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Character Does Matter - October 21, 1996

Richard Brian McCarty

Over the past few days, I have been baffled by the American public. President Clinton, with all his ethical problems, holds a commanding lead. The media talks about how issues matter, not character. And, the average man on the street, wanting to sound sophisticated, mimicks the folks on CNN. But, let's take a look at how we judge other people whom we choose to work for us.

Suppose your car has a problem. You have two mechanics to choose from. One is youthful, good at working on cars, and can talk your ears off. His work is good at times, but he fudges things. He is known to work on things that do not need working on, and for charging people for his lunches, and other expenses in addition to work on the cars. His reputation in the community for honesty lacks.

The other is an older guy. He's a vet. He is good at working on cars, too. He is quiet and dependable. He works long hours and only charges you for the work he does. His honesty is unquestionable with those who have dealt with him. His prices are lower. His character makes him so different from the other guy.

Most Americans would choose the older gentlemen to work on their car. They also would choose the honest accountant over the talented one who was known to fudge the numbers and stay in constant chaos with the IRS. Americans would also choose a doctor who was honest with them over one who treated them for psuedo ailments to make money.

But, when it comes to choosing a President, the common sense of the American people seems to disappear. They seem to want the guy who is attractive, yet shifty. They want the guy who wastes their money over the guy who respects their money. They want the guy who tells them what they want to hear instead of the truth. It is remindful of the mistakes that young people make with attractive, yet dishonest members of the opposite sex.

America has done this before. The President then was Nixon. No, he was not attractive, but he did rely upon the Presidency and the issues to get him through October of 1972 when Watergate broke. And, for it, America lost faith in the Presidency, and its government lost respect around the world with Nixon's second term and resignation.

Now, with yet another Clinton ethics problem erupting over foriegn campaign money, Americans are drummed with " issues not character." Yet, history shows it is character that makes a President great.

Harry Truman's " the buck stops here," was no issue of the day, but it defined the issues of his Presidency because his character was to assume reponsibility. Lincoln's preservation of the union was won under several issues, but his character, and its determined nature, saw the nation through.

Washington assumed the Presidency at a time when most issues were yet to be formed. His honesty was relied upon to lead the nation. The people in government relied upon this honesty, so that they at least knew where he stood on issues as they developed.

Washington's time is not unlike any other time in American history, or in America's future. History is a constantly flowing river that changes without prediction. But, the core of a person's character can serve as a guide for how that person will handle the issues as they arrive on the Presidential desk.

And, with Lincoln, Truman, Eisenhower, FDR, Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Reagan, America had great Presidents whose character made them great. Their character made them consistent no matter what hand history dealt them. They could face the most difficult of challenges because they, and the American people, knew who they were inside.

Bob Dole fits the mold of a great American President's character. Yet, he lacks the television grace, or sexual attractiveness the President has. But, the President shifts with the wind on so much. For four years we have been lucky that he has faced no real critical moment in history.

Perhaps our luck will hold in the second Clinton term. But, reality dictates it will not. And, then, I am afraid, America will pay the price for choosing the man they would most like to either go out to eat with or go to bed with over the man whose character best fits the job.

And, for all of those who think not character, only issues matter, remember this. How can you know where a man really stands on the issues that are dear to you if his character can not be trusted? Who is to say he will not leave you hanging high and dry, as the old southern saying goes? You would not trust your car to man like him, so why trust your country and your future?

Richard Brian McCarty has worked on several political campaigns of conservatives. He holds a Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina and a BS degree from Lander University. An experienced writer, McCarty's columns are written from a distinctly Southern point of view. He is sometimes Southern, sometimes conservative, sometimes humorous, and sometimes all three.

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