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Honoring Michael Kelly

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. MCCONNELL. Mr. President, Michael Kelly died nearly a week ago while covering the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division's march to liberate Baghdad. It is difficult for me to believe that he was only 46 years old. Michael Kelly's contributions to American journalism and American politics were not the contributions of a young man but those of a witty, political observer whose love of his country and delight in the pastime of American politics was as boundless as the American dream itself. Michael Kelly, so deeply committed to preserving freedom and liberty, should be in Baghdad right now relishing in the awakening of the Iraqi people to their new lease on life, liberty, and freedom from fear.

I did not fully realize the extent of his contribution to the American political discourse until I opened the Washington Post yesterday and noticed that his Wednesday column was dark. At that moment, I realized how gaping a void Michael Kelly's death has left in the pages of newspapers throughout the country, and in the hearts and minds of his countless readers.

He was in life, and will remain in death, an icon for all who shared his interest and obvious passion for the theatre of American politics. His bemused commentary and good-natured derision from the balcony of our political arena—and his delight in watching political virtuosi and vaudevillians march across the stage—place him in my book among the great political commentators of our time.

Although I did not know Michael Kelly, his writings reminded me of the satisfaction and glory that accompanies fighting for just causes and deeply held beliefs, however unpopular they may be in certain circles. His life and work stand as reminders of why partisanship—even bitter partisanship—can be often an immensely positive contribution to American politics. Like that of my former colleague and friend, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Michael Kelly's style of partisanship made an eloquent and thoughtful contribution to the important debates about the future of our country.

Michael Kelly's style—witty, acerbic, curmudgeonly, and independent—invited obvious comparisons to another famous American journalist: H.L. Mencken. Like Mencken, Kelly relished the opportunity to fire rhetorical grapeshot across the bow of his political adversaries. His refusal to mute his criticism of liberal politicians while he was serving as the editor of the left-leaning New Republic is reminiscent of Mencken's long-running feud with President Roosevelt. There is also a superficial connection, too, as Kelly spent an early part of his career as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, a newspaper made famous under the stewardship of its iconic reporter and editor.

More substantively, Michael Kelly, like Mencken, was much more than a newspaperman. He was a man of letters, and a powerful political voice. Kelly's most recent endeavors stand as testament to his immense intellect and lasting impact. His tenure as editor of The Atlantic Monthly has resulted in dramatic success for that venerable magazine. And for whatever informal polling is worth, I can attest that members of my staff routinely compete for copies of The Atlantic when they arrive in my office mailroad each month.

He left the comfort of his editor's desk recently to join the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division as an embedded journalist. Having doggedly defended the moral and security justifications for disarming Saddam Hussein's brutal regime, Michael Kelly risked his life to bear witness to the liberation of the Iraqi people.

Michael Kelly was an eloquent advocate of the moral arguments for regime change in Iraq. Regarding the liberation of the Iraqi people, Kelly wrote in February:

There are 24 million of them, and they have been living (those who have not been slaughtered or forced into exile) for decades under one of the cruelest and bloodiest tyrannies on earth. It must be assumed that, being human, they would prefer to be rescued from a hell where more than a million lives have been sacrificed to the dreams of a megalomaniac, where rape is a sanctioned instrument of state policy, and where the removal of the tongue is the prescribed punishment for uttering an offense against the Great Leader.

These people could be liberated from this horror—relatively easily and quickly. There is every reason to think that a U.S. invasion would swiftly vanquish the few elite units that can be counted on to defend the detested Saddam Hussein; and that the victory would come at the cost of a few—likely hundreds, not thousands—Iraqi and American lives. There is risk; and if things go terribly wrong it is a risk that could result in terrible suffering. But that is an equation that is present in any just war, and in this case any rational expectation has to consider the probable cost to humanity to be low and the probable benefit to be tremendous. To choose perpetuation of tyranny over rescue from tyranny, where rescue may be achieved, is immoral.

His predictions have proven accurate, and it is a heartbreaking tragedy that he did not survive the march to Baghdad, where he would have witnessed a new birth of freedom in a land strangled for so long by tyranny and oppression.

Michael Kelly is survived by his wife, Madelyn, his young sons Tom and Jack—whose endeavors he recorded lovingly and amusingly in his columns—and his parents, Thomas and Marguerite Kelly. My prayers and deepest condolences go out to them for their loss.

So today I ask my colleagues to join me in paying tribute to Michael Kelly's life and recognizing his lasting contribution to the twin worlds of American journalism and American politics. I hope my colleagues will support this resolution.

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