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09/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

National Review Changes Stance on Death Jokes

I have no great admiration for Ted Kennedy, who picked up his notoriety by virtue of tribe and whom half the country has mistaken for a great man when he was simply a prominent one. And I could have done without having seen a portion of the nation's liberal bloggers studiously ignore his unfortunate little bridge incident, something they obviously would have played up had he been a Republican. But with Kennedy's death and the subsequent multiplayer biography that is always composed in these situations conservatives continue to outshine their opponents in hypocrisy, which is why I read the big conservative blogs instead of, say, Talking Points Memo or Washington Monthly when I'm in need of something of which to make a little fun. It's just easier that way.

On National Review's blog The Corner, for instance, contributor Mark Hemingway notes that Kennedy is reported to have enjoyed joking about the most unsuccessful date in history, reproducing the following quote from a recent radio show:

I don't know if you know this or not, but one of his favorite topics of humor was indeed Chappaquiddick itself. And he would ask people, "have you heard any new jokes about Chappaquiddick?" That is just the most amazing thing. It's not that he didn't feel remorse about the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, but that he still always saw the other side of everything and the ridiculous side of things, too.

Hemingway, of course, is so stunned from learning someone would joke about having caused a death that he accidentally hits his caps lock button (I am being charitable):

EXCUSE ME? If that's true, it makes Kennedy kind of a monster.

It certainly does, assuming we hold that someone becomes a monster by way of joking about a mistake that leaves others dead. And if we do, we have also made a monster of George W. Bush, who famously joked at the 2004 press dinner about having made one of the most crucial mistakes of modern American foreign policy when he displayed pictures of himself looking under furniture and told the audience, "Those weapons of mass destruction must be around here somewhere."

Now, I'm no more bothered by this incident than I'm bothered by Kennedy joking about driving off a damned bridge and leaving a girl to die, as I like to save up my indignation for actual issues that actually cause harm rather than tasteless jokes that don't. And, of course, the folks at National Review aren't bothered by it either for the simple reason that the folks at National Review don't actually care about politicians joking about deaths they've caused, but are happy to pretend otherwise when convenient. Knowing this, I was certain that I would find them defending Bush for doing something for which they are now attacking a Democrat. What I didn't realize is that I would also find them actually going on the offensive for the occasion, having gone as so far as to accuse the Democrats of being wet blankets for not being sufficiently amused at Bush's jokes about the war he started.

Back then, Michael Graham laid out the case:

Believe it or not, once upon a time, the Democratic party knew how to party... What happened? Somehow, over the past 30 years, liberalism has mutated into something akin to an anti-comedy vaccine... Oh, the humanity! The president is joking, my fellow journalists are laughing, and I'm sitting here swilling cheap banquet-hall chardonnay! I think that what has aroused their passion isn't the joke, but the laughter. "Don't you know how bad things are in America?" Democrats seem to demand. "Don't you know how evil President Bush is? How can you laugh at that monster, particularly when he's talking about the most horrendous moment in American history -- the invasion of Iraq!"

Silly liberals, calling a politician a "monster" for making a joke about the people who have died due to his own mistakes! Party on, dudes!

For purposes of plausible deniability or the argumentative equivalent thereof, one could try to argue that Bush's joke was not as bad as Kennedy's for some reason or another. And a conservative could claim that they also wouldn't have taken offense at Bush's joke if it had been delivered by Clinton under similar circumstances. And I hope one does try to claim this, because that would be really funny. The world needs laughter.

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