Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 2002/ 26 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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Rallying the corpses for the Dems | Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party, particularly if they're dead. The Democrats count on their corpses.

Two years ago it was Mel Carnahan, killed in a plane crash on the eve of the Senate election in Missouri, which turned out to be a good career move for the missus. This time the cooling corpse of the hour is Paul Wellstone's, killed in another plane crash on the eve of election, and Walter Mondale is resuscitated, though to judge by the photographs in this morning's newspapers, not very successfully. The Democrats tried to make health care their signature issue but became merely the party of rock-and-roll funerals and extended burial benefits.

Not all the Democratic corpses are even dead. You could ask Robert (the Torch) Torricelli or almost anyone from New Jersey, where they know about planting corpses. Why do you think they call it the Garden State?

Who would have guessed that those swingin' Swedes and naughty Norwegians on the banks of Lake Wobegone, whose idea of an orgy is the Ladies Bingo Night at the Lutheran church, could have put on such a wowser as that campaign rally for Mr. Wellstone's ghost.

Every Democrat who could croak a note (or thought he could), from Bonnie and Clod to the Rev. Jesse Jackson to candidates for alderman in Thief River Falls, lined up to sing a dirge, or at least to be seen grieving, as mourning became electric in wintry Minnesota. Elvis was a disappointing no-show, but wasn't that Harold Stassen, Minnesota's most famous presidential candidate (looking as if he had lost a few kilos), joining in the raucous cheers from the cheap seats in the rafters?

This was too much for Jesse (the Body) Ventura, whose delicate sensitivities were refined by the World Wrestling Federation, which only proves that rasslers are much too polished to hang out with Democrats. Some spectators didn't know what to make of the Wellstone family's grief as expressed by a son's hollering and jig-dancing, not necessarily because he missed his Mom and Dad, but to fire up the 20,000 grateful for the dead. Several speakers, obviously with e-mail access to a heavenly Internet server, insisted that "if Paul Wellstone were here, he would say that this is what he wanted." But if he were here the senator would say that what he had really needed was not more attitude, but more altitude.

But the critics should cut the Democrats some slack. Funerary excess is universal. When I was growing up on Scott Bayou, little white boys measured the size of the funeral's honoree by the number of cars parked around the church (a Buick was worth two Chevys and once a Lincoln Zephyr from Memphis was counted as a solid five). Our black neighbors reckoned the prominence of the deceased by the number of cases of Nehi Orange and RC Cola sold under the trees. We were all disappointed when the coffin lid was kept closed, depriving everyone of one last chance to "see how young he looks." The Wellstone mourners were deprived, too, because by Jewish custom the corpse was not embalmed and was buried well before the grief-stricken Democrats assembled in Minneapolis.

And just as well. Tom Daschle would have insisted that Mr. Wellstone's coffin not only be kept open but stood upright on an undertaker's dolly and rolled from town to town and rally to rally, lighting up the night on the tundra. Nothing would be too macabre, too gross or too demeaning to the dignity of the dead. The stakes are too high, with Nov. 5 not even a week away. Speaker after speaker said so. (The Democratic high command, high-minded liberals all, trashed the suggestion that Alan Page, the old Minnesota Viking and now a distinguished justice on the state Supreme Court, be substituted for Mr. Wellstone. They wanted white bread, even if stale white bread, for white-bread Minnesota, and Judge Page is inconveniently black.)

When several Republican grievers all but fainted at the sight of how tacky the proceedings were getting to be, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa doffed his jacket and told them at high decibel how real mourners do it. One Wellstone aide who was rebuked the next day by party officials for having gone a bit over the top with his lamentating was defended by Mr. Harkin. "I think Paul Wellstone would have walked up to him and hugged him."

And now Fritz Mondale, who has never had to fight for any of the high offices he has held, sets out to return to the U.S. Senate. He's only 74, but sagging under his years and at his first (and maybe last) campaign press conference he demonstrated why his handlers are terrified of putting him in a debate with Norm Coleman, the Republican candidate.

Fritz has lost a step or two, or maybe three. Frank Lautenberg gives geriatrics a bad name. Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Senate's only physician, was assigned a year ago to sit next to Strom Thurmond, just in case. If Minnesota and New Jersey send their retreads to Washington for the 108th Congress, Mr. Frist should sit between them as a gesture of bipartisan bonhomie, with his defibrillator humming. Just in case.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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