Politics and character make uncomfortable suite mates these days. It seems like the days of gentlemen (or women) politicians—people who could debate like political warriors during the day and then enjoy a dinner together in the evening—are long gone. Many politicians today have failed to understand the difference between disagreement and dislike, or worse, loathing. Now it’s not enough to critique someone’s point of view on the merits. One must attack the other person’s character, motives, and person. Political adversaries are now enemies. Partnership has given way to partisanship; principle has given way to power.
The passing of President Gerald R. Ford this past week gives us occasion to think about politics and character, for he represented the best of both. Or rather, he was a man who lived out his well grounded character in his politics. He didn’t become something or someone else to curry political favor, and he didn’t check opinion polls or focus groups to figure out what his point of view should be. He was, in a word, a man of integrity. Now he’s being fondly—and accurately and fairly—remembered not just for what he did but even more for the way he did it.
President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill were in some measure men of the old school too. They represented different sides of “the aisle” and opposite ends of the political spectrum, but at the end of the day, they were American leaders who liked one-upping each other telling Irish American jokes. Can you imagine President George W. Bush and Speaker Nancy Pelosi enjoying each others’ company at day’s end? Even more, can you imagine Republicans and Democrats on the Hill doing anything together other than perhaps paying respects to President Ford lying in state in the Capitol?
I’m not suggesting no political leaders in Washington, D.C. demonstrate appropriate character. Far from it. There are men and women on both sides of the aisle who are American patriots doing their best with the talent and understanding given to them. But the overall tone, tenor, or culture of Washington, D.C. politics today is something else again. Principled cooperation isn’t much in evidence.
I’ve said before, “God give us more Jerry Fords.” We need men and women, both Republican and Democrat, who are willing to move to the center, give some in order to get some, go along to get along, build a team, and above all, work together in the best interests of the American people. That’s easier said than done, but I think the American people are listening and looking for the next Gerald R. Ford, someone with political courage grounded in character who stands tall without skeletons in the closet.
Politicians without character are a menace to society. Politics without character demeans society. Politics and character are well worth pondering. Our children’s future depends upon it.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2007
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