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.