Why is character important in our leaders? What’s the big deal if a President commits adultery? Why is honesty so important? Are these virtues simply out of date? Are having the right objectives more important than the character of the individuals who seek to achieve those objectives?
It’s true, there are no perfect people. You and I are imperfect. We lie, we cut corners, we break all of God’s commandments. But, do we still strive to follow the Ten Commandments? Do we accept them as absolutes, and as true virtues, or do we pick and choose which ones we will follow and which ones we think are antiquated?
In the apocryphal story of George Washington cutting down a cherry tree, and then telling his father about it, he says, “I cannot tell a lie.” Abraham Lincoln was known as “Honest Abe.” And, while the founders of our nation often disagreed vigorously, they were fairly circumspect in not launching personal attacks against each other. That is not to say that their followers did not do this. In fact, when Thomas Jefferson ran for President, the followers of John Adams circulated absolutely false and erroneous attacks on Jefferson. Yet, the leaders of our nation believed in truth and they sought to tell the truth.
Today, however, lying seems to be an art form among politicians. When, during an interview at the White House, President Bill Clinton answered a question from the grand jury about whether or not he lied to his top aides when he told them there was nothing going on between himself and Monica Lewinsky, he responded, “It depends on what the definition of is is.” Most saw this response as evasion and dissembling. It was an effort to avoid directly answering the question and telling the truth. Yet, one observer said that Clinton’s response “brilliantly sends the questioning in a new direction.” In other words, he praised Clinton for evading the question and successfully avoiding telling the truth.
The current occupant of the White House, Barack Obama, has, with the help of a compliant news media, taken prevarication to a new level. There are so many examples of the dishonesty of President Obama it is hard to sort them all out. One of the most bald face lies was his treatment of the tragedy in Benghazi. We now know that within an hour of the attack on our embassy in Benghazi the White House knew it was a terrorist attack. In that attack, four Americans were killed, including our Ambassador, Chris Stevens. While the President was off the grid at that time, he soon learned the facts. But, because it was politically inconvenient, he denied it was a terrorist attack. In fact, for several weeks thereafter, he kept saying it was a video that caused the attack, although he knew that was a lie.
The President denies any involvement in the Fast and Furious scandal, the Benghazi scandal, the IRS scandal, and the Associated Press/Fox News scandal. His denials strain credulity. Now, in a change of plans, he calls the scandals, that he once proclaimed to be serious, “phony scandals.” The President can’t be trusted and many of his top advisors and Cabinet members, such as Eric Holder, can’t be trusted.
I don’t mean to pick on Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Lying in politics is not limited to one political party, but, in fact, when the ideology of a particular political party rejects traditional moral values, truth becomes a common victim. There is a price to be paid when your active efforts include speeches and policies designed to set one group of people against another. Encouraging jealousy and envy is morally wrong, unless, of course, you reject traditional moral standards such as the Ten Commandments. Intentionally dividing people instead of uniting them is morally wrong. The Bible has nothing good to say about people who create disharmony.
It may be smart politics in the 21st century to reject historic moral concepts such as marriage between a man and a woman, but when our society does so, it erodes the foundation of our nation. Marriage is an institution that God created between a man and a woman. We can reject God’s definition of marriage, but we do so at our peril.
We can dissemble and talk about the reproductive rights of a woman, but those words are no more valid than those of the slave owner who tried to use the Bible to justify having slaves. Can anyone seriously believe that the United States could have continued with some citizens living free and others living in slavery? Similarly, how can character and virtue exist when the lives of the unborn are snuffed out for our convenience, and when we thumb our nose at God’s Commandments? Today, we are a divided nation, a situation encouraged by our President when he identifies his political opponents as his “enemies.” Division and disharmony are never good for a nation.
As Abraham Lincoln said…
“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.”
We can use all sorts of fancy words designed to evade the truth, and we may be hailed as “brilliant” by today’s commentators, but in the end, the truth is still the truth. We can call taxes “contributions,” government spending “investments,” and reductions in the rate of spending growth “cuts,” but those are just intentional efforts to confuse and mislead American citizens. These are thinly disguised lies.
When lawyers and politicians pretend that the United States Constitution means things that are not expressly written, they are simply making it up. When we were children, and other children did that, we would say “you are lying.” Indeed, that is exactly what is going on when men and women take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and then ignore what it says and simply rule on the basis of their own views. That is when we cross the line from being a government of laws to a government of men.
Character is important in any relationship. Who wants to be married to someone you can’t trust? Who wants to have a friend that is not reliable? Honesty is the bottom line in any lasting relationship. When honesty is skirted or fails, only a contrite apology and forgiveness holds the relationship together.
Character counts in the business world. Who wants to buy a product or a service from someone who can’t be trusted? No one would do that. And, those in the business world who persist in trying to con the buyer are doomed to eventual failure.
Character should count in our political leaders. It should be their compass, their guide in all their dealings. It takes character to accept the fact that as an elected official you are a public servant. You are someone who was elected by the people. You are not the master, you are the servant. You are beholden to the people of the United States to be honest and to do your very best to serve them.
Our founders certainly felt this way. George Washington said…
"Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people. The general government...can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people."
And, Benjamin Franklin said…
"Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters."
Franklin also said…
"Laws without morals are in vain."
Thomas Jefferson counseled…
"No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and... their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice…These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government."
James Madison stated…
"To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea."
John Adams advised…
"The only foundation of a free constitution, is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a great Measure, than they have it now, they may change their rulers, and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty.
And, to further emphasize his point, Adams said…
"Liberty can no more exist without virtue and independence than the body can live and move without a soul."
George Mason concurred…
"No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles."
Signer of the Declaration of Independence and, after Washington and Franklin, perhaps the most highly regarded leader of his time, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote…
"The only foundation for... a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments."
But, perhaps Patrick Henry summed it up best when he wrote…
"Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles."
Were the founders alive today, what would distress them the most? Would it be the huge government that inserts itself into the lives of every citizen? Or perhaps it would be the willful disregard of the intent of the Constitution? Would they be shocked most by the diminution of individual freedom? Or would they be appalled by our military adventurism? Would they be most concerned by the restraints on opportunity for individuals who are born into the lowest economic state, or the near financial bankruptcy of the government? Would they be most upset by the heavy tax burden on the citizens of the United States?
I’m sure all of these serious issues would greatly trouble them, but I am equally sure that the lack of virtue and character in our society would distress them the most. They understood that virtue among the people, that we would define today a character, was essential to maintaining a free society, a republican form of government. It was, as you can see from their stated opinions, the bedrock that made a free society possible.
When we elect men and women to office without character, without virtue, and without commonsense, we are electing the demolition crew to public office. You cannot build or maintain a free society with a wrecking ball. We need responsible citizens who seek to serve, who are dedicated to maintaining a free and just society based upon the founders principles.
Ronald Reagan had it right…
“There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.”