Top 1 Magazine

Top One Magazine

They Voted to Overturn an Election. Did Their Obits Let Them Off the Hook?

The culture of Washington news reporters, like the folkways of the Hill, is also broadly forgiving of tough votes. People in the game of politics know the various cross-pressures and cost-benefit analyses and assumptions about the vote’s outcome that go into an aye or a nay. The old cliche is that the most important vote is the next one. It’s normal to not sweat too much about a back-bencher’s prior vote. Coverage of deaths or retirements of elected officials routinely skip over votes in major issues that weren’t “their” bills and might not have been central to their political identity — the Iraq War, say, or Obamacare.

The problem is that we’ve spent years hearing about how the effort to overturn the election was not normal and must not be made to seem so.

In other words, the case of the missing obit mentions is yet another case of one old norm (don’t speak ill of the dead, don’t be one of those naive types who think of any single vote as defining a pol’s career) against another (attempts to interrupt American democracy are a big deal). And Washington, almost two years after the end of the norm-busting Trump administration, still goes back and forth about how to think it all through — or, more likely, doesn’t think about it too much and simply reverts to workflow that effectively lets the efforts to undo an election get treated like just another bit of legislative arcana.

The logistical and political and social impulse to sweep things under the rug is strong, and often not motivated by ill intent. It ought to be resisted all the same.

Was the vote against certifying the 2020 election the most important part of the CVs of the three late members of Congress? Of course not. They had families and communities and political ambitions realized and unrealized. But every now and then, history offers up a binary along with all of those shades of gray. You either voted to accept the election or you didn’t. It’s not just another vote. If someone new in town were to happen upon many of the obits, though, they’d likely not realize that something traumatic and unprecedented had happened less than two years ago.

The whole spectacle, incidentally, is also an argument for dedicated obituary desks. Writing about a dead person on a living beat can be just as interpersonally tricky as writing about a live person on that same beat. In theory, someone who doesn’t have to deal again with the dramatis personae of a politician’s story might feel a bit more free to write for the history books.

“There’s no beat sweeteners for an obituary writer,” Miller says.

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