In a eulogy Tuesday, former senator John Danforth (R-Mo.), Schweich’s political mentor, said his protege was so troubled by criticism that Danforth initially discouraged him from seeking elected office. Danforth, an Episocpalian priest, said Schweich’s death should become a catalyst for changing the negativity that has crept into American politics.
Here’s the moving passage from Danforth’s eulogy:
The message for the rest of us reflects my own emotion after learning of Tom’s death, which has been overwhelming anger that politics has gone so hideously wrong, and that the death of Tom Schweich is the natural consequence of what politics has become. I believe deep in my heart that it’s now our duty, yours and mine, to turn politics into something much better than its now so miserable state.Sure, politics has always been combative, but what we have just seen is combat of a very different order. It used to be that Labor Day of election years marked the beginning of campaigns.This campaign for governor started two years in advance of the 2016 election. And even at this early date, what has been said is worse than anything in my memory, and that’s a long memory. I have never experienced an anti-Semitic campaign. Anti-Semitism is always wrong and we can never let it creep into politics.As for the radio commercial, making fun of someone’s physical appearance, calling him a “little bug,” there is one word to describe it: “bullying.” And there is one word to describe the person behind it: “bully.”We read stories about cyberbullying, and hear of young girls who killed themselves because of it. But what should we expect from children when grown-ups are their examples of how bullies behave?Since Thursday, some good people have said, “Well that’s just politics.” And Tom should have been less sensitive; he should have been tougher, and he should have been able to take it.Well, that is accepting politics in its present state, and that we cannot do. It amounts to blaming the victim, and it creates a new normal, where politics is only for the tough and the crude and the calloused.Indeed, if this is what politics has become, what decent person would want to get into it? We should encourage normal people — yes, sensitive people — to seek public office, not drive them away.…We often hear that words can’t hurt you. But that’s simply not true. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said just the opposite. Words for Jesus could be the moral equivalent of murder. He said if we insult a brother or sister we will be liable. He said if we call someone a fool we will be liable to hell. Well, how about anti-Semitic whispers? 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. That has been proven right here in our home state.…The campaign that led to the death of Tom Schweich was the low point of politics, and now it’s time to turn this around. So let’s make Tom’s death a turning point here in our state.Let’s decide that what may have been clever politics last week will work no longer. It will backfire. It will lose elections, not win them.Let’s pledge that we will not put up with any whisper of anti-Semitism. We will stand against it as Americans and because our own faith demands it. We will take the battle Tom wanted to fight as our own cause.We will see bullies for who they are. We will no longer let them hide behind their anonymous pseudo-committees. We will not accept their way as the way of politics. We will stand up to them and we will defeat them.
Read the full eulogy here. It’s worth your time.