Jessica Sink, Columnist

“My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

In his 1961 inaugural address, John F. Kennedy declared the importance of public service, emphasizing the responsibility of all Americans to take action for the future. Whether serving as a county commissioner, school board member, senator or soldier, the pursuit of service on the local, state and national level is to be honored.

Yet in today’s society, despite general American beliefs in justice and respect, it seems the civility of politics has been replaced by extreme negativity and degrading character attacks. The political arena has become a radical mudslinging ring, instead of a place for considerate, rational debate. The American people have lost faith in the ability of politicians and the government to protect the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

How did we, as the greatest nation in the world, get to this point?

Negative campaigning is nothing new. In 1804, political differences made public between former Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr were settled with pistols. The election of 1828 between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson was perhaps the dirtiest campaign ever. Wild accusations were thrown about on each side, most of which were completely false. In the presidential race of 1884 between Grover Cleveland and James G. Blaine, Blaine’s supporters attacked Cleveland’s character, even accusing Cleveland of fathering a child out of wedlock. While the story may have been true, its goal was to publically defame and destroy a political opponent through his personal weaknesses.

In more recent history, the infamous Watergate scandal of the 1970s was a massive attempt to cover up the political dirty tricks of Richard Nixon’s administration. The affair resulted in Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

Despite all of this, I have always been interested in politics. I’ve thought about the possibility of one day running for office, but I’m not sure my skin would be thick enough or that I could justify putting my family through the ordeal. The personal attacks today seem to have become more extreme than ever, with everyone on a mission to destroy the character of others for personal advantage. It is a sad commentary on current politics that one has to face such harsh attack, and surely must discourage many from serving.

There are good people out there who really want an opportunity to make this nation better. However, these people may turn away from politics not because of the sacrifices involved, but because of the sheer amount of hatred that has become the norm.

Will anything change for America? I’m not sure. We need to get back to a point of reason where a Republican and Democrat, a Republican and Republican, a Democrat and Democrat may disagree, but generally respect each other enough to work together in the interest of the common good. It’s time for the American people to realize that the future of the nation depends on our ability to come together, regardless of party. If we are constantly at each other’s throats and refuse to compromise, we will surely destruct from the inside.

The presidential election process of 2012 is heating up. Although the campaign cycle seems to have taken over the media for months, it has really only just begun. Get ready for even more bitterness and animosity.

Through it all, I urge you to be a conscious observer. Make up your own mind and do not blindly believe all political assaults. Don’t be a slave to MSNBC, CNN, Fox News or anybody else for that matter, consider all sides and research all arguments. I refuse to be a brainless zombie. If you want to make a political point, fine, but don’t tell me what to believe.

Ultimately, even if there is disagreement, a level of respect should still exist. The democratic political system of the United States should be held to a higher standard and people should be encouraged to participate in the process. We need to stop the constant assaults on each other and stop the radical hate. It is time to restore faith in the nation. We are all Americans, after all.

As John F. Kennedy ended his inaugural address, “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”