Monday, April 11, 2005

Character

If I hire someone to paint my house, I'd be concerned about his character. Will he try to overcharge me, might he try to steal something? But when I "hire" politicians, character is pretty low on the list. I just want them to support programs I support, or do nothing. Character hardly enters enter into it.

I was thinking about this when I read the latest scoop over at Drudge. "Liberal Ed Klein" is putting out a book this September on Hillary Clinton that will deal with her personal life in heretofore unknown (and unpleasant) detail. Hillary Clinton has been a public figure for a while now--we have enough of a record to at least guess at what kind of President she'd be. Furthermore, I can't imagine what personal revelations could matter to me as much as what I believe she'd do in office. Perhaps The Truth About Hillary will be a blockbuster, but I bet I won't care.

Drudge (or someone Drudge is quoting) suggests "Just as the swift boat veterans convinced millions of voters that John Kerry lacked the character to be president, Klein’s book will influence everyone who is sizing up the character of Hillary Clinton." This makes me wonder, just how important were the swift boat veterans. Everyone assumes they made a big difference, but did they? Were there people convinced Kerry was a great war hero and thus would make a good President, but then decided he wasn't so brave, and turned against him?

Kerry figured he needed to show he could be a tough military leader (without angering his anti-war base) so he presented himself as a war hero. Then he was attacked by a few hundred other war heroes over his record. Why should either side have made any difference? Kerry was never an Eisenhower or Washington--he served his country on a tour of duty that, regardless of how well he performed, told us very little about how he'd run the country today. And it sure told us a lot less about how he'd run the country than his decades in public service.

I would have preferred Vietnam didn't come up at all in the 2004 election, since I think it told us nothing (maybe less than nothing, since it could obscure more important facts) about what sort of President Bush or Kerry would be. Oddly, it seemed to be the Democrats who couldn't stop talking about it, though I don't think it served them well.

In any case, I hope we don't see national office as a reward for being a good person (that should be its own reward), but as a position we're trying to fill with the person who'll do the best job.

Pajama Guy responds: The fuss over Kerry's war record showed he would say or do whatever was expedient at any given moment, even on issues of war and peace. That's why the Swift Boat Vets and his votes on the $87 billion hurt him. The contrast was especially sharp with President Bush, who has been stunningly honest about his intentions, and steadfast in his convictions. Unlike President Clinton, no White House spokesman ever had to "parse" President Bush's words.

As for Hillary -- are you sure you know what kind of President she would be? Is would she govern as the life-long liberal, or is her relatively recent tack to the right on foreign policy and social issues evidence of an evolution in her thinking? Are we seeing a conversion, or a bait and switch?

LAGuy ripostes: In response to Skip James comments (check out below), I'm quite serious about character not counting much. A national political figure makes huge decisions that effect hundreds of millions of people and trillions of dollars. That's what counts to me, not whether he sleeps around or drives like a maniac. Even if he hires family or takes a bribe, it's a small matter compared to someone of high character who supports bad policies. And don't forget what he does on his job is public knowledge, so whenever his "bad character" affects his judgment in a bad way, we can know about it and do something.

That's why it's more important to know the character of a guy you hire to paint your house. A closer comparison, actually, would be there are two men, A and B. A is of the highest character and is an accountant who refuses to ever paint anything, B is a personal mystery but a great housepainter. Who would you rather hire paint your house? What matters foremost, so much that character should rarely enter into it, is what a politician will do, not how he acts in private moments.

As to Pajama Guy's point, it seems you go for the conservative slant against Kerry, even though there's no question the guy did serve and did win medals. (It does matter that he couldn't get straight what he'd do in the war on terror--that wasn't a matter of character, that was a matter of policy.) If you were a liberal, you'd probably feel even more certain that Bush was an AWOL draft-dodger whose dad was protecting him while Kerry was risking his life. You'd also claim you not only have to "parse" Bush's words (calling him "stunningly honest about his intentions" would get you laughed out of a Democratic household), but you'd have hundreds of hundreds of pages of lies and idiotic things he said. The truth is NEITHER WHAT KERRY NOR BUSH DID DURING VIETNAM TELLS US ANYTHING ABOUT WHAT KIND OF PRESIDENT THEY'D MAKE (ESPECIALLY COMPARED TO THEIR LAST TEN YEARS)--IN FACT, WHAT THEY DID BACK THEN TELLS US ALMOST NOTHING ABOUT THEIR CHARACTER. The character-happy types (say, Rush Limbaugh, though they exist on both sides) are rarely serious about the issue, if you look at it impartially, but simply like to slime the other side, since when you disagree with someone, it's easy to feel they're not acting in good faith.

You may be right that it's hard to read Hillary Clinton. That may even be what she wants. But any knowledge of her personal character will not help me decide whether or not to vote for her.

6 Comments:

Blogger Skip James said...

You are kidding, right? Worried about a painter who comes to paint your apartment and not worried about the character of someone who has control of many millions of dollars, who could sell every vote, who could run on one message and do the opposite (many repubs and dems have). Not to mention making decisions that effect EVERYTHING in your life. Your very freedom, your every action and interaction little and big. Too many things to list. (I will list some if you continue in this silliness). But no, you can choose to worry about your painter and whether his bad character will lead to a decorating disaster. Insert head in sand.

Of course you think I care about character because I am a social conservative. I think that anyone: leftie, rightie, libertarian, or other should care very much about character.

9:20 AM, April 12, 2005  
Blogger Skip James said...

Character counts. First, Rush Limbaugh is not my idea of character counts. He is arrogant and has flashes of strong work but day to day he does not approach great thinking. I know it is hard to maintain the kind of audience he has, but my judgement of talkers is based on whether they are thinkers. He does not have broad interests. He is moderately intellectually curious. There are much better right and left on talk radio.

Second and way more to the point, the guy who takes a bribe, is the guy who will screw you the voter. That guy will screw you publicly and somehow that makes it better for you. Once he has betrayed you, (publicly by not voting the way he said he would or privately by taking a bribe thereby selling your vote), it is too late. It is like having your house painted badly. You might be able to contact the BBB or complain but your house is still messed up and you still have to get another painter. Only now you don't trust painters so much.

Character counts in carpet installers. My carpet was installed by two guys who were high on pot at the time. And now my carpet is not laid properly. It is wearing out quicker in spots where it was not stretched out. And I can get someone else to relay my carpet at my expense or I can complain about these potheads. But to who? (Am I the victim of a victimless crime?)

So LAGuy's theoretical idea is: but what if these pot head carpet layers were geniuses at carpet laying? What if they did a fantastic job? What if the politician who lies and cheats in every other aspect of his life, really took care of his constituents? Its an interesting theory. It happens to be ridiculous in practice.

So, the next question is what if there are two guys, one who will paint your house but is a pot head and one who won't paint houses but is a good guy. I wonder why these are my only choices. Is this a false dichotomy?

What about the FACT that NOONE is not a hypocrite? All the character guys have flaws. All you gotta do is look closely and there is something in their life that conflicts with what they espouse. This is why character counts so much. Anyone can say what they think you want to hear. Only those who truly believe that their principles matter will stay the course and actually try to put those principles into practice. Of course noone is perfect but some people are trying to live by their principles and others are not. Those who are will fail, less often and enact what they set out to more often.

8:15 PM, April 12, 2005  
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