Sometimes I just write satire, or just sarcasm. The folly of national politics seems somehow unworthy of serious commentary. But however foolish the politicians seem – the business of our government is serious. Real people are directly and immediately impacted by political decisions. Real wars are fought. Real soldiers die. Real debt is incurred. Generations suffer the consequences of policy based on political folly. My questions are simply stated, but not so simply answered. Let’s take a look at some politicians in the context of character.
Character certainly includes the private life of a person – but in our context we will dismiss the charlatans of sexual deviation. Let us try to examine character in the context of public policy. Some traits of character should be considered. Traits like honesty, courage, integrity, responsibility, perseverance, and is some humility too much to ask?
Perhaps we can name names – single out some contemporary national political leaders. We can define them as the people who seem to command the microphone of the media – the people who intentionally put themselves up as shining examples of what a politician should be.
We can start with President Obama. Very simply we ask, is Obama a man of honesty, of courage, or of integrity? Is Obama responsible? Is he humble? And importantly, has Obama been responsible as our President?
To be clear, I like Obama.
We know there is political wrangling before compromise can be reached – we expect hard negotiations. But the end result is all we can really hang our hat on in terms of judging the politician.
Let’s start with the war in Iraq. Assume in retrospect we can say that there was no just cause in entering that war. Politicians on both sides of the aisle voted to fund the Bush/Cheney effort. Why? Did they believe the line about weapons of mass destruction? If so, and if the WMD’s were justification in themselves, then Bush the First was wrong to stop the first invasion – And President Clinton was wrong in not striking earlier. But the potential of WMD’s were not justification. As bad as Saddam Hussein was – he had not attacked America. There was no provocation. So why did the politicians vote for the funding? My answer is this: After 911 the politicians saw political gain in looking tough – it was that simple and most people know it. But what does this say about the character of the politicians? Did they vote in the best interest of our country? Did their vote result in the unnecessary death of American soldiers? Were they honest with themselves – or with their constituents? Was their vote courageous? Was their vote responsible? President Obama was not a national office holder when the vote was taken – he was vocally against the Iraq War – but he did not have to cast a vote. Obama’s role in the Iraq War is difficult to judge. But Boehner, McConnell, Reid, and Pelosi were all there – what character traits did they demonstrate?
How about Health Care? This is tough folks. It depends on fundamental ideas about what it means to have rights as an American. Our livelihood is fueled by Capitalism – and this economic system has worked well by many measurements. But can this economic model be fairly applied to moral issues such as the health of Americans. It comes down to this: Do Americans have the right to minimal health care whether they have money or not? Or better for this purpose – do our politicians act in the interest of Americans – or do they act in the interest of their career? Can they do both? This is complicated – one could argue that the health care bill as passed was based on a capitalistic model of spreading the monetary burden. What are the traits of character that were displayed by Reid, Pelosi, McConnell, Boehner, and the President in the context of the health care vote?
And how about illegal immigration? Is it possible to put aside some legalities and look at the real human problem facing many communities in America? Can we dispense with the flaming rhetoric, can we recognize that this great nation was built by immigrants – people who had the intelligence, courage, and ambition to leave their homeland to make a better life for their families? This country is a great nation because we came from the stock of great people. We come from the best the entire world had to offer. Where is the integrity and dignity in beating up on the most vulnerable at a time when they are seeking to make their life better? Their ambition should be heralded as a core virtue of our forefathers.
This brings us to another issue that is never directly debated – that is the issue of compromise in the interest of the people. Surely no politician believes they are one hundred percent right every time – believes this so strongly that they see no need to compromise. Surely the politicians in the House and the Senate understand that compromise is the only means of accomplishing anything. And in the case of health care, compromise itself became the issue. The Republicans say that the Democratic leadership refused to sit honestly at the table of debate. The Democrats say the Republicans were not honest in their attempts at compromise. How can we know? We can know about President Obama’s willingness to compromise – the health care bill as passed was not his first choice of options. Obama compromised in the interest of helping the most people with the least interruption to present health care infrastructure. Is compromise a sign of weakness, of lack of conviction? Is compromise a sign of humility – the willingness to let others have a voice?
What are other issues which reflect the character of the politicians? Every person who runs for national political office has impressive resumes. The went to some great school, worked at some great job, have volunteered the requisite hours at the food kitchen – with all resumes statistically equal the question in an election really comes down to character.
A health discussion on character would probably be more useful than a discussion on whether a Mosque should be built in Manhattan. If we the people believed in the central character of the politicians in the House and Senate there would be much less anger at decisions made. We could have confidence that the politicians were really acting in the best interest of the people.
How about it folks? What best reflects the character of a politician?