Paying tribute or playing politics?

Those who seek to honor late President Ronald Reagan could learn from their hero.

Shortly before the late President Ronald Reagan’s birthday, a member of the Minnesota Senate offered an official Senate resolution to honor him. I respect Stillwater Republican Sen. Michele Bachmann’s passion and enthusiasm for Reagan and see nothing wrong with her offering such a resolution, even if it is fairly unusual to do so. Unfortunately, instead of an honest attempt to pay tribute on the first birthday after his death, she used the occasion to strong-arm her colleagues into endorsing her political views.

Not only was her resolution filled with ideological rhetoric, but she took the in-your-face action of requesting a roll-call vote, thus putting every senator on the record. This gave any senator who does not share her views the Hobson’s choice of voting for something we strongly disagree with, or appearing to be disrespectful to Reagan.

Bachmann’s use of this “tribute” to push her political agenda is remarkably similar to the activist who used the Sen. Paul Wellstone funeral as a political platform. The criticism that followed the Wellstone memorial was understandably directed at those who turned it into a partisan event. However, in the Reagan case, the Republicans who made the Senate tribute partisan attempted to direct the criticism at those who objected to the partisanship.

Why did the media take Democratic partisanship at the Wellstone funeral and play it up nationwide as a scandal, but make no similar condemnation when a Republican official took a tribute to a deceased leader and used it to get recorded votes on her partisan agenda? It’s a good question. In one case, grief-stricken people used poor judgment at a memorial a few days after the death of their friend and leader. In the other, loyal admirers used poor judgment in an official Senate tribute months after the death of their friend and leader.

There were many controversial aspects of Reagan’s record. Some of us could not, in good conscience, vote to endorse Bachmann’s highly partisan view of his presidency. Despite strong objection to much of Reagan’s record, I would have been happy to support a resolution memorializing him on his birthday. On the floor, I offered a respectful alternative to honor Reagan without all of the ideological rhetoric contained in the resolution.

There are many great Minnesotans that I could pay tribute to in words that Bachmann would be unable to support – leaders such as former Gov. Elmer Andersen, Floyd B. Olson, Harold Stassen and Wellstone. But it would be wrong to place Bachmann in the position of voting for something she strongly disagrees with, or if she did vote against it, appearing to be disrespectful to these former statesmen.

A key measure of civility in politics is the ability to be respectful of others no matter how strongly one disagrees with their politics. The mutual respect that grew between Wellstone and former Republican North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms is a perfect example.

Minnesotans need us to work together on the pressing issues facing the state in a civil, respectful manner. One of the things that I admired about Reagan was his goodwill and decency toward political opponents. Bachmann’s official resolution did not live up to the spirit of goodwill of the man it purports to honor.

Sen. John Marty is a Democrat from Roseville, Minn. Please send comments to [email protected]