It was the fall of 1992, and I was watching the Presidential debates between George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot. Bush was suffering from a weak economy and a broken promise not to raise taxes. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, was already known by this time to be a man of low quality. A womanizer and serial adulterer, Clinton’s best feature appeared to be his ability to distract people away from his flaws.
During one of the debates Bush made the point that “Character Matters.” Basically, the character of the person running for office is just as important, if not more so, than the promises they make. Unfortunately a plurality of voters didn’t listen, and Bill Clinton was elected President.
Fast forward 6 years to 1998 where the only thing being discussed on the airwaves is the Clinton/Lewinski scandal. The President of the United States had been caught having an affair with a girl young enough to be his daughter and had perjured himself under oath. After lying to the American people for months, the President finally succumbed to the overwhelming evidence mounted against him and admitted the truth, then 24 hours later bombed an aspirin factory in Iraq in an attempt to change the focus of the nightly news cycle.
House Republicans, committed to doing their duty, drafted and passed Articles of Impeachment against the President and argued them before the Senate. Senate Democrats, however, had no interest in listening and had already decided to protect their guy in the White House no matter what the charge. Gone were the days when Richard Nixon was forced to resign because members of his own party told him they would no longer support him. We had been living for 6 years under a President that taught us that expedience was more important than integrity, that truth was what you could get a majority of people to believe, and the ends ALWAYS justified the means.
If I sound bitter I have good reason, because I believe the lessons learned from the political success of the Clintons have permeated this Country at all levels of government.
We currently have a crisis of confidence in this Country. A majority of Americans do not believe their Government is telling them the truth, and frankly, why should they?
Politicians routinely say one thing, then do another. The White House press office has devolved into a propaganda organ that would make Joseph Goebbels proud. We were lied to about the cause of the terrorist attacks on our Embassy at Benghazi. The first reaction of too many Government officials nowadays is to deny everything and withhold information. NOAA releases a hastily written, questionable report on global warming, and then refuses to respond to FOIA requests asking for information about how the study was created.
If I tried to list every example of government betraying the trust of the public, I would never stop writing. And it’s not just limited to Democrats.
Republican leaders vow to protect our country, then turn around and give the President the power to run roughshod over them in creating a treaty with Iran that will end with the most dangerous country in the world getting nuclear weapons. Republican leaders promise to control spending, then vote to completely remove the debt limit for the next two years. Republican leaders promise to build a strong economy and put people back to work, then vote to give Obama fast track authority to negotiate the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that will send more jobs overseas and bind our country to another WTO style organization that can overrule American laws and safety standards.
The over-arching theme to ALL of these examples is that the people who perpetrated them believe that it is more important to achieve their goal (be it power, policy, winning the next election, whatever) than it is to be honest with us. In their minds the ends justify the means. People on both sides of the aisle seem to have learned their lessons from Bill Clinton quite well.
The blame for this behavior ultimately lies with us. In too many instances we are willing to tolerate the lies (if not believe them) because they are being told by people on our side. Honor and integrity used to be character traits that were sought after in our elected leaders. Now the leading candidate for President for the Democrats is a woman that a majority of Americans (including Democrats) believe is a liar. How is this even possible??
I’m not saying all our elected leaders should be saints. Nobody is perfect, and we have all made mistakes in our lives. But these days we seem to be more concerned with the promises our politicians make to us, and not concerned with whether or not we can trust them to keep those promises once they are elected.
We like to pride ourselves on being a nation of laws, but we always seem to forget that laws are only as good as the people who make or enforce them. It’s like the old saying, “garbage in, garbage out.” If bad people are placed in authority, they will make bad laws, or they will not enforce the laws equally or fairly. When that happens, you no longer have a free society.
It is up to us to change the tide away from expedience and back towards integrity. So many of our problems could be solved by focusing on electing honest, principled people to office on both sides of the aisle. This is a theme I will repeat over and over. At every level of government we should look for candidates that not only say they stand for what we believe in, but is also someone we can trust to keep the promises they make to us.
It’s not always easy, but we owe it to our Country and to our children who are learning very important lessons about the world and what qualities we hold dear to us. It might sound trite, but trust me…character counts.