Eulogies are a celebration of the life of the deceased. But in his remembrance of Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich (R) on Tuesday, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth (R-MO) combined high praise for the dead with forcefully harsh words for the state GOP chairman who has been linked to Schweich’s suicide.
Speaking at the funeral in Clayton, Mo., for Schweich, who had been a leading Republican gubernatorial candidate until his suicide last week, Danforth addressed head-on an alleged anti-Semitic “whisper campaign” that preceded the death.
In the days leading up to his suicide on Thursday, Schweich told those close to him that state GOP chairman John Hancock had been off-handedly telling people he was Jewish even though he attended an Episcopal church.
“Tom called this anti-Semitism, and of course it was,” Danforth said during the eulogy on Tuesday, as quoted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry.”
Hancock repeatedly denied the accusations of anti-Semitism. But he acknowledged last week to the Post-Dispatch that he thought Schweich was Jewish, and so might have mentioned as much to another person in the way one might say, “I’m Presbyterian and somebody else is Catholic.”
Danforth is himself an ordained Episcopal priest who officiated former President Ronald Reagan’s funeral. He scoffed at Hancock’s suggestion that he might have called Schweich a Jewish man merely in passing without mentioning him by name.
“Someone said this was no different than saying a person is a Presbyterian,” the former senator said, as quoted by the Post-Dispatch. “Here’s how to test the credibility of that remark: When was the last time anyone sidled up to you and whispered into your ear that such and such a person is a Presbyterian?”
The politics of the Republican gubernatorial primary leading up to Schweich’s sudden death were pretty nasty. Danforth said that contentious intra-party climate was proof that “politics has gone so hideously wrong,” adding that “the death of Tom Schweich is the natural consequence of what politics has become.”
The former senator then brought up a radio ad that an outside political action committee with ties to Schweich’s primary opponent had been running against him. Danforth described the ad, which mocked Schweich’s appearance and cast him as a corrupt pawn of Democrats in Washington, D.C., as “bullying.”
“We often hear that words can’t hurt you … well how about anti-Semitic whispers?” Danforth said. “And how about a radio ad that calls someone a ‘little bug,’ and that is run anonymously over and over again?”
“Words do hurt. Words can kill,” he added. “That has been proven right here in our home state.”
You can read the full text of Danforth’s eulogy here.
This post has been updated.
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.