Swans Commentary » swans.com May 19, 2008  



Judging The Candidates


by Charles Marowitz





(Swans - May 19, 2008)   Since the nation was misguided enough to elect fatally flawed presidents such as Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush, there is no reason to believe it will not elect John McCain to the highest office in the land, thereby perpetuating the fatal policies of the present incumbent and, given the senator's admitted ignorance of economics, plunge the country into an even worse recession than the one that now engulfs it. It is not the "democratic process," but the knuckleheadedness of a majority of Americans throughout the country that, with sickening consistency, regularly "gets it wrong."

Take the faint but accelerating national drumbeat for Senator John McCain which has impressed many people by the fact that he was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War period. Granted, he showed true grit emerging from that calamity mentally and (more or less) physically intact and was henceforth celebrated as "a hero." Without belittling his heroic status, being a prisoner of war is not exactly an impressive credential in selecting an American president. If anything, one might expect such incarceration to have made a person highly conscious of the atrocities that always accompany war and so motivate him to take steps to resolve the present conflict and draw down American troops marooned in a hopeless battle that has been quite accurately described as the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. But Senator McCain is a militarist, born and bred, and so like all militarists, he is obsessed only with "victory," no matter how hollow that victory might be, were it ever to materialize.

Employing a cautious Terpsichore, which enables him to partner the rest of his Republican colleagues with an eye towards the Oval Office, McCain is gradually shedding whatever liberal beliefs he ever had for the sake of widening his Republican base. Someone thus motivated is not a "hero" but a man willing to compromise previously-held convictions if they will attract right-wing supporters to his cause. (If Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were, in McCain's words, "agents of intolerance," then his current champion, Reverend John Hagee, looms as the reincarnation of Attila the Hun.) These shifts are clear indications of character and they suggest that this is a man who will put on any face required to achieve his goal. In short, that we are dealing with a Washington-bred mahcher who lacks the will to reverse the insidious trends that have corrupted the political process, if not since the founding of the union, at least since the dark days of Watergate and the arrival of the Bushes, father and son.

Pundits say, let us concentrate on policies and do away with media-driven minutiae -- i.e., flag pins, fulminating pastors, attack ads and the like. But issues are the easiest thing to distort because they are proclamations with no compulsion to be honored and, as we keep seeing from one administration to another, are susceptible to abandonment as new circumstances arise -- which they almost always do. What is far more telling than a nominee's stand on "issues" are indications of character like fidelity to unpopular causes and the jettisoning of policies that might be a turnoff for certain blocks of voters. In short, what is indicative of character is not so much a candidate's advocacy of what most people would like to hear, but his or her loyalty to positions that, though they might alienate partisans, would be beneficial to the country as a whole.

In the French judicial system, a man's guilt or innocence takes into account the character of the person charged -- whether the conduct of his life, up to and including the commission of his crime, has been morally consistent. That doesn't mean that heinous crimes will be forgiven, but it does widen the arc-light that reveals salient aspects of the defendant's make-up. It takes into account the accumulation of personal history that constitutes his life as a citizen.

We know, for instance, that Hillary Clinton was obsessed with an overwhelming power-drive when her husband was elected president, and we can see from her more recent garnishings of the truth that she is inclined to play fast and loose with her personal history if they further her political goals. We know that Barack Obama first defended and then disowned the association with his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, when it became expedient to do so. But in addition to dubious actions such as these, we also know that he displayed personal courage in trying to diffuse hostility in tough Chicago neighborhoods, often at great personal risk. All of these incidents need to be taken into account -- not so much to accept or reject the policy statements of the nominees, but to construct a notion about their personal probity -- the actions that constitute their character. If we had done this with past presidential hopefuls, we might have been spared calamities like Watergate or the moral deterioration of the nation under the eight year presidency of George W. Bush.

No, we don't know who would be best to deal with the 3 a.m. telephone call to the White House that might threaten the safety of our nation. We can't prophesy how people's characters may change under the stress of future pressures. All we can know, and this is only a faint surmise, is the moral make-up and psychic disposition of the people who are wanting to lead us through the difficult years ahead. And we discover this, not by scrutinizing their policies and examining their platforms, but by trying to gage the inner self that is always on exhibit when the outer self is presenting their credentials.


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Published May 19, 2008