What Character Flaws Are You Willing to Overlook in Your Presidential Candidate?
If you could vote for any candidate today, who would it be?
Partisan politics aside. Let's talk character.
This past weekend a close family member and long time Democrat who tries to look at all sides of an issue, asked me how my feminist ideals and loyalty to Hillary squared with the fact that she covered for Bill's sexual misconduct and rape charge.
Like most people I don't want to believe what I don't want to believe.
But I can't live with myself if I knowingly whitewash deception or avoid uncomfortable questions about hypocrisy and contradiction even (especially) about people I admire.
So, I grapple out loud.
Character should count, a lot
When President Clinton ran for a second term, right off I decided I wouldn't vote for him again because he was a lying rat bastard adulterer.
My father, never one to push his politics or opinion on me or to justify any form of cheating, gently suggested when I step inside the voting booth I should consider Bill's accomplishments more than his personal transgressions.
That's a tough one.
Character informs my point of view. Character overshadows whatever comes after well-orchestrated back-paddling and masterful spin of bad behavior.
A person might be the city's most celebrated philanthropist, feed the hungry every Saturday or adopt foster children but if I find out he's a (serial) cheater, colluded in a cover-up or mocked a handicapped journalist, I go a little deaf about his good works.
This might not say much for my willingness to forgive, or it might say trust weighs heavy in my calculus of someone's integrity.
Plenty of people agree with my father that a man or woman's "inability" to keep it in his or her pants on has little to do with negotiating with world leaders or signing domestic policy that improves millions of lives. My father would probably tell me that Hillary's support of Bill's cover up was all wrong but not wrong enough to cancel my vote.
Obviously Trump's loose canon tongue is more dangerous to our national security than Bill's loose zipper, except that Bill lied under oath which means he might lie while doing other sacred duties.
How can we handle cognitive dissonance about our candidate?
We all have a dynamic list of outrageous or scandalous deal-breakers about our favorite politician or we did until we starting gorging on 24 hour entertainment news and unconsciously shifted our outrage needle.
Now we mostly shrug unless a child or animal are involved.
Our standards for what goes too far have taken a tragic (but I hope not permanent) dive when Trump's most egregious comments make a shocking number of voters momentarily cringe, and then move on.
But if we feel sick to our stomach that our guy or woman crossed the line we can fix our cognitive dissonance by ignoring, denying or dismissing their worst as "unfairly" taken out of context (Is there appropriate context for a candidate to discuss penis size or mock a disabled journalist?).
The fact is when our candidate's character disappoints us we have a few ways we can react.
We can question our own judgment at risk of questioning our own moral compass (If I still like him and he said/did that, what's that say about me?).
We can change our opinion about the candidate and vote for someone else or write-in a candidate.
We can admit that sometimes good leaders say or do shitty things but past bad behavior shouldn't disqualify good work and an overall strong record.
Largely I agree with the latter.
But Trump has zero political record and he keeps his bad character traits front and center because offensive "refreshing non-pc candor" is his brand, and clearly it's working.
Hillary defending Bill disappointing, but hardly a "war" on women
On the other hand, Hillary's record is long and strong and in my view she doesn't act badly. Yes, I absolutely agree that the email issue speaks to bad judgement.
And yes, when Hillary is confronted about Bill's sexual misconduct like every political spouse she does damage control and deflects the attack or worse, she shames the questioner. And, while Hillary didn't commit Bill's sex scandals her silence suggests collusion around his cover-up.
When a woman stands by her (continuously) cheating man this doesn't sit well with my feminist ideals but it doesn't disqualify Hillary as my president. On the other hand Trump should have been disqualified by voters about four atrocious comments ago and yet, he rises.
I know it's idealistic given the political stakes but I wish Hillary had publicly called Bill out for his serial cheating, "I'm hurt, betrayed and devastated but I still love him and we're in counseling..." At least hurt candor would have sent a message to women, this isn't okay no matter how powerful and protected someone thinks he is.
It's sickening that Hillary was willing to make political and personal contracts with Bill to not only defend him, but to vilify some women by insisting a right-wing conspiracy was behind their accusations.
"This is--the great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president. A few journalists have kind of caught on to it and explained it. But it has not yet been fully revealed to the American public. And actually, you know, in a bizarre sort of way, this may do it" ~ Hillary Clinton interview on NBC's "Today Show" in 1998.
And later in the interview:
"I think we're going to find some other things. And I think that when all of this is put into context, and we really look at the people involved here, look at their motivations and look at their backgrounds, look at their past behavior, some folks are going to have a lot to answer for."
Still, heard in a vacuum without looking at Mrs. Clinton's record, her protect-my-man comments are just old ammo for the anti-Hillary machine who'd like us to believe she's secretly always waged a "war on women" which is laughable, given her long history of supporting women's rights around the world.
Trump bulletproof? All sorts of wrong about this.
And it seems no matter how much misogynistic bile Trump spews he's impervious to tarnish while no matter what Hillary does to convince doubters she's genuinely pro-women she's permanently ex-communicated as the real deal.
I'm quite sure that even if she apologized for standing by her husband on his sexual misconduct people on both sides would say too little, too late.
But along comes Trump who brags (amidst our high gun-violence nation) that he could shoot someone on the street and not lose votes. His fans might, might shake their head or laugh nervously but they always manage to plug their ears and recover because finally in a proxied catharsis someone shouts their anger without sensitivity, thought or filters.
All of us put on convenient blinders when our candidates reveal slips in their judgement and character. But, imagine if Hillary made the very same gun comment? What about Cruz or Rubio?
Which candidate would get the biggest backlash?