Washington mourned the passing of the last of the Kennedy brothers Wednesday, with everyone from Barack Obama and Joe Biden to Orrin Hatch and Nancy Reagan offering heartfelt tributes to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
House GOP Whip Eric Cantor took a break from his usual partisan “whip up” email Wednesday morning “in consideration of the news,” and the usually incendiary conservative blogger Michelle Malkin called for Republican restraint in the face of “a nauseating excess of MSM hagiographies and lionizations.”
But not every Kennedy foe was ready to forgive and forget.
While Kennedy was popular among many of his Republican colleagues on the Hill, he was for decades a major bogeyman for the right. Among veteran Kennedy-bashers, the family name is associated less with Camelot than with positions which are anathema to conservatives -- and Kennedy himself is known less as a senator’s senator and more as the man responsible for the death of a young woman in an automobile accident more than four decades ago.
The No. 1 search term at Google Trends Wednesday morning was “Ted Kennedy.” Nos. 2 and 3: “Mary Jo Kopechne” and “Chappaquiddick.”
Andrew Breitbart, a Washington Times columnist who oversees Breitbart.com and BigHollywood.com, tapped into the anti-Kennedy vein in the hours after the senator’s death was announced, posting a series of Twitter messages in which he called Kennedy a “villain,” a “duplicitous bastard” and a “prick.”
"I'm more than willing to go off decorum to ensure THIS MAN is not beatified,” Breitbart wrote. “Sorry, he destroyed lives. And he knew it."
Few – if any – others on the right were willing to attack Kennedy so directly so soon. Instead, they did so indirectly, teeing off against the Democrats who will eulogize Kennedy and the reporters who are covering it all. The fear: The Democrats and their allies in the press will use Kennedy’s death to ram through health care reform.
Rush Limbaugh, on his radio show, said he was “a little uncomfortable” attacking Kennedy’s politics but knocked the Clintons for being slow to offer a statement on the senator’s death. Limbaugh also reminded listeners that about a year ago, he "predicted [Democrats] would use his eventual death as the sympathy trigger to get health care passed."
“Looking forward to the Democratic line-up at TK's memorial service,” Hot Air’s AllahPundit wrote in a sarcastic Twitter post. “I'm sure the eulogies won't be politicized at all.”
At Pajamas Media, Instapundit referred to the potential makings of “a Wellstone memorial on steroids”—a reference to the 2002 service following the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone that more closely resembled a Democratic rally. “All politicos need to remember the Wellstone funeral when a well-known politician dies,” wrote National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez on “The Corner” blog, adding that “some of the MSNBC coverage today I'm catching looks like a Obamacare convocation.”
Some writers tried to accentuate the positive—at least on a personal level.
RedState’s Erick Erickson recalled speaking with Kennedy while in law school, and finding him accessible and generous with his time. Still, Erickson wrote, “I can’t say that I’ll miss him.” For Erickson, the liberal senator “represented all that is wrong with Washington—a kingdom of nepotism and worship at the altar of failed liberal policies that get repeated ad infinitum.”
On NewMajority, David Frum had little praise for Kennedy’s positions, but he did recall a moment when he saw the senator in a positive light -- after reading an “elegant and decent” letter from Kennedy to former Solicitor General Ted Olsen, following the death of his wife on Sept. 11.
“They say one should not speak ill of the dead,” wrote Bill Bennett on the National Review’s website. “True. But I am of the view that one should not lie about the dead either. So I will not go on.”
Bennett did go on, however, saying there was “no one in the Senate” with Kennedy’s “force power, and impact” – even if the Massachusetts Democrat “assaulted our causes and nominees.”
“To the American Left, he was their lion. To the American conservative movement, he was our bane,” Bennett wrote. “But today, we put the politics aside and wish him and his family God’s peace.”
Some of the conservatives appearing on the networks likewise held their fire. On MSNBC, former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan spoke favorably of Kennedy, even as the latter acknowledged that the senator’s name "could raise more money for conservatives than Jesse Helms for the liberals.”
Scarborough agreed, adding that bringing up Kennedy helped him raise money for his own congressional campaign.