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The content of a eulogy is a function of the life being eulogized.

August 31, 2009, 3:49 pm

After I linked to his post about Ted Kennedy’s funeral, Patrick asked what I’d think were the grandchild of a hypothetical conservative to say this at the funeral:

Dear God, for what my grandpa called the causes of his life, the privatization of social security and the construction a robust missile defense shield, we pray to the Lord.

My response, as indicated by the title, is that funerals are about the lives of the deceased, and if the deceased was a Senator who devoted his life to privatizing social security and constructing a robust missile defense shield, I’d have no problem with those issues being raised at his funeral. But it would sound tacky, not because I disagree with those policy initiatives, but because this hypothetical conservative dedicated his life to wonky policy initiatives. Were those initiatives less wonky, the prayer would sound less tacky. Consider:

Dear God, for what my grandpa called the cause of his life, the eradication of hunger in Africa, we pray to the Lord.

When prayed for, big and noble causes sound big and noble. So, too, do some specific issues concerning otherwise wonky initiatives. Consider:

Dear God, for what my grandpa called the cause of his life, the preservation of the Santa Ana sucker fish habitat, we pray to the Lord.

Praying for the preservation of a land and species to which the deceased felt great affinity sounds respectable, if a bit silly, because of our reverence for outdoorsmen like Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, who are themselves respectable, if a bit silly. The more wonkish the issue to which the deceased committed his life, the more likely it is that intercessionary prayers on his or her behalf will sound tacky. But as it was the deceased who chose to devote his or her life to an issue that will make for some tacky intercessionary prayers, the living can do precious little if they wish to remain respectable.

If I spent my life rewriting the tax code, and if, on my deathbed, the rewriting of the tax code was imminent, I would hope that my relatives thought enough of me to say a prayer on my behalf that represented my fondest desire at my funeral. It would sound tacky, but so what? My funeral should be about me, my life, my accomplishments, and my dreams, and if I wore a grey flannel suit, amended the tax code around the edges, and dreamt of a complete overhaul, I would hope that my friends and family would mention it, what with it having been so important to me.

Finally, to those who claim that no Republican would ever use someone’s funeral as a platform to forward their own agenda, I remind them of the law and order politicking of Nixon at J. Edgar Hoover’s funeral:

The profound principles associated with his name will not fade away. Rather, I would predict that in the time ahead those principles of respect for law, order, and justice will come to govern our national life more completely than ever before. Because the trend of permissiveness in this country, a trend which Edgar Hoover fought against all his life, a trend which was dangerously eroding our national heritage as a law-abiding people, is now being reversed.

The American people today are tired of disorder, disruption, and disrespect for law. America wants to come back to the law as a way of life, and as we do come back to the law, the memory of this great man, who never left the law as a way of life, will be accorded even more honor than it commands today.

In times past, in the days of the American frontier, the brave men who wore the badge and enforced the law were called by a name we do not often hear today. They were called peace officers. Today, though that term has passed out of style, the truth it expressed still endures. All the world yearns for peace, peace among nations, peace within nations. But without peace officers, we can never have peace. Edgar Hoover knew this basic truth. He shaped his life around it. He was the peace officer without peer.

The United States is a better country because this good man lived his long life among us these past 77 years. Each of us stands forever in his debt. In the years ahead, let us cherish his memory. Let us be true to his legacy. Let us honor him as he would surely want us to do, by honoring all the men and women who carry on in this noble profession of helping to keep the peace in our society.

I’m sure conservatives will point out that it’s not the same, because like there was no debate of national importance abuzz when Nixon delivered his encomium to law and order on May 2, 1972.

(x-posted.)

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