58 Senators, including 14 Republicans, sent Bush a letter urging him to ease restrictions on stem cell research. During a June 13 interview with the Times (UK), conservative Orrin Hatch, who signed the letter, specifically invoked Reagan's death in order to promote stem cell research:
Perhaps one of the smaller blessings of Ron's passing will be a greater opportunity for Nancy to work on this issue. If someone like Nancy Reagan cannot change the president's mind, I don't think anybody can.Trent Lott
The same article quotes conservative Senator Trent Lott, who makes a similar appeal to Reagan's death. Lott said that:
I hope that affection for the Reagans and just plain human sympathy for the terrible ordeal that afflicted them both over the past 10 years will prompt some second thoughts in the administration. . . .I suspect there are many in the White House who hope that it just goes away. But I don’t think Nancy gives up anything that is close to her heart that easily.Arlen Specter
Senator Arlen Specter (who at the time was a Republican) happily stated that Nancy Reagan would have a "profound effect" on the issue. Specter also signed the letter to President Bush.
What Is Wrong With Doing What Kennedy Wanted?
I only found one article (published on June 17, 2004 in the Chicago Sun-Times) that makes any substantial criticism of the political use of Reagan's death. This article, written by conservative commentator Robert Novak, criticizes Democrats for embracing Reagan for political gain. Novak, however, does not criticize conservatives who did the same thing.
Novak was trying to portray Democrats as hypocrites for embracing Reagan in death, but not in life. But if this is an accurate criticism, conservatives today should not express outrage towards Democrats who are using the moment of Kennedy's passing to bring attention to healthcare reform. Instead, they should attack conservatives who have cited to Kennedy's illness and death in order to distort the content of pending healthcare reform proposals and to undermine a central goal of Kennedy's political advocacy.
Shortly before his death, Kennedy wrote a letter to Duval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, urging him to appoint an interim Senator until the state could hold a special election to choose a replacement. Kennedy's aides said that he was concerned that Democrats would lack an important vote on healthcare reform unless his replacement was seated. In other words, during his last days, Kennedy himself encouraged his supporters to take the necessary steps to complete his unfinished business.
Democrats who remember Kennedy by advocating healthcare reform are simply implementing the Senator's last wishes. Republicans, however, are feigning outrage in order to defeat Kennedy's work on healthcare reform. I think it is abundantly clear which side is behaving inappropriately.
PS: Kennedy's supporters actually know that he shared their political goals. It is not clear -- but probably doubtful -- that Reagan would have supported very liberal stem cell policies.