Are Democrats Politicizing Kennedy's Death?

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In the midst of all the memorials for Sen. Ted Kennedy, some critics say his death is being politicized.

Many prominent Democrats are using the time of mourning to push for a health care bill in his honor -- and that isn't going over well with Republicans.

The Kennedy coffin hadn't even arrived at its viewing place before the call went out to pass a health care bill as a memorial to the "Lion of the Senate."

"If people are truly interested in honoring his legacy ... the best possible legacy is to pass legislation this year," Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., wants to name the legislation after Kennedy, and Democrats hope to change the tide against the Obama plan in Washington.

"Senator Kennedy's spirit will infuse the Congress towards the goal of providing coverage for all people that he cared for," Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said.

But some Republicans, including one close Senate friend of Kennedy's, don't like the tactic.

"Frankly, I'm getting a little upset by some of these people trying to take advantage of this and saying we now have to pass a health care reform because of Ted. Well, Ted wouldn't want it passed if it wasn't good," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said.

Obamacare opponents at an town hall in Phoenix, Ariz., agreed with Hatch.

"No compromises, no compromises. Senator, nuke it now," a woman told Sen. John McCain.

After the tragic death in of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, Lyndon Johnson pushed Congress to pass the Civil Rights bill in his honor. Some Democrats think that strategy can work again.

"What President Johnson did then ... by telling the Congress and the people of America that it was time to finish an unfinished agenda was exactly the right thing to do," Democratic strategist Tad Devine said. "And I think it's the right thing to do again."

But Democrats have to worry about what is called the "Wellstone Effect," a backlash against using a tragedy for political gain. 

After Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a 2002 plane crash, his memorial service turned into a Democratic pep rally to replace him with former Vice President Walter Mondale. The voters didn't buy it, and elected Republican Norm Coleman.

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John Waage

John Waage

CBN News Sr. Editor

John Waage has covered politics and analyzed elections for CBN News since 1980, including primaries, conventions, and general elections. 

He also analyzes the convulsive politics of the Middle East.