Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Is Character Really an Issue?

That's the question asked and answered by Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine. Here's much of what he has to say (my comments are bracketed and bolded):
It's accepted wisdom that character is an issue in elections, especially Presidential elections. Let's examine that assumption.

Sure, if you know with good evidence that a candidate is a lying, thieving, stealing, sliming, philadering, cheating, insane idiot and louse -- well, then, yes, character is an issue. [In other words, character can never be an issue with Jarvis. Why did he bother to write the rest of this post?]

But when is any human being really so one-dimensionally flawed (and when -- since 1933 -- are every one of his backers so hypnotized or stupid or corrupt to allow him to get this far in life)? [Hey, Jeff, people like to be on the winning side. A lot of them don't care what it takes to win. Take Hillary Clinton, for instance. She put up with a guy who hit eight out of nine on your list, above. I don't think Bill's insane, but I think he's got the rest of the bases covered.]

Now I know what some of you are going to say: Aha! You have a problem with character because Kerry's character is being attacked and you're likely to vote for him; how friggin' convenient for you!...[No, I don't think that. I follow your blog, and I'd say that you're more likely to vote for Bush than for Kerry. But I still disagree with you about the character issue.]

I find that I have many problems with character as a campaign issue:

1. Character is not a measure of competence. And what I really want in a President is competence. [To what end? To micromanage the economy? Competence at what? Competence, as a word in itself, is meaningless.] Jimmy Carter had character....[Yeah, the character of a sanctimonious, lip-pursing deacon that he is. I saw that in 1976, that's why I voted against him.] Bill Clinton ended up with a cracked character [To say the least.] but I say he was a good President....[You may say that; I won't. Clinton was too busy triangulating, ingratiating himself to domestic interest groups, and trying to create a paper legacy for himself to pay attention to what was going on in the world. Look what it got us: 9/11. Yes, I know that you barely survived it. But you're not the only one and the fact of your near-death doesn't give you a monopoly on wisdom.]

2. Character is used mostly as an excuse for good old-fashioned political mudslinging....[True. But not exclusively true, as you admit when you say "mostly."]

3. Character is the argument that will never end. If you don't like the candidate, you'll say he has crappy character. If you like the candidate, you'll defend his character and say that the other side is just a bunch of character assassins. Wheels spin, mud spurts, and we don't get anywhere. It's mean-spirited. It's unproductive. [Actually, I started out not liking Kerry for entirely different reasons. I knew nothing of his character until he began with the flip-flops. The more I learn, the more convinced I am that Kerry's character makes him unfit to be a president in whom I would repose confidence. How is that mean-spirited or unproductive.]

4. Character cannot truly be measured until it is tested....[Kerry's character has been tested, amply, since he declared himself as a presidential candidate last year. He has flipped, he has flopped, he has evaded the truth about himself, and he has been hypocritical in the nth degree about the use of character assassination. How's that for starters?]

5. Character is a distraction from the issues that really matter, the issues a President can influence that, in turn, affect our lives....[The best thing a president can do is to honor his oath of office and uphold the Constitution. Kerry's character flaws suggest that he will do neither; he will simply do what is politically expedient (much like Clinton) and, in the process, he will drag the country further down the slope of socialism. And, does he really have what it takes to deal with terrorism, or will he be too politically correct and hung up on multilateralism. Based on his character, I fear the latter.]

6. Character is a proxy for morality and morality is a proxy for religion and religion mixed with government always scares me. [It ain't necessarily so. See my preceding comment.]

None of this is to say that we will not or should not vote on character. [Well, then, why did you bother to write this post?] At the end of the day, unless a candidate has a stand or stands we simply abhor, each of us will inevitably end up judging whether to vote for candidates based on whether we trust or admire or like them. That's as it should be.

But when we start arguing over such intangible and personal criteria -- when we start yelling at other people that they should or should not trust or admire or like someone the way we do -- then the argument reaches often absurd and usually useless depths. [Who's to say what's relevant or irrelevant in politics? You? McCain and Feingold and the Supreme Court? Where do you come off trying to tell us what's important and what's not important? Sure, some of the stuff people are yelling about is absurd. Sure, there's lots of scurrilous crap floating around in the blogosphere. So what? That's politics in the U.S. as it has been practiced since the election of 1800. Worry about something that really matters -- like John Kerry's character.]