The disease of American politics - Jason Smith

A recent news item has gotten me thinking about the concept of civility in politics.

No, it's not the ongoing presidential campaign. Elections tend to bring out the worst in people, in my opinion.

The news of Sen. Ted Kennedy's brain tumor, on the other hand, has shown a different side to politics in 2008.

As many Americans know by now, the senator was diagnosed last week with the tumor. The announcement prompted elected officials from both major parties to wish Kennedy well, and to commend him for his contributions to American politics.

It was particularly refreshing in an election year, to see people putting partisanship aside and offer their support to Kennedy as a person.

Politically, I have little regard for the policies Kennedy supports, and I think America would be better off without him in office. But, I have to respect his desire to represent the people of Massachusetts, and the United States, for as long as he has.

The story of Kennedy's cancer scare caused me to harken back a few years, to the days following the death of another public servant - President Ronald Reagan.

Some politicians and commentators mourned Reagan's loss, and reflected on his political career with respect.

Others, however, used the president's death of Alzheimer's disease, as an opportunity to lash out at him one last time.

Political cartoonist Ted Rall wrote, just three days after Reagan died, that the president was "turning crispy brown" in Hell, because of the policies he espoused while in office.

Granted, that's an isolated example, but it still exemplifies the worst of what politics and journalism has to offer. There's no call for it, from either side of the political aisle.

This discussion of civility in politics, for me, takes on additional meaning when I consider Thursday will mark the four-year anniversary of Reagan's death. By no means was Reagan perfect, but respect for the dead goes beyond someone's voting record - or at least, it should.

The same goes for Sen. Kennedy. I hope I never have to endure what he and his family have gone through in the last few weeks. I truly hope Kennedy makes a full recovery, and continues to live a long and healthy life.

I just don't want him to hold a political office while he's doing it. That's all.

It's probably futile to ask whether the civil tone of elected officials, in reference to Kennedy, will extend to other aspects of politics in the near future. After all, this is an election year.

But what does it say about America when the only time we can count on politicians to treat each other with respect, is when they're sick or dead?

Jason A. Smith covers crime and courts for the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161, or via e-mail at jsmith@henryherald.com.