It's one of those hoary traditions that, when a public official passes away, everyone has to fall all over themselves to say what a great guy he was -- whether they really thought so or not.
So it is with the late Jack Murtha, the longtime Democratic Congressman from Johnstown. I'm sure I'm not the only person touched to see that Murtha's Republican nemesis, GOP challenger William Russell, took time to "remove all political references to Mr. Murtha on the Russellbrigade.com website immediately."
But there's ONE public expression of grief that I sense is utterly sincere. It appears in today's Post-Gazette -- in the form of a full-page, full-color ad featuring a photo of Murtha against the backdrop of an American flag.
"Representative Murtha was best known for his towering leadership and tireless work on behalf of our armed forces," the ad notes. "But his impact went much further, including a campaign to reverse the incidence of diabetes and breast cancer as well as major improvements in National Park sites across the country."
Who sponsored this moving testimonial? The good folks at Lockheed Martin, of course.
"We never forget who we're working for," the company's logo -- placed discretely at the bottom of the ad -- explains.
I'm not sure what a full-page, four-color ad in the P-G costs -- at least as much as a Pentagon pencil sharpener, I expect. But truthfully, Murtha's passing must be hard for the company, which is among the country's largest defense contractors. Murtha was, after all, a close confidante who chaired the Defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations committee.
Right now, I'm sure Lockheed Martin executives are fondly recalling the time Murtha spent on PR tours of facilities manufacturing defense products plagued by massive cost overruns. No doubt they're remembering the twinkle in his eye each time Murtha thanked the company for giving him a campaign contribution -- something Lockheed Martin did more often than anyone else except UPMC and fellow defense contractor General Dynamics.
I mean no disrespect to Murtha or his family here. Right-wingers are snickering about the ethics accusations hovering around him, and castigating his ill-advised remarks about the conduct of Marines in Haditha, Iraq. But it's also worth noting that on issues like gay rights, Murtha could be more open-minded than one might expect from someone representing a socially conservative part of the state.
Murtha was far from perfect, but in many ways he summed up both the promise and paradox of modern politics. He was a strong critic of the Iraq War while a staunch ally of the war machine itself. He pursued noble goals -- like shoring up a blighted hometown abandoned by everyone else. But to do achieve that goal he employed the sometimes-not-so-noble process of pork-barrel politics.
So no harsh words for Murtha here. It's just that these public displays of lamentation always end up being more about the mourner than the mourned. And Lockheed Martin would have done more credit to Murtha's memory, I think, by shutting the hell up.
Perhaps I'm wrong, though. If you're touched by Lockheed Martin's sentiment, perhaps in lieu of flowers, you could send donations to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.