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If character counts, we’ll be better served to count on Bush (The Ventura Star) March 3, 2000

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.

In the first election of the post-Clinton era, the pendulum of presidential politics is swinging back to character.

Just as a youthful and vigorous John Kennedy succeeded the grandfatherly Dwight Eisenhower, and a trustworthy Jimmy Carter followed Nixon’s Watergate, a nation weary of Bill Clinton’s personal foibles is not talking about character in the White House. As they say in the youthful high-tech world, it is time for “adult supervision” in Washington, restoring a sense of dignity to the highest office in the land.

The stage was set, then, for a war hero, John McCain, to break out of the pack and challenge front-runner George W. Bush. In the media world of modern campaigns, the story of McCain’s prison camp experience provides a powerful picture of character. But what is character in a presidential election and how does it add up? And should we allow Clinton’s character flaws to swing the pendulum so far into this one dimension?

You see, I’m not convinced that heroism in a prison camp is the best way to calculate likely character in the Oval Office. We live in a time when people have trouble with the difference between celebrity and character anyway. For years, out list of national heroes has been dominated by athletes and movie stars — people who are celebrities on the big stage. Former basketball star Charles Barkley was right, I think, to point out that he was not a “role model.” He was a celebrity.

By contract, the dictionary reminds us that character is a set of traits and qualities that from our moral and ethical base. In that sense, I was probably better off to look to my dad for character than McCain or Barkley. He didn’t survive any prison camps or win any slam-dunk contests, but he got up six days a week and worked hard, he took us to church every Sunday and was a faithful husband and a good father. To me, that’s character.

So who wins the character contest in the Republican race, Bush or McCain? My point is that McCain has shown more glamorous character of celebrities and heroes, but Bush strikes me as having more of the traits and qualities that I want in the White House.

Bush is a faithful husband and a father of two teen-agers — believe me, the latter takes character. He is a committed Christian, working on a daily basis to be the kind of person God wants him to be. He gets up every day and works hard on behalf of the people in Texas. This is more the kind of character that interests me in a president. I decline to take the sizzle of over the steak!

Then, too, should we allow Clinton’s personal failures to dictate the issues in this campaign? I’m eager to restore character to the White House, but is that all it takes to be an effective president? I know many people of character I wouldn’t elect to be president of a breakfast club, much less president of the United States.

Yes, character counts. But let’s count the kind of character that makes the best chief executive of the land. I,for one, look through the celebrity and staging to ask which candidate has the weight and experience to deal with a volatile international leader or to wake up every day pressing forward with an agenda for education and tax reform. And, frankly, I fear that the media, which have been giving McCain a free ride in order to create a horse race, will suddenly be asking a lot of character questions about Charles Keating and related matters if he is the Republican nominee this fall.

In the end, I agree with management guru Peter Drucker who says leadership is more about doing than dash. And the man who has demonstrated that kind of leadership and character is Gov. George W. Bush.

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