Thursday, May 11, 2006

Uncle Bill, the Constitution and Harold Ford Jr.

The following editorial appeared earlier this week in the Kingsport Times News:

For a guy who gets a Social Security check I can be pretty darn naive.

Take, for example, my last column. I urged the GOP primary candidates to succeed U.S. Sen. Bill Frist to take the high road by rejecting negative campaigning. Somehow my advice was neither heard nor followed.

Van Hilleary is now on the tube with advertisements accusing U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of being a "liberal" in a tone of voice one normally associates with an accusation of a communicable disease.

The tactic is a typical hot-button campaign issue, which unfortunately has worked previously, but belies belief when associated with Ford. The Memphis congressman is a strong Second Amendment supporter and skeet shooting enthusiasts such as myself can feel a level of support with Ford.

On the issue of gay marriages, Ford is opposed to legally recognizing the practice.

As for Iraq, like most of us he has serious issues with our commencement of the conflict. What sets Ford apart has been his strong support for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, support he has displayed by his trips to both conflict areas to learn the situation first hand and by his presence to show his support for America's armed forces in harm's way.

Ford's support for our troops has extended to increasing the level of care and funding for our veterans utilizing the Veterans Administration. The number of young men and women injured in Iraq who will as a result of those injuries need VA hospital care for years to come is striking.

Modern medicine as applied in battlefield situations has saved the lives of many wounded, who in prior conflicts would have died. Yet their injuries, incurred in Afghanistan and Iraq, will demand of this nation that we care for those who were hurt while wearing our country's uniform.

With a son who is a career naval officer, I know that we aren't funding the VA at a level commensurate with the level of support our military is providing this country.

Now when it comes to the fall campaign (and I won't revisit this topic until after the primary), I know Harold Ford Jr. can handle himself in any debates with whoever the Republicans select this August. A graduate with a major in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution, and a law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law, one of the country's top law schools, Ford is a bright, able and an impressive young man who turns 36 this Thursday.

What genuinely concerns me is that Ford will be a victim of a "corruption by blood" negative campaign. Simply put, his Uncle John and Aunt Ophelia Ford will be the issue - not what he can do as our U.S. senator.

Our federal Constitution, Article III, Section 3 prohibits penalties upon a citizen by reason of "corruption by blood" or as we say, you can't visit the sins of the father upon the son.

My mother had a brother Bill, who polite society would say had allowed the grape to touch his lip too often. Bluntly, Uncle Bill was an alcoholic who over the years was an embarrassment to himself and his family. My grandmother loved him dearly, prayed for him constantly and always referred to him as "poor Bill."

Mother and all our family prayed for Uncle Bill. He died, the consequence of his drinking, when I was barely a teenager.

Uncle Bill was fun and exceedingly intelligent when sober, but mean and nasty when whiskey dominated his life. While we all recognized his problem and took no delight in its impact upon him, he was family, and we loved him as family and as a brother in Christ.

Harold Ford Jr. has a problem with his Uncle John's erratic and self-destructive behavior, yet if you spend time with John Ford, he can be great fun. I don't know if John Ford is guilty or not of taking bribes as charged in a federal indictment. A jury in Memphis will answer that question.

What I do know is that John Ford is not Harold Ford Jr. anymore than my Uncle Bill Hudgins is me. But John Ford is family and Harold Ford isn't going to turn on an uncle he loves just to win an election. I admire him for his sense of family.

In this country, we judge people for who and what they are, not who their kinfolk might be. If the GOP wants to run against Aunt Ophelia or Uncle John Ford this fall instead of Harold Ford, Jr. they will make a serious mistake and turn the wrath of decent Tennesseans upon their cause.
Civility in public life should be important to all Tennesseans, and it needs to be practiced by Van, Ed or Bob.

We all have an Uncle Bill somewhere in our family closet, and none of us when passing judgment upon others should ever lose sight of that fact.

D. Bruce Shine is a Kingsport attorney and former Democratic National Committeeman for Tennessee.