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Presidential campaign: issues or character

Message P. A. Triot

As Americans count down the 50 or so days of the 2008 presidential campaign,  they are faced with the eternal question: “Is the choice between the two major-party candidates to be made on the issues or personal character of the players –– Barack Obama and Joe Biden or John McCain and Sarah Palin?”


From the beginning of the election cycle, i.e., the early primaries and caucuses, Obama has presented issues of our times and possible solutions.


During that same period, John McCain has presented his Vietnam experience as a prisoner of war as evidence of steadfastness in a crisis as his main qualification for the top job in government.


The main issues for Obama are mainly the faltering U. S. economy, the illegal war and occupation in Iraq, the crumbling healthcare system in the country, the bankrupted U. S. treasury, the collapse of respect for the U. S. abroad, the incompetence and illegal actions of the Bush administration and nearly any other issue the might come to mind.


Obama weathered personal attacks such as, “I have 35 years of life experiences, John McCain has 35 years of life experiences, Barack Obama has a speech,” or some such drivel from one of his primary opponents.


Obama has an interesting life story––being a multi-racial man who spent his childhood in Hawaii, Indonesia and Kansas, who managed to get into Harvard Law School,  who became president of the Harvard Law Review, who declined offers from major law firms in favor of working in Chicago as a community organizer and who taught Constitutional law for 12 years. But his is not a compelling tale.


On the other hand, McCain is a little weak on the issues, so he generally avoids talking about them. Instead, he repeats tales of his five years as a prisoner of war.


What are the components of character in a presidential candidate?


I propose we look at several character traits:


 • Integrity, defined as telling the truth, being honest


 • Steadfastness, defined as staying the a chosen course when one thinks he/she is right (its okay to change course when presented with new facts that counter his/her chosen course).


 • Judgment, defined as the ability to make decisions that are for the good of the nation, rather than for personal gain, and for selecting qualified, competent people for appointments.


•  Walking the Talk, defined as a person’s actions and words being consistent.


 There are other character traits that others may select, but these will suffice for this discussion.


McCain touts his efforts at bipartisanship. But the only really bipartisan legislation he’s managed was the McCain-Feingold Campaign Financing bill, which passed and signed into law.


Unfortunately, McCain supported every single measure offered by the then-Republican controlled Congress that undermined the McCain-Feingold reform bill.  


Here, McCain fails the integrity test. He doesn’t walk his talk.


On the illegal war with and occupation of Iraq, McCain scores high marks for steadfastness. He supported this misadventure from the beginning and  wants to continue escalating it for another 100 years, more or less.


He doesn’t seem to mind that, by invading Iraq in 2003, Bush created the notorious Bush Doctrine in violation of several treaty obligations demanded by the United States after World War II that made invading a sovereign nation without provocation a hanging offense.


McCain’s steadfastness is intact, but his judgment is failing. Even his close friend (and apparent mentor) George Bush seems to support some “time horizon” to withdraw from the quagmire of Iraq, but on this issues old John McCain is––well––steadfast.


McCain’s judgment is also suspect because of his choice of a vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin.


Ms. Palin is proven herself to be unqualified for the job. To her, the truth is what she is saying at the time she says it. She lacks integrity


Ms Palin lobbied hard for the “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska. Then, as the weight of the pork-barrel scandal became an embarrassing burden, she said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” But she kept the money for other, less obvious, pork-barrel projects in Alaska. She’s a liar and a hypocrite.


She is unqualified to become vice president by virtue of personality, education, personal experience and character. When  it comes to politics, this “babe” is a is out of her league. Any person who would choose her for vice president of the United States simply does not possess the good judgment to be president.


In the arena of walking the talk, neither McCain nor Ms. Palin scores a qualifying mark.


McCain made a big public show of opposing torture of “detainees,” citing his own experiences in Vietnam. Then he voted for Bush’s bill to allow torture. He’s a hypocrite.


McCain now says he wants to clean up Washington after nearly eight years of corruption by Bush and his cronies, but he has voted with the corruption crowd about 95 percent of the time (he says he’s voted in support of Bush only 90 percent of the time, but who’s counting?). He’s a hypocrite.


So much for character. Let’s make some comparisons about issues:


McCain criticizes and makes fun of Obama’s healthcare plan, but offers none of his own.


McCain charges that Obama lacks the experience necessary to be president, but offers only his own experience as a prisoner of war some 35 years ago as his  qualification. One would think that long experience in the Illinois legislature, followed by service in the U. S. Senate would count, but apparently that’s service McCain prefers to overlook.


McCain is critical of Obama’s suggestions about how to right America’s economic slide into depression. But he insists the economy is in good shape and his top economic advisor said Americans are just “whiners” when they are facing financial ruin.


McCain is the biggest hawk in Congress when it comes to Iraq and Iran. He opposes any reduction in troop levels in Iraq and sings, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” to the tune of the old rock and roll song, “Barb, Barb, Barb, Barb, Barbara Ann.”


Ms. Palin even says the military misadventure in Iraq is “God’s plan.” Perhaps she has convinced herself of that malarkey because her son is facing deployment to a battle zone.


I hate to burst Ms. Palin’s bubble, but this is George Bush’s war and God doesn’t have a dog in the fight.


Obama has opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq since before his election to the U. S. Senate in 2004. He strongly opposes any idea of starting a war with Iran.


Some 70 percent of the  American public has opposed the illegal occupation of Iraq for more than a year. McCain just doesn’t get it.


Obama is and has been steadfast in his efforts to bring our troops home as soon as possible. He is in step with the American people. He is ardently opposed to the Bush Doctrine, which is illegal (and apparently unknown to Ms. Palin).


Obama wants to crack down on corruption in the U. S. government –– no-bid contracts, cronyism and appointment of incompetent political operatives who have no problems breaking the law to achieve political ends.


McCain, who now claims to want to “change the system,” has been part of the system for nearly three decades. He’s silent on the specifics of probable bribery in no-bid contracts and silent on the issue of cronyism.


McCain figures that if he simply says he’s for change the public should to believe him. He hasn’t been a champion of change for 30 years. He doesn’t walk the talk


McCain and Ms. Palin want this election to be about character, not issues.


Obama and Biden prefer an election about issues.


By either criterion, a campaign pitting Obama-Biden vs. McCain-Palin on either issues or character should be welcomed. There is nothing to fear.


As one unmemorable someone once said, “Bring ‘em on.”

© Copyright 2008 by P. A. Triot, reproduce and distribute at will, with proper attribution. 

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P. A. Triot is the pen name of a retired journalist.
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