Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

When Funerals Become Politics

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

Using funerals for political purposes has a long, but not distinguished, tradition. In 44 B.C. eulogist Mark Antony claimed to Roman mourners that he came to bury Caesar. But his speech created a frenzy and ended up ensuring a death warrant for the once “honorable” Brutus.

In contrast, aside from the commemoration of the deceased, Americans mostly have seen funerals as solemn reminders of how frail and transitory life is for all of us, and how our shared fates should unite even the bitterest of enemies.

Sixteen years ago, on the eve of the 2002 midterm election, and at a time when the United States was beginning to divide over the Afghanistan intervention and a looming Iraq war, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) tragically died in a plane crash.

Wellstone’s Minnesota funeral was meant to be a commemoration of a life of public servant well lived. But the funeral service was soon hijacked by partisan speakers and ended up a loud and often grating political pep rally.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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