October 30, 2002

The TV certainty principle…

The funeral for Sen. Paul Wellstone took place, privately, on 28 October. The public memorial service or political rally–how you characterize it depends on your point of view–took place on 29 October. Today, there’s a new controversy surrounding this campaign. Republicans charge that this “service” turned into a political rally, and so they are asking the television stations in Minnesota to give them equal time.

I did not see the 3.5-hour service-rally. I cannot speak to the complaints the Republicans make. If these events transpired as characterized by the numerous press reports, then I think it is safe to say that there was some tacky behavior. Sight unseen, I’m even comfortable accepting that the service turned into a political rally. The reason: TV cameras. This was a public event set up for television during an important election. What did you expect was going to happen? Pointing a TV camera at events and people tends to change them in certain ways.

UPDATE (5:35 p.m.): Here are some more views on the memorial-rally worth reading–from Tapped and Slate. Here’s an interesting quote from the Slate article:

“Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning,” Wellstone declares in a videotaped speech shown on the overhead screens. “Politics is about improving people’s lives.” But as the evening’s speakers proceed, it becomes clear that to them, honoring Wellstone’s legacy is all about winning the election. Repeating the words of Wellstone’s son, the assembly shouts, “We will win! We will win!” Rick Kahn, a friend of Wellstone’s, urges everyone to “set aside the partisan bickering,” but in the next breath he challenges several Republican senators in attendance to “honor your friend” by helping to “win this election for Paul Wellstone.” What can he be thinking?

Taken simply at face value, Wellstone is mistaken about the practical importance of winning (morally he’s right on). Politics is about winning first, because you can’t improve people’s lives if you don’t win. And that truth, along with Wellstone’s character, was surely driving the emotion and rhetoric during the memorial-rally. Saletan may wonder what Kahn was thinking. I can tell him. He was thinking about victory. Whether or not this service -rally will help or hurt that effort remains to be seen.

UPDATE (5:55 p.m.): An apology from campaign chairman Jeff Blodgett. (via InstaPundit)

No Responses

  1. Anonymous 

    THE GOP is simply trying to cheapen the memory of the late Senator Paul Wellstone.

    His sons were there. They haven’t said anything to the effect that this was disrespectful.

    Paul was a fighter. He would have wanted Democrats to honor his memory by keeping his dreams and ideas alive.

    This latest TACTIC by the GOP is simply pathetic and awful.

  2. Doug 

    The most unseemly aspect of last night’s “memorial” was the audience chanting “Fritz!”

    C’mon folks – is it too much too ask that a purported memorial service stay focused on honoring the deceased rather than his political succesor?!?

    The only thing missing was a festive ballon drop and celebrative rendering of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

    And you call the GOP pathetic . . .

  3. Anonymous 

    Memorials can take many forms. I’m sure Paul and Sheila are smiling – despite the GOP’s efforts to turn the memorial into a talking point.

  4. Thanks for starting the discussion!

    I prefer to remain politically neutral on this (difficult at best). My observations are meant far more to be critical of television than of the memorial service-rally. When you point TV cameras at events involving politicians, ugly things can happen. The tacky behavior I mentioned includes cheering and booing. To me, these vocalizations have no place in a memorial service. And, sans TV, these probably would not have occurred.

    What we have now is a classic battle of definitions. What was this event: memorial or rally? Because we have a battle we will have a winner and a loser. Seems to me, in hindsight, that the Democrats would have been much better off keeping the TV cameras away. They have unnecessarily made things harder for themselves by handing live ammo to the Republicans. And the Republicans are doing exactly what they should be doing. I don’t like it, but there it is.

  5. copper 

    when noted personalities walked into the arena and the assembled reacted possitively or negatively that was their honest reactions. For gov ventura to blame the dem party for the “boos” of the crowd is a little bit naive. these were his citizens giving their opinions. I, too, was uncomfortable at times during the program, particularly during the Kahn speech,but that was his honest expression of his grief, right or wrong.

  6. Yes, those were certainly honest reactions. In fact, without having seen it, I might go so far as to claim you saw one of the most honest political moments on TV this campaign season. I think what made those honest reactions possible, or, rather, “appropriate,” was the presence of television. I could certainly be wrong.

  7. Emily 

    I don’t think the problem here is the party. I am a registered Republican and there are things they do that I find unnecessary. If this had been the actions of my party I would have thought it extremely tacky and untimely! When people cheer and boo at someone’s memorial service, it is simply, for lack of a better word, sick! I feel that there is a time and place for everything and that, regarless of the presence of T.V. camera’s, a memorial service is not one. A political rally could have been held the next day! It would nice for a change, if politicians could act like they have spines and feelings! I’m not bashing the Democratic party, I’m bashing those individuals that found it pertinent to turn a man’s memorial service into a night of speeches full of political satire and cheering and jeering crowds!

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