Saturday, November 12, 2011

When Is a Character Issue Not a Character Issue?

The voice of the people… vox populi… it’s what elections are all about.

We all wait expectantly to hear the voice of the people. We respect it even if it says something we don’t want to hear.

But sometimes the voice of the people rises up and expels a long, loud… Boo.

It happened at Wednesday’s CNBC-sponsored Republican presidential candidate debate.

Moderator Maria Bartiromo was raising a talking point that had nearly submerged the Cain campaign and that has been distracting everyone from today’s substantive issues. 

Now that a woman has come forth to accuse Herman Cain of actions that fall somewhere between groping and sexual assault, Bartiromo seemed to feel that the issue was legitimate.

She framed it as a character issue. How can the country trust a man who might have committed such actions? What would it say about Herman Cain’s character if, in fact, the charges were true?
In the midst of her question, the audience rose up and booed her.

To Mona Charen Republicans were tarnishing their sterling reputation by wallowing in Clintonian hypocrisy. How, she asked, can good Republicans ignore the character issue?
Considering that Charen counts among the best conservative Republicans, her views deserve respectful attention.

Unfortunately, Charen could only make her point by lending credence to the charges. She suggested that Herman Cain appears to be a type of serial sexual predator. How could four or five women be wrong. How could they all be lying? It isn't possible that some of them have exaggerated to gain financial advantage.

We do not know. It is possible that the charges are true. It is also possible that they are not true. Are you really willing to destroy a man's character because of unsubstantiated, and possibly, politically motivated, allegations?

Assuming that they are true for the purposes of argument does not offer a constructive approach to the problem.

In truth, we are dealing with unsubstantiated allegations. We may well be addressing an attempt to defame a man’s character. Why are we so quick to accept that Herman Cain was guilty? 

Cain vigorously denied the accusations. Why don’t we respect his voice? Why doesn’t Charen give Cain the benefit of the doubt?

If Cain had said nothing, journalists and pundits would be flooding the airways with stories suggesting that silence must be a sign of guilt.

Besides, it’s not just Gloria Allred and Sharon Bialek. The media has ganged on up Herman Cain and is happily working to destroy his character over unsubstantiated allegations.

Ought we not to notice that the media assault is serving the purposes of the Obama campaign?

Whatever did or did not happen, the liberal media has been framing the issue so that it can be used to manipulate the minds of black and female voters. 

Liberal journalists and pundits, often the ones who defended Bill Clinton to the death, have been writing stories about how the Republican Party does not care about women. They have been trotting out stories about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace.  And they have put African-American voters on notice: see what happens when you deviate from liberal orthodoxy?

In their willingness to wallow in the muck and mire, journalists have thrown a battery of racist innuendos at Herman Cain— a black man sexually assaults a blond woman… hint, hint. 

And now Maria Bartiromo wants us all to question Herman Cain’s character?

Did she or any of her colleagues consider that Barack Obama’s twenty-year relationship with Jeremiah Wright was a character issue? If not, why not?

Did any of the media celebrities who moderate debates question Obama about his association with a preacher who hates Americans and Jews in equal measure?

Keep in mind, Obama’s association with Wright was fully substantiated. Obama himself was proud to attend Wright’s church and proud to make Wright his spiritual mentor.

As has been amply documented, in 2008 the media became an arm of the Obama campaign.
If the media were a fair and impartial, that would be one thing. If it were offering up objective analysis of the campaign, it would deserve our respect.

In that case booing a question would have been out of line.

Such is no longer the case. If the mainstream media has abandoned any pretense to fairness, why does it deserve to be treated with respect? 

If, in the guise of innocent questions, it diminishes and demeans Republicans while glorifying and adoring Democrats, why should a Republican audience take its members as anything but partisan shills? 

If you pretend that pseudo-objective journalists are, in fact, fair, you are granting credence to their point of view. To what purpose?

True enough, Maria Bartiromo is not a relentlessly partisan journalist. To my knowledge she is not a partisan at all. 

Yet, she was representing the mainstream media at the debate. By asking a question about the unsubstantiated allegations, she breathed life into them. 

The more journalists raise the issue, even under the pretense of putting it to rest, the more it stays alive.

This is especially true of slander and defamation. Once such charges enter the public mind they take up semi-permanent residency. The more you mention them the more they become entrenched. 

Anyone who brings up the issue in a public forum is perpetuating the slander.

Like it or not the audience at the Republican presidential debate was telling the media that they are fed up with media bias. It was telling Bartiromo and her colleagues to go back to being journalists.

Even if we grant that the audience was rude, how else should one respond to journalists who have sacrificed their professional integrity on the altar of political partisanship?

If you do not call them out, if you continue to treat them with respect, you are giving them a pass on their own manifest character defects.

When people behave disreputably, you do not show them respect. You show them to be unworthy of it.

True enough, in some instances it’s right to turn the other cheek. But what do you do when you run out of cheeks?

Of course, Bartiromo wanted to bring up the slander without making it seem that she was playing into the black man/sexual predator narrative. So she asked the question in terms of character and leadership.  

Obviously, Herman Cain was indignant and offended.

Yet, Mitt Romney offered what was perhaps a more telling response to the leadership issue.
When Romney was asked about how he could be trusted when he had taken all sides of all issues, he replied that he had been a good and faithful husband for 25, or was it, 42 years.

Whether he was trying to differentiate himself from Cain or Gingrich, he was also trying to cover up his own manifest deficiencies in the area of political leadership.

We applaud the Romney marriage, but isn’t it possible for a man to be faithful to his wife and to manifest little consistency or constancy when it comes to policy?

When he says that he is consistent and constant in his marriage, Romney is saying that he is capable of behavior in his private life that he does not exhibit in his public role. Could it be that he thinks it matters in one arena but not in the other?

During the first years of the Obama administration Mitt Romney has not shown any political leadership skills. He did not lead the charge against Obamacare or the stimulus or any other issue?

For many Republicans this means that Romney is in it for himself more than for the party.

It’s worth recalling that Mitt Romney’s background lies in consulting and management. Consulting is not at all the same thing as exercising executive leadership. It requires a very different skill set. 

Famed management consultant Peter Drucker once said that different people have different temperaments and are suited to different careers.  He offered that he himself is perfectly suited to being a management consultant, but would be unsuited to the job of exercising everyday executive leadership.

True, the former governor of Massachusetts does have executive experience. Yet, as New Gingrich pointed out, Romney governed as a manager more than as a leader. He was happy to cooperate with Democrats in passing their kind of health insurance reform and in working with them on the nation’s first cap-and-trade bill.

Political leadership involves more than a sterling record of marital fidelity, especially when Republicans and Democrats are not being held to the same standards. And it might even manifest itself in someone who has been divorced... like Ronald Reagan.

No comments: