get your memorial popcorn right here!
get your memorial popcorn right here!
The stands were packed to the rafters and the beach balls were flying. The music played over the loudspeakers as people waiting for the event to begin clapped their hands and sang along. The smell of hot dogs was in the air and the floor of the arena had already become sticky with soda.
A basketball game? No. A concert? No. Toy Story on Ice? Nope.
A memorial service for a dead senator, his wife and daughter.
I've been to more memorial services and wakes in my life than I care to count. From setting up a wet bar in the parking lot of my grandmother's wake to attending a memorial service where sharpshooters were poised on the roof of the church, I have seen just about everything.
Until last night. Watching "highlights" from the service for Sen. Paul Wellstone some time in the middle of a sleepless night, I thought I was having another one of those strange dreams.
Was this a political meeting or a memorial to a dead person? It seemed like more of an election night pep rally than a memorial for Wellstone.
Every five minutes, applause. Every five minutes, laughter. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I haven't been to a million funeral masses where the priest says funny things about the deceased and everyone laughs in a relieved sort of way. That's fine. This...this was more like a comic relief show for the Democratic Party. At times it was a "get out the vote" campaign stop.
In the hours before the memorial, those in the stands bandied beach balls or munched on foil-wrapped hot dogs from the concession stands.
Let it be known that if anyone is seen eating a hot dog or playing with a beach ball at my funeral, I will haunt you to your last dying day. The music is fine, the laughter and applause are nice. But the first person who starts the wave will be hearing a lot of chain-rattling and spooky noises coming from their closet at night.
"For Paul Wellstone, will you stand up and keep fighting for social justice? Say YES!" Harkin shouted. The crowd roared.
Rick Kahn, Wellstone's friend and former student, whipped up the crowd before Harkin took the stage by adopting the late senator's fiery speaking style.
He chopped the air with his hands, as Wellstone often did, and exhorted the crowd to keep Wellstone's dream alive.
"A week from today, Paul Wellstone's name will not be on the ballot," Kahn said. "But there will be a choice just the same ... either keep his legacy alive, or bring it forever to an end!"
They may as well have charged $100 a head to get into the service. Tax-deductible write off for political contribution.
"If Paul Wellstone's legacy in the Senate comes to an end just days after this unspeakable tragedy, our spirits will be crushed, and we will drown in a river of tears. We are begging you, do not let this happen."
That's right, folks. You are here to mourn Sen. Wellstone, his wife and his daughter. And oh yea, those other people who died, also. But let's take a moment to turn the Senator's death into a rally speech. Let's use his death as an excuse to get this party started. I wonder how many of the people who spoke and the people who cheered later on last night patted each other on the back and lit celebratory cigars. I wonder how many of them were thinking "when opportunity knocks, let it in, even if it's ugly."
I wonder, mostly, how the family of the campaign workers and pilots who died in the crash feel.
No one is eating hot dogs at their services. I bet not one politician who who grinned for the cameras yesterday can even tell you the name of just one of the campaign workers who died.
But I bet a lot of them, ex-president included, went to bed last night with a smile on their face, thinking of what a great publicity moment this all was for the Democratic party in Minnesota.
Me, I didn't sleep much after seeing all that. I was too busy cringing.
*Addendum* I found this over at Right Wing News:
Another White House official said privately that with the memorial service expected to draw thousands, the Wellstone family told the White House they did not want mourners subjected to the kind of security screenings that Cheney's attendance would have required. This official also said White House advisers worried that the memorial service, with unions bringing supporters by the busload, would double as a Democrat get-out-the-vote rally and be awkward for Cheney.[all emphasis mine]