Saturday, August 21, 2004

Character or Honor

Character, or Honor

It is not easy being an alpha male, or what some refer to as a "real" man. Every man would like to think of himself that way, and many qualify. Wolves may have only one alpha male per pack, but we humans allow for many more, and our packs are smaller, for most of us. Some men, however, crave to lead very large packs, and many of those go into politics. Politics attracts those who crave power, and most politicians are men who are craven in their pursuit of power. Of course some (e.g. John Kasich) seek power in order to do Good Things, and most of them (e.g. John Kasich) get out of power before the corrupting influence makes them craven as well.

It is ironic that our standards for candidates for high office include a requirement that the candidate have character, which is described by the Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. Ironic in the sense that most office holders strive to look like they have these traits, while few have more than half of them. In another definition of character, it is said that "character is what you do when nobody is looking," also ironic, since the politician's version of this one would be "character is never getting caught at what you gotta do to get elected." Even so, most politicians manage to appear to have their character intact, and many of them actually believe that the word honestly describes them. Most will make decisions that reflect good character, if only to help them garner enough votes at reelection time to avoid having to get actual jobs.

Then came Clinton. Today there are few observers of the political scene who would describe B.J. Clinton as a man of character. Yet the democrats seem to believe that B.J. has heralded a new age in American politics, where politics is more show business than a serious job performed in a dangerous world. The democrats seem to have forgotten what happened on 9/11. At least they still don't know that 9/11 changed everything. Clinton indeed served during a golden period, with the Berlin Wall coming down just before he was elected, and a huge bubble of prosperity that he could not burst lasting until almost the end of his term. Those were easy times, and he was well suited to the job he had before him, yet he managed to screw even that up with his irresponsibility and his untrustworthiness. He is no longer worthy of respect and, after all his pardons, no one could describe him him as being posessed of fairness. We could debate whether he was caring or fraudulent, but, in any case, his six pillars are down to one of two, ergo, no character.

His opponents, both Bush 41 and Bob Dole, are both politicians of better than average character. In particular, Dole's resignation from the Senate before the campaign marks him as a man of high character, but, so what, they lost. George W. Bush has revealed himself as a president who will do what he believes to be right without regard to how it affects his reelection chances, at least when it comes to the Big Things. You might not agree with some of what he does, and God knows that includes me, but when that man says something, you know he believes it. His tears are real, his emotions, unquestioned. You only get one George Bush, which is why he defeated all seven versions of Al Gore. Today, three years after 9/11, Bush faces John Forbes Kerry, and the choice couldn't be more clear.

I could stop right here. JFK has shown himself to be a man without character, as well as a man with no honor. His entire campaign is a fraud, as he has decided to base his entire qualification for office on his dishonorable service in Viet Nam. Don't get me wrong; I truly believe that half of life is just showing up, and that half of his story is entirely true. but the other half....

Most of my friends who were there believe that he was worded by someone on how to game the system. His service in combat was only about three months, his wounds were, to be kind, slight, and two of the three are suspicious. He has released only a selected few of his military records, and refuses to fill out a form 180 that would release the rest. He relies upon his friends in Big Media to help him to obfuscate the truth, so that he can put forth his medal citations to attest to his gallantry under fire, when anyone who lived through this era knows better. Just ask Michael Herr, whose book "Dispatches" is the sine qua non of an antiwar first person narrative of the Viet Nam experience. Not online, but I quote from my much dog eared copy:
A twenty-four-year-old Special Forces captain was telling me about it. "I went out and killed one VC and liberated a prisoner. Next day the major called me in and told me I'd killed fourteen VC and liberated six prisoners. You want to see the medal?"
If you want to know about honor, just recall the experience of Max Cleland, who lost both of his legs and a hand when a grenade went off. Cleland refused to put himself in for a Purple Heart, since he knew that his wounds were not caused by enemy action. That's honor. Max Cleland has character. I know Max Clelland. Mr Kerry, you're no Max Cleland.