Lame Political Discourse: Part 4 (On Phony Sympathy)

At an intense sports event, partisan fans go to great lengths to show their allegiance to their team and ridicule their rivals. We paint our bodies. We wear jerseys. We try to intimidate our opponents or make them lose their concentration. We wave pennants. We camp out for tickets. We invent derogatory nicknames for our opponents. We scream at the top of our lungs. And we boo the referees when they make calls against our team.

But this all stops when a player gets hurt. We are no longer Yankees, Blue Devils, Cowboys, Red Sox, Canucks, or Aggies. We are people, and we care about each other. One awkward landing, one tough tackle, one intense collision, or one player who must be taken off the field on a stretcher makes us all remember what is truly important. It's not about points. It's not about wins and losses. It's not about securing home field advantage for the playoffs. It's about common human decency.

The news about Senator Ted Kennedy's malignant brain tumor reminded me of this sports analogy. It's tragic news, to be sure, but somehow I don't feel that the decency we show a wounded athlete is being expressed here. Sure, the words are there, but given the over-the-top rhetoric that has come to characterize contemporary politics, I can't help but wonder if at least some of these words are nothing but phony expressions of sympathy.

How many ambitious Massachusetts congressmen are looking at Kennedy's health as their long awaited opportunity to advance from the House to the Senate? Sure, they like Kennedy because he's one of the most famous lions of liberalism and wields a lot of political power. But he and John Kerry have kept Massachusetts' Senate seats off limits for more than 20 years, thus blocking other politicians' progress in the state.

How many Democrats are looking at Kennedy's health as their long awaited opportunity to get some new blood in their ranks? Many of these Democrats express adoration for Kennedy in public, but how many view him as a windbag in private? How much do Democrats (and Republicans) who have not served long in the Senate really care? Sure, they'll say they are saddened by his health because the political ramifications of failing to do so are too great. But is it really sincere?

How many Republicans are looking at Kennedy's health as their ticket to getting rid of their political nemesis? It is said that senators are generally collegial towards each other, but given the partisanship that has characterized the past 15 years or so, how many Republicans are thinking more in terms of political maneuvering rather than the senator's well-being? If some Democrats' expressions of sorrow may be feigned, what could reasonably be assumed of some Republicans'?

How many partisan political observers are looking at Kennedy's health as their ticket to getting rid of "the fat liberal who murdered his friend" 40 years ago? This is obviously a reference to the incident at Chappaquiddick in 1969. One common joke I've heard conservatives say is that they'd rather go hunting with Dick (Cheney) than driving with Ted (Kennedy). Any cursory glance at an online political forum mentioning him would reveal lots of bile and insults against him. How many of these people simply don't care about Kennedy's health even though they certainly know who he is? And even worse, how many of these people are actually rejoicing because of it?

I have no personal connection to Kennedy. I was born in 1977, long after the JFK/RFK assassinations, Vietnam, and the struggle for civil rights that he participated in. Kennedy is one of the better known senators and he seems to genuinely be concerned with his constituents. And because I live in South Carolina, I think more about Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint than Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. His health is obviously tragic, and I wish both him and his family the best.

I have no bone to pick with Kennedy. But some people do. How many people out there are reacting with apathy, phoniness, or glee? The same thing happened when Ronald Reagan died. And it will happen again when Jimmy Carter's time comes. How many of these people can express their sorrow with a straight face?

A part of me feels guilty for not having a little more faith in us as people. Not as Republicans. Not as Democrats. Not as conservatives or liberals. But as people. Can we really progress from talking about "our stupid president," "America-hating liberals," "terrorist-sympathizing Democrats," "heartless Republicans," "baby-eating abortionists," and "Bible-thumping wackos" to "our dear friend" and "our revered colleague" so easily?

12 comment(s):

DB said...

Great analogy. It should be in times like this we celebrate the heroes of America, whether we agree with them or not. Sure, there are people who are ready to capitalize on Kennedy's health, but to be honest, I think that is more an exception than the rule. I grew up in a household that utterly despised Ted Kennedy for his liberal positions, but even then, my father still recognizes Kennedy is a true American, with fundamental disagreements, but nothing that overshadows the fact that Kennedy is nonetheless a Great American.

Nikki said...

Great post Anthony. I felt some fire in this post. I think the commentary side of some of your posts are some of the best. Ted Kennedy crossed party lines quite a bit. He supported many bills and acts that were authored by him and a republican. I know he and Orrin Hatch are buddies and would think that just like when Reagan was shot, americans recognize one of their own. He fought for a Mormon Temple to be allowed in Boston a few years back and since then I had a new found respect for Teddy. He also is the author of a bill protecting the handicapped unborn. Recognizing that there was a trend of aborting fetus's based on their handicaps. he fought for the right to life for these children. It was not for early detection but very late detection. The babies he was protecting were 8 to 9 month old fetus's that were basically full grown. I did think about doing a post on all the bi-partisan legislation Ted has authored and supported but time is very little right now. thanks for the excellent read.

Brett said...

I think a lot of the respect is genuine. While some Republicans may loathe him, you can't ignore the fact that he was a giant in the Senate - the "Liberal Lion". Even his opponents can respect him for that, and politics is filled with this kind of changing viewpoints.

That said, considering he has a malignant brain tumor, it may not be long until he's out of action in the Senate for a while.

Anthony Palmer said...


I also believe Kennedy is one of the more important senators. Love him or hate him, his influence has been tremendous. Sometimes I wonder, though, about how sincere some people's reactions are to this story and to any other tragic news. Politicians are good at stagecraft and being overly dramatic. Remember, not to long ago, his wing of the party was being branded as a "cut and run Democrat who didn't support the troops." Well, maybe they didn't say that about him explicitly, but I think you see what I mean. Maybe that's what makes me feel so susipcious about some of these tears and expressions of grief. And it goes both ways. I was in high school when Nixon died. I can only imagine what Democrats had to say about that. And what about Yasser Arafat's death? That was a really awkward one.



Thanks for the kind words. This is generally an analytical blog, but I do try to mix in a bit of commentary from time to time. Glad that's well received. I thought about making this a mostly commentary-based blog, but I feared that my blog would get lost in the sea of everyone else who also has an opinion. So I tried to offer something a little different. And besides, I can't really rant at will because this blog could come back to haunt me sometime down the road if I ever got a job as a journalist or political consultant of some sort. Right? But I'll keep your suggestion in mind. Thanks!



Do you think there should be age limits for our elected leaders? Kennedy's 76 and may be out of action for a few weeks (or even permanently). Robert Byrd is almost 90 and is showing it. Strom Thurmond was still in the Senate at 100 (!). Given that these people are writing our laws and leading our nation, shouldn't they be mentally fit and in decent physical health to handle the rigors of their daily duties?

namaste said...

wow a sports analogy to describe politics. hmmm. interesting.


Anonymous said...

I think it's more important that politicians are putting aside their feelings, whatever they may be, to support Kennedy. Of course someone is always going to have some private maligned ambition but it's hard to fault someone for that.

Brett said...

Anthony -

I don't know about age limits, but I am in support of term limits (something like 3 term limit for Senators, and a 6-term limit for Congressmen). That would probably limit the rise of people like Senator Byrd and Stevens.

namaste said...

anthony, i see you are trying to ignore me even when i offered you a pleasant out. i don't appreciate you disparaging my idea on nikki's blog and then returning to your blog to use the very same idea. in response to the sports analogy i used re: obama not wearing a flag pin or putting his hand over his heart during the pledge, your exact words were:

"i don't think that analogy fits because..."

if you're gonna copy me, give me some credit. on these political blogs there are a lot of intelligent and articulate people running in similar cirlcles, yourself among them. but i think your readers should know that a long, thought out comment by them may be lifted by you. thanks for allowing my comment. i wouldn't want this to turn into a post on my blog.


Anthony Palmer said...

Hi Namaste,

Is something wrong? I'm sorry, but I don't know which post and/or comment you are talking about. If you give me a link, I'll take a look. But it is quite possible that we simply crossed a wavelength somewhere and had the same opinion about something. I only delete offensive and troll comments here, so even if I might disagree with what some people say, I will let them air those opinions, including yours, here. If you wish to write about this on your own blog, that is your perogative.

Nobody plagiarized anybody here. And nobody's ignoring anybody either. I'm sorry if you feel that way because I don't think there's a problem.

namaste said...

uh huh. no need for you investigate this and try to clear anything up. i just wanted it noted for your readers.

anthony's comment appear's on nikki's blog on 4/29, "patriotism & butt hurt liberals."

thanks for being an honest sport anthony.

Anthony Palmer said...

Hi again, Namaste.

I found the post you are referencing here. I will let my readers decide for themselves.

But I do have three points:

1. Our sports analogies are about two totally different things. You were talking about pride and patriotism. I was talking about the fine line between partisanship and civility.

2. The post you are referencing was written about three weeks before I wrote this one. And there came a point when I stopped reading the comments for that post. So I did not even read some of the latest comments on that thread.

3. There's a difference between disagreeing with someone and "disparaging" them. I may have disagreed with your opinion, but I did so politely and without disparaging you or your ideas.

I have no problems with you or any other blogger. Sorry if you are offended, but that certainly was not my intention.

Have a good and safe Memorial Day weekend.

namaste said...

thanks for showing the link. of course you have three points.

have a happy and safe memorial day to you too anthony.