Mark Antony in his famous funeral oration in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar says that he came not to praise Caesar, but to bury him. This week, at the funeral for the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, two of the speakers, Jimmy Carter and Rev. Joseph Lowery, might have opened their remarks by saying that they came not to bury Coretta Scott King, but to bash Bush, which is exactly what they proceeded to do. They exploited a solemn occasion in order to take cheap pot shots at the President, keenly aware that their remarks would be broadcast around the world, and into many American classrooms.
Of course, both Carter and Lowery were also aware that the target of their attack, George W. Bush, was sitting right behind them. Had he not been present on the occasion, their Bush-bashing would have only been an affront to good taste. But because Bush had come there to honor the memory of Coretta Scott King, and not to engage in a debate with his political opponents, the attacks on him crossed the boundaries of mere bad taste, and became low blows. They were deliberately attacking a man who they knew could not, under the circumstances, defend himself against their assault. Their aim was quite obvious -- to embarrass and humiliate Bush in the full knowledge that there was not a thing Bush could decently do about it.
The President, for example, could not do what most people, including myself, would have done. He could not jump up and simply walk out -- that would have created a scandal. Therefore, he had no choice but to sit there and take it. He was hopelessly trapped, and was entirely at the mercy of his assailants -- and they knew it. He had to behave like the President, even when a former President, Mr. Carter, was behaving like a cad.
Carter, for example, used the opportunity to insinuate that Bush's "domestic spying" was like the spying done by the FBI on Dr. King. Carter commiserated with the King family for having been subjected to such an ordeal at the hands of their government, and, by implication, he also commiserated with those Americans who had been subjected to Bush's domestic surveillance. But does this analogy honor the memory of Dr. King and his movement?
Let's make a simple thought experiment to find out.
Suppose al-Qaeda had decided to air its grievances against the United States by holding a massive peaceful "sit in" at the Twin Towers on 9/11. Suppose Islamic terrorists, instead of blowing up innocent human beings, had vowed only to use civil disobedience. Suppose Osama bin Laden, like Dr. King, had struggled with all his might to keep his organization from turning to bloodshed and violence. Would Bush have felt the need to launch a domestic surveillance program on such a pacifistic movement? Maybe; maybe not. But the fact that al-Qaeda embraces violence and celebrates terrorism -- doesn't this small detail destroy the basis of Carter's analogy? If you can equate bin Laden with Martin Luther King, and al-Qaeda to King's non-violent movement, then, by all means, go ahead and draw the same analogy that Mr. Carter drew about Bush's domestic surveillance program. If, on the other hand, you cannot equate the two, then Carter's analogy becomes at best ridiculous and at worst obscene.
The Soviets under Stalin were famous for their "show" trials -- trials that were put on not in order to judge a man's innocence or guilt -- since the verdict of "guilty" was always a foregone conclusion -- but simply as an exercise in propaganda. Bush critics have managed to devise a new ploy -- a "show" funeral, in which, instead of properly honoring the memory of the dead, the occasion is deliberately exploited for its propaganda value.
Shame on them.