NWA editorial: The lowdown

Nastiness in politics sets a poor example

Posted: January 28, 2018 at 1 a.m.

If you can't say something nice ...

OK, who can't figure out what the second part of that statement is? More than a few of us can remember hearing that sage advice from our mamas.

What’s the point?

A recent exchange between senators from Arkansas and South Carolina reflect a worrisome trend in how people treat each other.

"... then don't say anything at all," she would finish.

The late, great Don Rickles made career off of insults, and he brought down the house doing it. Why did it work for him? Because off the stage, he was the exact opposite.

"He was called 'The Merchant of Venom,' but in truth, he was one of the kindest, caring and most sensitive human beings we have ever known," admirer and comedy colleague Bob Newhart said when Rickles died last year at 90 years old.

And, another relevant point: He wasn't in politics.

It's probably harder these days for moms and dads to build a compelling case for the benefits of kindness, even though it remains a reliable practice of etiquette. The problem, in part, is a shortage of examples, particularly when young eyes turn toward the nation's capital.

Today, we'll refer the recent exchange between U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and his Senate colleague and former presidential candidate Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They're members of an exclusive organization of 100 people that for years had a reputation as a more collegial place than the U.S. House of Representatives. Some high school marching bands have more members. The personal connections made possible by the size of the institution is supposed to work in favor of the American people.

In Washington these days, it's not the connections that are personal. It's the attacks. And these men are from the same party, if such a thing really exists anymore.

Perhaps it's tempting for a Cotton supporter to react by saying Graham went first, but these men aren't in kindergarten.

But Graham did go first when he referred to Cotton as the "Steve King of the Senate," managing to be insulting to two elected members of Congress in the same attempt. Graham, interviewed on a national cable news network, lambasted Cotton for hard-line positions on immigration

"All I can say is we're not going to end family immigration for DACA," Graham said. "The Tom Cotton approach has no viability here. You know, he's become sort of the Steve King of the Senate."

King, a representative from Iowa, is known for inflammatory comments, such as "Assimilation, not diversity, is our American strength."

Or "We can't restore our civilization with someone else's babies."

Cotton, naturally, was all too ready to respond to Graham's comment.

""The difference between Steve King and Lindsey Graham is that Steve King can actually win an election in Iowa," Cotton said. "Look, we had an election in 2016. Immigration was a major issue there and the American people and especially Republican primary voters made it clear that they wanted Donald Trump's vision of immigration policy, not Lindsey Graham's. He didn't make it to the starting line and he didn't even make it off the kiddie table in the debates."

Exciting? Yes, if you're watching soap opera. If this is happening between two men of the same party and among the people who are supposed to be leading the nation, not so much.

It's uncalled for, but what are we to expect in the Donald Trump version of Washington. Not that the capital was a kumbaya campfire before Trump took up residence in the White House, but he's demonstrated in his first year in office an a capacity -- no, a desire -- to get down in the mud with anyone who manages to take the spotlight off him for any length of time. He might be proud when we say he does political insults and pettiness better than anyone else.

Conventional wisdom is Cotton is a man with presidential aspirations, and there's little evidence to suggest the contrary. Before he attempts to parlay his brief time in Washington into a stint in the Oval Office, we hope he studies up on the demeanor of the United States' 44 other elected executives. Without question, there were a few who shared some of Donald Trump's less-attractive qualities, but they didn't have Twitter accounts.

One doesn't become president with a more than healthy dose of arrogance, ego and strong personality traits. We recommend the use of such characteristics to further the interests of the United States, not one's own desire to grab and hold the spotlight or to diminish others in the world of politics. Particularly, we might note, people from one's own party. If that's how we treat our "friends," how much worse are we going to treat everyone else?

Commentary on 01/28/2018