Thursday, November 10, 2011

Yes, Maria, Character Does Matter

by Libby Sternberg

In the November 9 GOP presidential primary debate, Maria Bartiromo of CNBC asked Herman Cain about sexual harassment charges made against him. She suggested he address concerns with his character, pointing out that “shareholders are reluctant to hire a CEO where there are character issues.”

How true, Maria, how true. But in order for "shareholders" to make a decision about a potential CEO's character, they have to have adequate information provided to them. In the case of elections and voters, the news media -- both traditional and new -- play the role of search committee to some degree, preparing the "information packets" for those who ultimately make the hiring decision.

Into this packet would go information on past behavior, of course, everything from the candidate's accomplishments to his/her faults. While candidates will make sweeping promises during the interview for the job, those promises have to be taken with caution because, after all, promises are easy. And sometimes glibness can be mistaken for depth.

That's why I, as a voter, now like to rely on a candidate's past when making a decision about what he or she will do in the future. If they held office before, what was their record? What is their personal record, as well? Do they run for cover when courage is required? Do they count as friends people who would make me wonder about their judgment? Do they love this country and want to do what's best for it?

You see, even the best-intentioned candidate can make promises on the campaign trail that, because of changing circumstances, become impossible to keep. Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised to keep the US out of war...and then something happened on December 7,1941 that made that promise unsustainable.

So, yes, Maria, character does matter. And maybe if the news "vetters" had spent as much time examining Barack Obama's character and past in 2008's election cycle as they have recently spent on claims of sexual harassment against candidate Herman Cain (Politico famously ran 90 plus stories in six days about the scandal), voters wouldn't have been so quick to jump on the hope-and-change bandwagon with an untested, inexperienced candidate.

Hindsight is 20-20, the old saw goes, and it's easy to look back now and see the portents of what was to come in Obama's presidency...

The blueprint for the president's poor dealings with Congress were visible in his past performance as a legislator-- he had, after all, very little experience working with opposition in his Chicago days, and he avoided controversial stands by voting "present" and not "Aye" or "Nay" when he was a state senator in Illinois...nearly 130 times, sometimes joined in this cowardly vote by only a few fellow senators.

No wonder he had trouble leading even when his own party controlled both houses of Congress -- remember how hard he had to work to get his health care bill passed? People forget that the Democrats held Congress at the time. His own party members grumbled, at least in private, about his lack of leadership.

If the media had vetted his background better, they would have also raised questions about his association with former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers instead of airbrushing it to make it appear tangential and unclear. Ayers is a man who is not fond of his own country, at least many of its policies. He so loathed some of these policies that he plotted violent acts -- bombings -- against innocents. There are stories out there of those his organization, the Weathermen, tried to harm. They're at least as compelling as the tales of Herman Cain's accusers. But perhaps without celebrity lawyer Gloria Alred as a champion, they were less glamorous in the media's eyes. The president's association with a man of these views tells us something about his own character--and again, it's not flattering. And again, it's one of lack of courage--he should have disassociated himself from a man of violence and America-loathing.

I could go on, but you get the idea... While these stories were covered somewhat during the campaign, they were never pursued with the doggedness the media has shown going after Mr. Cain (and other Republicans).

But perhaps the media wanted, just as most Americans did, to believe Barack Obama's promises and not look too closely at what his past would say about him. Even I, a Republican who'd voted for George W. Bush twice, was tired of Dubya and wanted something fresh that John McCain couldn't seem to offer.

Bush had disappointed us....sometimes with his policies but more often with his inability to effectively make the case for them, thus retaining public support. Too often, he turned the other cheek in the face of criticism, a patrician approach to conflict that seemed to suggest he didn't want to stoop to make the battle just about him. By doing so, he made the battle all about him, which often meant the merits of his policies got lost in the fog of Bush-hatred. And after a while, it became too hard to defend him when he wouldn't bother defending himself.

So I definitely understand the desire to bring in a fresh face, even if the fellow is inexperienced, lacks courage and has shady friends in his past. Sometimes you just want to believe.

But this election cycle, it would be awfully nice if the media turned their spotlight on the president in ways they failed to do when he ran for the office the first time around, especially during the Dem primaries when an experienced, credible alternative, Hillary Clinton, could have succeeded. Don't we all -- Republican and Democrats alike -- now look back and think how effectively Mrs. Clinton would have handled crises he's managed to botch?

Take a new look, Maria, at those character issues you're so concerned about now. In the president's case, you might be surprised to find in his past the seeds to his failures in the present.

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