When I heard about Bill Clinton’s heart problems yesterday, I found myself wondering, “If he died, would the Clinton-haters give him a break for even a day, or would they see this as yet another opportunity to pound him?”

While the current president did use a moment in a speech to offer his thoughts and prayers for the former president, I heard a right-wing radio host sounding positively gleeful about Clinton’s medical problems on Friday. So much for a grace period.

The hatred works both ways, of course. If Bush were to suddenly die, I have no doubt the extremists on the other side would feel and say similar things (and then realize their worst nightmare had come true with Dick Cheney taking the oath of office).

It’s not always like that, but I never know what the rules of etiquette are when it comes to death, or whether everybody deserves them. I have one former boss who I considered so evil that I made a pact with a co-worker — when either of us hears that this jerk has died, we’re to call the other one immediately so we can go together to dance on his grave. He’s the only guy I’ve ever felt that way about, with the possible exception of the kid who beat me up everyday in first grade.

Yet, politics and death have an even more awkward relationship. Neither brings out the truth in people.

When Richard Nixon died, the eulogies at his funeral played up only his good side. Even Clinton, who was president at the time, went and said only positive things. I’d have thought at least one speaker would whisper “Watergate” under his breath, or cough and mumble “lying weasel scumbag,” but there was none of that. And the media played along. It was as if Nixon hadn’t been the living personification of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

So I wasn’t surprised to hear laughter at the expense of Clinton’s health on the same day it was announced. Once the political pit bull is trained to do nothing but attack, it’s awfully tough to make him sit, roll over, and play nice.