On Candidate Integrity
Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 6, 2022
There’s a sudden, pre-election flood of politicians seeking public absolution for bad behavior, as if character doesn’t matter any longer.
Oddly, it coincides with the Jewish New Year celebrations laden with overtones of introspection and re-committal to do better with one’s life, certainly not a theme limited to the fervently religious. To be “written for a good year” in the Book of Life is a goal based on our outlook and good deeds, not on a plebiscite for who controls the Senate.
Over centuries, atonement, like confession or even statements of responsibility, has been believed to be good for the individual soul as well as an expression of hope for the betterment of the community at large. The statement: We can do better but can do so only through action rather than excuse.
But suddenly we have Republicans Herschel Walker in Georgia, whose cache is a celebrity football career, awash in allegations of a hypocritical role in an abortion, in domestic abuse and abandoned unacknowledged children. We have Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin with the evidence of emails that make nonsense of his earlier denials about involvement in election overthrow schemes. We have the Republican slates in Pennsylvania and Arizona running from their own statements about election denial and abortion, among other issues.
We have Donald Trump himself continuing to seek to misdirect blame for taking boxloads of government documents, including classified secrets, to Mar-a-Lago and resisting the law.
There are campaign allegations about Democrats as well, including a gun incident involving Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman from a time when he was a mayor.
Across the board, when these things arise, we’re seeing denial, and misdirection.
The question: When — or more importantly why — did “character” drop out from being a value by which we should judge our political candidates to represent us?
What Do We Value?
Rather than value honesty in character, increasingly we seem to be valuing the ability of candidates to squirm through the morality mess, or even the legal versions of it, to declare victory for one political side or another.
Rather than repudiation, we have reports of increased fund-raising by these characters and the support of the party leadership attacking the attackers. Essentially, we’re hearing that the law or the general guidelines of morality should not apply if you like the candidate.
As a society, Americans have swung back and forth from periods of primness and directed moral behavior to times where personal and political ethics are seen as situational.
Our current debates over legal abortion and immigration policies mirror past fissures over Prohibition and civil rights. Over years, we have trouble deciding where personal liberty starts and stops when it involves the law.
Our newfound political need in the Supreme Court to declare the ethics emanating from personal religious belief and practice — so long as the religions are Christian and anti-abortion — over all other rights is an expression that an important segment of the population insists that our laws reflect a stricter sense of personal morality.
Increasingly, we apparently do not trust Americans to control or moderate their own sense morality. Instead, curiously, in red states at least, we want to put that into the hands of Republican politicians gathering under a banner for stricter moral controls towards some perceived goal that remains undefined and elusive.
Yet the slogans for “right to life” don’t extend to the spreading legal ownership of assault-style guns and ammo, to public support for children, public education or public health access. Transgender people apparently have little right to life nor anyone straying from principles of a White Christian nation that believes its justification as a society depends on a singular interpretation of God.
At the minimum, morality as expressed through our legislatures and courts is a mishmash.
Matching Candidates and Ethics
So, it would be easy to conclude that the current trend, particularly for these same Republicans, would be to demand that the party’s candidates own up to personal ethical and moral standards, to behaviors that reflect what they preach.
Clearly, the hypocrisy gap is growing between what candidates say and what they do or have done. Indeed, we’re seeing Republicans not only defending Trump or Walker or others about personal failures or the Mar-a-Lago documents or Jan. 6, but we’re also having to endure endless discussion over why they even should be held to account for their actions.
It is not the prosecution that is a perpetual witch hunt, it is the perpetuation of wrongdoing by whatever name. It’s not the FBI at fault for a raid, it is the brazen theft of government documents, regardless of extended courtroom antics over classification status.
It’s left to those who have been hurt along the way to protest or to leak pictures of checks written years ago to pay for an abortion to rip away the political convenience mask of a Herschel Walker or for journalists to unearth a Hollywood tape quoting Trump’s grab-women habits.
Invariably, today’s politics demands not only total denial of these allegations, but an accompanying attack on the “fake stream” media for reporting it. Every statement is seen as a plus or minus for national political gains, not as acts by individuals.
Already, Republicans are talking about impeaching Joe Biden when they expect to take over in the next session of Congress — even before there is a case on which to base an impeachment. And the Biden forces undoubtably are already prepping to resist, regardless of the issues raised.
Personally, political positions aside, I don’t really want to support nominations of judges to the Supreme Court whose personal morality is such that they need to deny and distance any provable harassment or attacks of women or Senate candidates who commit domestic violence.
I’d much prefer those who own up to mistakes and tells us they will do better. I still may not believe in that candidacy, but I would recognize personal atonement and responsibility.