Every time an election is looming the issue of character is raised. Generally, one person tries to demonstrate that he or she has a better character than their opponent does. Is it true? Maybe, sometimes and maybe depending on what issues of character people choose to raise.
When Bill Clinton was in trouble over his affair with Monica Lewinsky and was up for impeachment there were screams about his terrible character. In essence, his impeachment was very much about character. And his character was, needless to say, not very good. However, my daughter asked me if I believed he would be removed from office. I told her, no, because in order to removed a person from office because of character, the people doing the removing have to actually be people of good character themselves.
Newt Gingrich, it turns out, was having his own affair.
Tom DeLay, it turns out, was busily breaking the law.
Clinton remained in office.
Recently two Republican Senators found themselves in trouble. Larry Craig pled guilty to lewd conduct with an undercover police officer and David Vitter's name was on an escort/prostitution service. Both found themselves in a very awkward situation because they had run on character.
Tragically, many people have found these many 'falls from grace' to be amusing and entertaining. Despite protestations to the contrary, some significant hypocrisy abounds in several instances. However, when people fall from grace, no matter how much we like them or dislike them, no matter how much we agree or disagree with them, it is still tragic.
Character is often defined as what we do when no one is watching. For many, there is a 'secret life' that comes into play. Often the 'secret life' comes as a result of pressures of their 'real life' and their inability to deal with the pressures in any sort of constructive matter. They fall into deep sin and misconduct.
Last week on Larry King there was a panel discussion. The Democrats were laughing, having fun at the fall of Larry Craig. The Republicans were gamely trying to spin this and remind the world that the Democrats aren't too hot. One panelist, however, Dr. Drew Pinsky, was the only person to demonstrate any concern for Mr. Craig. (Dina McGreevey was on and she expressed concern for Mrs. Craig, so she is not a guilty party in this.)
While the others were playing the great political game, the Democrats laughing, the Republicans lining up to find the bus to toss Mr. Craig under, Dr. Pinsky made the observation that Mr. Craig's behavior was very consistent with the behavior of many out of control addicts and that Mr. Craig was actually in trouble emotionally and could be a high risk for suicide. Indeed, his 'wide stance' comments were absurd and his interview with the police was almost surreal. He was ashamed of his conduct and wanted to not even confront it and for it all to be over with. Dr. Pinsky pointed out that this kind of behavior is incredibly dangerous to a person and that the person needed to be handled with care and compassion.
Larry King seemed to completely miss the significance of what Drew Pinsky said and the others ignored it. Their game was 'more fun.'
Character is significant. Character is about ethical conduct----but it is also about our responses to the ethical failures of others. Watching another fall ought never be funny, ought never be amusing, ought never be exploited for political gain. Watching people fall is tragic and dreadful and ought not be entertaining.
There are positions that have a high demand for character and personal conduct. There are people who are ethical leaders in society. Frankly, I think that if we look to Presidents, Senators, Congressmen and women, Governors, etc., to be ethical leaders, we are adding something to their job descriptions that ought not be there.
Perhaps we need to focus on a couple of things.
First, when campaigns turn into 'character debates' we need to confront these people and tell them to focus on issues and not the faux issue of character. It truly is a faux issue that sets people up for failure.
Secondly, in cases such as these, I'd love to see us have a culture that offers a sense of compassion and perhaps rehabilitation. We tend to like to shoot our wounded instead of trying to heal them. Senator Larry Craig is, no matter what we think about him, a very wounded man. Instead of trying to find a bus to toss him other, or instead of finding his behavior amusing, maybe some compassion but ultimately be a gesture of far greater character than many claim to have.